We should have known that this relationship was doomed from the beginning. One side always wanted more than the other was willing- able?- to give.
Out of the gate, the Patriots tried to strong arm Logan Mankins, the walk-on 40-game starting offensive tackle out of Fresno State- a second round tackle talent taken in the first with the hopes of changing him into a guard. The team wanted to force a sixth year onto Mankins' rookie contract, just like the rookie before him (Ben Watson) signed. Mankins' agent resisted and the Patriots relented as Mankins was going to be a big part of the future.
Mankins was the first top round pick to sign a rookie deal back in 2005, contract dispute and all. And the big future he was going to be a part of was bigger than anyone could have expected.
Bill Belichick calls Logan Mankins the "best guard [he's] ever coached" and that's not hyperbole. Mankins is a six-time Pro Bowler, a five-time All Pro, a member of the Patriots 50th Anniversary Team, and probably the first name that comes to mind when thinking about "tough sonnuvabitches."
No one should be able to function with a torn ACL, never mind play offensive guard for a full season and a Super Bowl, like Mankins did in 2011.
Mankins missed the tail end of the Patriots Super Bowl seasons, but his legacy remains the same. He took over for an American Hero, Joe Andruzzi, and elevated his play to levels the franchise hadn't seen since Hall of Famer John Hannah.
At the end of the day, Mankins will likely hang up his cleats and don the Patriots colors as he makes his own Hall of Fame acceptance speech. He's earned it; he's still earning it.
However, while Belichick might have discussed Matt Light's retirement as if he were talking about a dependable son, a jovial give-and-take relationship, there won't be the same speech for the "quiet" Mankins. The relationship was defined by the respect, or lack-thereof, and toughness that embodies both persons.
After Mankins became a restricted free agent before the 2010 season, after five (not six) seasons, the Patriots offered the highest tender, challenging other teams to sign Mankins away in exchange for a first and third round pick. For those that support the team, that was a savvy franchise decision. For those that support the players, it was a slap in the face.
Mankins held out for the first seven games of the 2010 season. "I want to be traded," he said at the time. "I don't need to be here anymore."
But Mankins showed for the final nine games of the season (more than the six needed to accrue a season of experience), earning himself another All Pro nod off a shortened season. However, instead of a long term contract, negotiations stalled and the Patriots slapped him with the franchise tag.
Naturally, Mankins was upset, but willing to play under the terms of the one-year agreement. Even more fortunately, a contract was finally agreed upon to make Mankins the highest paid guard in the league. Team owner Robert Kraft offered the hopes that Mankins would "be a Patriot for life."
This was back in 2011. For Mankins, it was never about the money; it was about respect and recognition for the value he provided to the team. For the Patriots it was about locking up the best guard in recent history.
Mankins made the All Pro team in the first three seasons of the six year contract, raising his All Pro nods to five. He earned his respect. But three contract hiccups would prevent the team from approaching him about a fourth after the 2013 season, where his abilities started to wane.
Now Mankins is gone, in exchange for a small tight end and a fourth round pick. He made the All Pro team last season and, while that's possibly more a testament to the lack of educated information from the voters than to his level of play, Mankins was a stalwart.
He's played next to Matt Light and Nate Solder (and even took their spot when they were hurt). He played alongside Dan Koppen, Ryan Wendell, Dan Connolly, and Nick McDonald. He was the consistent figure, a looming force that intimidated any defensive line that crossed the Patriots path.
It's possible everything changed once Mankins was injured in 2012 and Donald Thomas, a journeyman guard, took his spot and played at a higher level than Mankins had been playing. Or in 2013 when Mankins was forced to kick out to offensive tackle and Josh Kline performed at a more-than-adequate level for an undrafted rookie.
Whatever the case, the Patriots decided that they didn't need the five time All Pro to be a Patriot for life. They're moving forward without the meanest, toughest, roughest, and most insane offensive lineman that Belichick has ever had the honor of coaching.
There's no way for any one player to fill the vacancy that Mankins is about to leave. It's a gap too large for any one person to block.
Mankins was always the first person to help Tom Brady off the ground, on those rare occasions he wound up on his ass. He was the first to throw opposing players off the pile. He was the first to run into the fray and the first to defend the honor of his teammates.
Mankins and his beard will forever grace the legacy of these New England Patriots. He has been a defining character for the past decade, a player that cannot be ignored when talking about the story of the franchise.
The relationship might not have been the smoothest. At its worst, it was a disaster.
But we'll always remember Mankins at his best. The man pancaking every opposing defender in sight. The man who is the embodiment of lunchpail, tough as nails, "tougher than boot leather", blue collar, smash-mouth, playing without ACLs(?!?), and kick-you-in-your-teeth football.
We'll remember Mankins for the great player that he's been for this team and he will forever have New England's respect.
Edit: Looks like Jason Cole of Bleacher Report is saying that the Patriots approached Mankins to restructure his contract after the 2014 Pro Bowl. Mankins refused.