Quick quick quick, first name that pops into your head: best cornerback in the NFL?
It’s legitimately a tough question, right? The Patriots squared off against two of ‘em in the AFC Championship Game just a few months ago in Jalen Ramsey and AJ Bouye, the former of which is also Pro Football Focus’s 1B for best corner in football in 2017. PFF’s best? Green Bay’s one that got away and they’ve spent years (and at least one first-round pick) trying to replace, Casey Hayward. Nobody wants to line up across from 2017 Defensive Rookie of the Year Marshon Lattimore in New Orleans, cause you’re in for a loooooong day. And we haven’t even touched the elder statesmen like Patrick Peterson and Darius Slay. This is going to take another round to figure out, at least.
Best tight end in the game, though, is no contest. It’s a Bryce Harper clown question. It’s even more cut and dry, even more “aaaaaaaaand we’re done here” than “Well Tom Brady has more wins and all, but GOSH I just have to go with Aaron Rodgers cause he’s UNBELIEVABLE/A FREAK/NOT HUMAN/CHEAT CODE/SO DREAMY/ETC”.
Fortunately, the aforementioned best tight end in football decided not to hang ‘em up after last season and showed up right on time for mandatory minicamp this week as his normal jolly defense-piledriving self. And whatever you think of Gronk’s newfound affinity for the TB12 training method over (or, let’s be honest: probably “in addition to”) pounding iron and slugging protein shakes, here’s how the questions on Tuesday about his supposedly in-the-oven contract extension went:
(from CBS Sports)
As for potentially redoing his deal with the Patriots, Gronk didn’t hide the fact that he wants a new contract.
”I don’t know. Trying to,” Gronk said, when asked if he was trying to redo his deal. “Who wouldn’t?”
Since everything in New England is required to be a catastrophe that can tear this team apart at the seams and call “LAST CALL!” on a dynasty that started before a whole generation of youths in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New Hampshire, Vermont, and Maine was even born, here’s the honest question:
What’s the problem here?
No, seriously - Rob Gronkowski wants to re-do his contract. The team wants to work with him on it. They’re already (supposedly) working on it. And one would have to think that after seeing some of the deals that’ve been signed since he signed his last extension - which range from “OK, 5 years and $46 million for Travis Kelce, I gotcha” to “3 years and $30 million for Jimmy Graham...he’s really good at catching though!” to “4 years and $32 million for...Trey Burton? What’s a Trey Burton, a bourbon or something?”, Gronk KNOWS he’s worth more than any of the tight ends that are now suddenly right at his pay grade.
Which, again: problem?
As our resident salary cap nerd...er, enthusiast Brian Phillips pointed out back in April, our pal Robert now ranks fourth in average annual value among tight ends, behind Jimmy Graham, Travis Kelce, and Jordan Reed. Brian also had a nifty solution that’d make Gronkowski the highest-earning tight end in the game for ‘18 and ‘19 in terms of actual dollars earned, and while you can read the whole plan here if that’s your thing, the TL;DR is a $2,000,000 “signing bonus” (think like what Brady does every couple years) and doubling Gronk’s per-game roster bonuses from $750,000 per game to $1.5 million per game. And given Gronk’s BAMF stats in 2017 - 69 catches, 1,084 yards, and 8 touchdowns, NOT counting the playoffs, in which he contributed the manimal statline of 16 more catches, 218 more yards, and 3 more scores - throwing some more incentives in there for some combination of 80 receptions, 1,200 yards, and/or a few more touchdowns are just a few of the ways Brian’s plan can make Gronk some more money.
Of course, you’ll notice that approach, while it accomplishes the goal of adding to Gronk’s stash of NFL salary that he supposedly has never spent on so much as a Doritos taco, it doesn’t involve an extension. Obviously they still could extend his current deal, in addition to anything we just talked about doing, but probably not the best approach with Gronkowski somehow coming up on the big 3-0 in birthdays and kicking around retirement a bit more seriously in the past couple months.
Editor’s Note: insert mandatory freaking out about Gronk taking on an even bigger role early in the season with Julian Edelman’s likely suspension here.
Oh, and for the “Well the Patriots shouldn’t cave just because he wants more money, it’s a bad precedent!” crowd, not only is Gronk worth it, but this is a alley-oop compared to some of the gymnastics they’ve had to pull off to keep All-Pro talent in Foxborough in the past. No holdouts? No franchise tags? No haggling over whether you’re supposed to weigh between 335 and 347lbs? No “I’d love to play for (team near where I grew up) if this contract stuff doesn’t work out with the Patriots”? Here’s a guy that’s done nothing but prove that he can ball at a level that many have never seen a man ball at when he’s healthy, and all the Patriots have to do is figure out how to make him some more money. Unless he’s pulling an Odell Beckham Jr and wanting Aaron Rodgers money, how much easier could this get?
The answer is none. None more easier.
There’s plenty of legitimate reasons for concern with this year’s Patriots team (and no, Tom Brady missing voluntary workouts does not count, thanks and bye) - like, HMMMMM, maybe the defense A) staying healthy, B) adjusting to life without Matt Patricia, and C) for the love of whatever god you believe in, learn to defend a running back wheel route - but if Rob Gronkowski wants to get paid and the Patriots want to help him get there, that’s not even a situation to worry about or one that’s indicative of some slow-boiling, anonymous-source-worthy “tension”.
One might even call rewarding an All-Pro for beast-moding game-in and game-out “good business”.