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Projecting a solution to the contract situation between Rob Gronkowski and the Patriots

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Taking a closer look at bridging the value gap between the Patriots and their best offensive weapon

Super Bowl LII - Philadelphia Eagles v New England Patriots Photo by Larry Busacca/Getty Images

It took a $5.5 million incentive-triggering First-Team All-Pro selection, but Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski earned $10,187,500 last season. The honor was the only checked box in the final tier of an incentive structure added to the veteran’s contract last May to help align his earnings with his level of play.

Yet, after a year in which he was deemed the best in the game at his position, he’s scheduled to earn $1,187,500 less in 2018, while free agents like Trey Burton and Jimmy Graham secured large contracts for themselves this offseason. Gronkowski’s deal now ranks fourth in average per-year value among tight ends. Between the 2018 and 2019 seasons — the final two in which Gronkowski is under contract — he is slated to make $3 million less than Jimmy Graham.

Highest two-year cash totals for the tight end position, 2018-2019:

From the Patriots perspective, they agreed to a six-year extension in 2012 with their superstar that made him the highest paid tight end in league history. They also went back to the bargaining table last May to put the $5.5 million incentive plan in place when it became apparent that the team-friendly cash figures of the deal were not adequately keeping in line with his value.

Realistically, the Patriots have three options. They can stand firm and see how far Gronkowski and his team are willing push what ESPN’s Mike Reiss is calling a “peaceful statement”. Fearing a lack of new money could jeopardize his productivity, the team could seek a trade — something that certainly isn’t out of the realm of possibility given the team’s history. Or, they come to another bilateral agreement. But what could such solution look like?

Well, if it worked once, it can work again. Extending another “olive branch” contract supplement consisting of up to $5.5 million would certainly go a long way toward bridging the value gap between the two sides.

In this scenario, $3.5 million in cash, or “new money”, is added to the deal in the form of $2 million signing bonus, and a doubling of Gronkowski’s per-game roster bonus amounts — from $750,000 to $1.5 million each season. Additionally, there are $2 million in incentives available. $1.25 million of that can be earned by achieving any one of the following thresholds:

  • 90%+ snap percentage
  • 14 touchdowns
  • 80 receptions
  • 1,200 receiving yards

Absent the opportunity to achieve the incentive by means of a First-Team All-Pro selection, these are the same thresholds included in the highest tier of Gronkowski’s incentive structure a season ago. After posting 69 catches for 1,084 yards, eight touchdowns, and a snap percentage of 79.28% in 2017, this $1.25 million incentive amount would be considered “not likely to be earned” in 2018, and would be debited against the Patriots’ 2019 adjusted team cap if achieved.

The final $750,000 of Gronkowski’s $2 million incentives would be based on team achievement, and are pretty straightforward.***

  • $250,000 for a 2018 AFC Championship Game appearance
  • $250,000 for a 2018 AFC Championship Game victory
  • $500,000 for winning Super Bowl 53

*** Team achievement incentives cannot be earned if Gronkowksi is on IR.

Here is how the final contract structure would look on paper when added to his current deal. These figures assume the loss of Gronkowski’s $250,000 2018 offseason workout bonus.

At $22.25 million, the supplement would give Gronkowski’s contract the highest two-year cash total at the tight end position over the 2018-2019 seasons — and the incentives would give him the opportunity to further increase that amount. Unlike in 2017, the entirety of the additional compensation wouldn’t be solely reliant upon his health or on-field performance.

For the Patriots, they retain one of the best offensive weapons in the league without adding contract years, and while only losing $1,906,250 in 2018 cap space. The $2 million signing bonus is prorated over the 2018 and 2019 seasons, and they are afforded plenty of injury risk protection with nearly two-thirds of the $5.5 million supplement coming in the form of per-game bonuses and incentives.

However, with the team waiting until May to address Gronkowski’s contract last year, it could be a while until any progress, if any, is made.

Follow Brian Phillips on Twitter @BPhillips_SB