Trickle-down effect of a Mankins reduction

The Patriots have sent a letter to restricted free agent Logan Mankins notifying him of their right to reduce his salary from $3.26 million to $1.54 million if he does not sign his tender by Tuesday.

The letter does not necessarily mean that the Patriots will reduce his salary if he does not sign the tender. But it is part of the negotiating process between the two sides, and represents leverage the team has on its side.

Several teams with players in Mankins' situation sent a similar letter (ESPN.com senior writer Len Pasquarelli's Insider Tip Sheet details the topic). Those teams could all make a case for reducing the salaries of unsigned restricted free agents, pointing out that they are simply playing by the rules -- the same rules that the NFL Players Association contributed to creating.

But in the Patriots' case, it is my opinion that they would be making a mistake if they reduced Mankins' salary. Such an action could threaten some of the "locker-room chemistry" momentum they created this offseason by aggressively re-signing their own free agents (the Patriots and Mankins have not found a middle ground in contract-extension talks).

Mankins has started every game since he was selected in the first round of the 2005 draft, and I don't believe he's even missed a practice. Reducing the salary of a player like that could resonate negatively in the locker room, especially considering the Patriots are coming off a season in which the locker-room dynamic wasn't where they wanted it to be.

So I see two different issues in play: 1) The NFL's overall labor issue; 2) Patriots locker-room chemistry.

And in that sense, I think it puts owner Robert Kraft in a challenging spot should Mankins not sign his tender. If that is the way the situation unfolds, my opinion is that the smart decision is to keep Mankins' tender at $3.26 million.

Team first.