In a week full of on-field news, what’s happening off the field in New England is a fascinating warning flare. First, ESPN reported that a potential end to OG Logan Mankins’ contract stalemate with the team fell apart when the franchise demanded first a private and then a public apology from the Pro Bowl guard. Then, after the Patriots’ 38-24 Week One win over Cincinnati, WR Randy Moss ranted and rambled about not having a contract past 2010.
So as we look at this double rainbow of dissent in Foxboro, we must ask the question – what does it mean?
Bill Belichick has long made his living on being the first and the last word in New England. And that meant that Belichick made the calls about who got new contracts and who got shown the door. Tedy Bruschi got to stay; Lawyer Milloy had to go. Vince Wilfork got paid; Richard Seymour got shipped to Oakland. Belichick made ruthless evaluations about star players, and he was never afraid to say goodbye if he thought the price tag outweighed a player’s value going forward.
That’s what’s happening with Moss. At age 33, his decline is coming. Receivers don’t maintain their speed into their mid-30s. And frankly, you can’t blame Belichick and the Pats for not wanting to give Moss a golden-parachute contract – at least when you look at the decision in a vaccuum.
But Moss doesn’t live in a vaccuum. He lives in a diva receiva world in which you can pout your way out of most problems and quit your way out of the rest. Moss talked and acted his way out of Minnesota and out of Oakland, and you have to wonder whether he’ll do the same now in New England. The finishing manuever is in his arsenal, and he’s not afraid to use it. And that adds a degree of difficulty to Belichick’s cold, calculating decision.
While you can give the Pats the benefit of the doubt in the Moss situation, at least before considering Moss’ history, what they reportedly did to Mankins was downright petty. Mankins hasn’t just been holding out; he has publicly criticized the organziation. And because Belichick’s organization in sacred in New England, the Pats demanded that penace be paid before Mankins was.
So in the last minutes of positive momentum toward a Mankins contract, the team told Mankins that he needed to apologize for questioning owner Robert Kraft’s integrity. Mankins did so in a conversation with Kraft. But 90 minutes later, the Patriots asked Mankins to make a public apology. Mankins not only refused but got offended at the additional demand, and he walked away from a deal that could have been worth $50 million plus on paper.
And that’s where the Patriot games became counterproductive. By trying to ensure that the organization won not only the negotiation but the PR battle, the franchise actually pushed Mankins further away. There was nothing to gain in demanding a public apology from Mankins, and any face that an apology would have saved has been far outpaced by the downside of the public-apology demand becoming public.
Before, you could call the Patriots cruelly effective in their free-agency decisions. But after the Mankins news, they now look more spitefully petty. That’s the kind of attitude that can lose the locker room if wins don’t pile up.
Maybe the Patriots will win enough games to survive the fallout of their latest Patriot games. But if they don’t, Mankins won’t be making an apology for them. Neither will we.