For a change, the initial reports regarding the value of a big-money contract mesh with the real numbers.
The six-year extension creates an eight-year deal that amounts to, in reality, a four-year deal with a series of four one-year team options thereafter.
Gronkowski replaces the $1.23 million he was due to earn over the final two years of his rookie contract with the same base salaries and workout bonuses in 2012 and 2013, plus a signing bonus of $8 million, fully-guaranteed compensation of $4 million in 2014, and $5 million in 2015 pay that is guaranteed for injury only for now, and that becomes fully guaranteed if he’s on the roster five days after the Super Bowl that ends the 2014 season.
After the fourth year, the Pats have to decide whether to pay Gronkowski an option bonus of $10 million, which the team has to decide whether to exercise by the end of the 2015 league year. As Liz Mullen of SportsBusiness Journal pointed out on Friday, the Pats have agreed not to pass on the option and then use the franchise or transition tag to keep him around for another season at what likely would be a much lower figure than $10 million.
So Gronkowski either will become an unrestricted free agent after four seasons, or he’ll get $10 million plus $2.25 million in base salary and a workout bonus of $250,000 and $31,250 for each game that he appears on the active roster, for a total possible haul in 2016 alone of $13 million.
The keys to the ultimate duration of the deal could be the cap numbers. At very low figures of $2.66 million and $2.75 million in 2012 and 2013, respectively, the number moves to $5.4 million in 2014 and then to $8.65 million in 2015.
That makes Gronkowski a candidate for an extension or a restructuring in 2015, in order to drive the cap figure down.
Of course, that would serve only to increase the cap numbers of $6.65 million, $7 million, $11 million, and $12 million over the final four years of the contract, making the final two seasons at base salaries of $8 million and $9 million even less likely to ever be fulfilled.
Still, given that he was facing only $1.23 million over the next two seasons and up to two seasons thereafter of the tight end franchise tag, Gronkowski has emerged with a large bird in the hand, in lieu of two in a bush that he wouldn’t have gotten close enough to catch for at least two more years, maybe four.