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One-time tag could have Mankins effect

One of the interesting points in the NFL labor story filed by senior ESPN football analyst Chris Mortensen tonight is the final push from players that teams wouldn't be allowed to assign the franchise tag to a player more than once.

"The limit of franchise tags on all players could be the anchor to the settlement [of the Brady antitrust lawsuit]," Mortensen writes. "That would result in named plaintiffs such as Drew Brees, Logan Mankins, Peyton Manning and Vincent Jackson not being subject to any free agent restrictions in 2012 if their respective teams do not sign them to long-term contracts."

Should this happen, it would be significant from a Patriots perspective when it comes to Mankins and the leverage of any future talks.

If Mankins knows that the franchise tag wouldn't be on the table in 2012, it could affect his decision-making for reporting in 2011, making it more likely that he would sign his tender and report on time.

Mankins could then take the mindset that he'd earn his full $10 million tender this year, and as long as he makes it through the season healthy (a risk he assumes), nothing could prevent him from his primary goal of fully experiencing unrestricted free agency.

In recent years, some NFL teams have enticed players back into camp by guaranteeing that they wouldn't place the franchise tag on them the next season. The Patriots have generally not taken that approach -- they did negotiate a deal with Asante Samuel that there would be no tag if the team won a certain number of games and Samuel played enough snaps -- as it's a leverage chip they've preferred to keep on their side.

That's why this potential twist is something to watch closely when it comes to Mankins, both in the present and future.