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Sunday NFL Thoughts: Rob Gronkowski’s incentives within reach; Alex Guerrero causing a Brady-Belichick rift?

Also, high praise for the futures of Eric Lee and Jacob Hollister.

Miami Dolphins v New England Patriots Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images

1. New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski is having himself a special season coming back from his third-career back surgery. Not only does he have 18 catches for 315 yards over his past two games, Gronkowski has also surpassed 1,000 receiving yards for the fourth time in his career and he’s averaged a career-best 84.8 receiving yards per game.

The tight end has three tiers of incentives baked into his contract and the highest tier is within reach. Gronkowski must record 80 receptions, 1,200 yards, 14 touchdowns, First Team All Pro distinction, or play 90% of the Patriots offensive snaps to get the maximum incentives.

Gronkowski needs 16 receptions or 183 receiving yards or 7 touchdowns or First Team All Pro distinction to get the max and three of those four are possible (sorry, he’s not getting it through the touchdown incentive).

But is it also possible for him to reach the playing time incentive?

Gronkowski has played 79.2% of the Patriots snaps with two games left. He and the Patriots would have to play 1,057 snaps over the next two weeks for Gronkowski to reach the 90% milestone, so it’s not going to happen.

2. There’s a story going around about problems between Bill Belichick and Alex Guerrero, Tom Brady’s personal trainer and a person overseeing the rehabilitation of a lot of players on the roster. The Boston Globe reports that the Patriots revoked Guerrero’s access to the sideline during the games and from flying on the team planes.

The Patriots trainers are the team trainers for a reason, so it’s likely just the team putting the hierarchy back in place. Players can still go five minutes away to visit Guerrero, but only team doctors and trainers are now allowed to be with the team.

BSJ’s Greg Bedard reports that Guerrero wanted his advice to the players to supersede the instruction of the coaches and trainers, but that the issue isn’t expected to affect the team’s performance on the field.

Bedard reports that Guerrero can still treat Brady in a private room in the stadium, but that he’s no longer able to address the entire team. The team is totally within their right to restrict access to those hired directly by the Patriots.

Pats Pulpit Pregame Preview

3. But will this affect the relationship between Tom Brady and Bill Belichick?

“This is another [story] with no sources, right?,” Belichick said when asked by the media. “Yep. I’m not going to get into that because there are none mentioned.”

When Brady was asked how he felt when Belichick told him he was restricting Guerrero’s access to the team, the quarterback disagreed with the line of questioning.

“I don’t really agree with your question, so I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Brady said. “How do you know what [Belichick] said? [...] I’m not saying anything. I mean, how do you say that [Belichick] said anything? You don’t know anything about that.”

So the official company line is that there is no rift between Brady and Belichick, even if Guerrero’s access is actually limited.

4. And while Guerrero’s access has definitely changed, I don’t think it’ll cause too much of a problem for the team.

“I don’t think about it,” Brady said when asked about not having Guerrero on the sidelines. “I’ve got enough things to think about, so I’m going to go try and win an important game and do what I always do.”

“We have a lot of people that work for our team outside of the team, and there are different relationships, different situations with dozens of other people,” Belichick said. “I’m not going to go through a case-by-case of what everybody does.”

Gronkowski also said that he still meets with Guerrero. All that’s different is that players have to listen to their trainers when they’re in the stadium, and they can go visit Guerrero on their own time when they’re done.

5. When Belichick was asked about the difficulty some players have at joining the Patriots in the middle of the season and finding a contributing role, he brought up Eric Lee’s name unsolicited.

“Eric Lee is a good example of a player who’s [taken on a lot of responsibility and accountability],” Belichick said. “A lot of people have tried to help him and given him words of encouragement or tips or whatever it might be, but Eric's done the bulk of the work. He's put in the extra time. He's put in the extra hours and really tried to embrace and learn all of the things that he’s been asked to do and that’s what he should do. He had an opportunity and he took advantage of it.”

That’s high praise for the young defensive lineman and a great sign that the head coach believes that he’s a player worth investing in. If the coaches buy in to the player’s potential, they’ll get a longer leash and more time to develop. Look for Lee to continue to grow with the Patriots in 2018.

6. Belichick also expressed a continued desire to work with tight end Jacob Hollister, a young developmental player he compared to former Patriots tight end A.J. Derby. Belichick noted that Hollister changed positions at Wyoming and offered a good workout and work ethic with a lot of potential.

“We felt like he was underdeveloped as a football player and had a good future in front of him,” Belichick said about Hollister. “So, he actually trained at Arkansas in the offseason, so we had had [A.J.] Derby from there from a couple of years ago. I’d say that there’s some comparisons between Hollister and Derby that were favorable. So, that’s just kind of interesting how that comes together. You never know, but that’s how it worked out.”

Derby and Hollister are viewed as receiving tight ends and Hollister will have to keep working on his blocking if he’s going to earn more time on offense. He’s carved out a nice role as a core special teams player and he’ll get another opportunity to have an expanded role if and when he takes a sophomore jump in 2018.