TAMPA, Fla. — Logan Mankins stepped behind a microphone deep in Raymond James Stadium looking dazed, like a man at the center of a major trade with his life uprooted. Thursday night, before the Tampa Bay Buccaneers faced the Washington Redskins in the preseason finale, it was obvious the 32-year-old six-time Pro Bowl guard still tried to find comfort within his new life.
He wore a red-and-white Bucs cap, a change from the New England Patriots’ colors he had known for 130 games from 2005 to 2013. He slipped on a generic gray T-shirt that read "FOOTBALL" in large black block letters. He called leaving Bill Belichick, Tom Brady and other former coaches and teammates "a sad day."
"Once you’ve been around this business long enough, everything is possible," Mankins said. "It’s a business first and foremost. Guys play because they love it, but it is a business. If you don’t understand it’s a business, you’re lying to yourself."
Business realities were why Mankins found himself in transition after a trade between the Bucs and Patriots on Tuesday that sent tight end Tim Wright and a reported 2015 fourth-round pick to New England. There are no guarantees in the NFL, even for 10th-year veterans like Mankins. One day, he’s grinding to help the only team he had known as a professional since being drafted 32nd overall in 2005 from Fresno State. The next, he’s dropped in an unfamiliar stadium before unknown faces answering questions about an uncertain future.
"I knew what I had there," Mankins said, his trademark beard thin, "but I don’t know what I have here."
He’ll find out in time. Mankins is expected to make an immediate impact at left guard, one of the Bucs’ largest concerns during the preseason. There are doubts about his declining skill, but he’s assumed to be a large upgrade over previous starting options like Oniel Cousins and Patrick Omameh. He represents instant credibility.
A new foundation began Thursday, even if memories of Mankins’ former home were fresh. He has spoken with Brady and "99 percent" of Patriots players since the trade. He revealed he had contract discussions with New England, but both sides were unable to find common ground. The NFL’s business side can be unforgiving.
Mankins, before he spoke Thursday, took his kids to buy Bucs shirts and hats, another small step in his acclimation. He says his loved ones are as nervous about this new beginning as he is, but he called them a "Buccaneer family now." He has something to prove at his new stop.
"I might be in a little decline, I don’t know," Mankins said, cracking a slight smile.
"I’ve played a lot of games and a lot of snaps, but I think I still got something to give this game and this team."
Mankins will have little time to find his way. He must become comfortable with his new teammates and a foreign playbook before the Carolina Panthers, boasting one of the NFC’s strongest defensive lines, arrive at Raymond James Stadium for the season opener Sept. 7. He has played in 130 games, but his next one will be the most intriguing.
The Bucs have faith he’ll adjust. Tuesday, coach Lovie Smith and general manager Jason Licht beamed about Mankins’ past and what he can offer the Bucs’ future. Smith called Mankins a "tough football player, real man." Licht called Tampa Bay "fortunate" to land the veteran. Mankins’ leadership qualities, when he’s comfortable enough to share them, will be valued.
He’ll have a chance to showcase that trait when everything about his change becomes a new status quo. Much of the Bucs’ hopes for a sustainable offensive line depend on his ability to secure quarterback Josh McCown’s safety on the left side. If Mankins is successful, then the trade from Tampa Bay’s perspective will be lauded no matter what Wright accomplishes in New England. If he’s not, there will be concerns.
"I always was flattered when people would say I would do whatever it took for the team," Mankins said. "I always thought of myself as that kind of guy. I’ve played a lot of games pretty beat up, but I always felt my job, as a football player, was to be out there. If I could play and help the team win still, then I’ll be out there."
Soon after, he stepped from the podium in the small room and turned to his right, away from the questions and toward his new team. He passed through a small exit and moved toward the field, a soft blue sky above him and a different existence ahead. Brady, Belichick and all of New England felt far away.
There was no going back. One life for Mankins had ended. Another had begun. And no one knows what the result will be, his transition more real than ever.