The New England Patriots kicked off their organized team activities yesterday. And while by participation again appeared to be solid considering that the workouts are voluntary, the two biggest stars on the roster were again not present: Quarterback Tom Brady and tight end Rob Gronkowski continue skipping the voluntary portions of offseason workouts.
Both are expected back when mandatory minicamp starts on June 5, but the question is whether or not the duo will return any sooner. There are no indications in Brady's case just yet, but Gronkowski might very well end his absence once his camp and the Patriots find a common ground in their currently ongoing contract discussions.
It might happen as early as this week, according to NFL Network's James Palmer:
A contract restructure with Rob Gronkowski is currently being worked on. If it has incentives like last year, per NFL rules it can’t be done until May 24th (1 year from when he restructured his last deal). That’s a date to keep an eye on. Patriots third OTA is also on May 24th
New England restructured Gronkowski's contract last season to add contract incentives: Depending on his performance and playing time, the NFL's best tight end was able to earn up to $5.5 million in additional money on top of his $4.25 million salary. The deal, which was broken down into three tiers ranging from $1.5 to $5.5 million, was agreed to on May 23 last year.
The Patriots and Gronkowski might follow a similar path in 2018, even though his base salary is significantly higher than last year's: The 29-year old is due to earn $8.0 million with an additional $900,000 in bonus money. The combined value ranks him fifth-most among tight ends behind Jimmy Graham ($13.25MM), Greg Olsen ($12.35MM), Trey Burton ($11.68MM), and Zach Ertz ($10.68MM).
Due to his salary, the Patriots might opt to approach a restructure differently this season. The team could convert parts of the $8.0 million into a fully guaranteed signing bonus or simply extend the league's best tight end to alter his cash flow and spread out guarantees over an additional time period. One way or another, both sides appear to be close to end the current round of negotiations.
Don't be surprised, therefore, if Gronkowski joins his teammates even before the team mandates him to.