Last year, the Patriots and tight end Rob Gronkowski began the process of negotiating a new contract. His latest back surgery derailed that process, and also prevented as a practical matter a new deal in 2017.
That said, the Patriots agreed to the unusual step of giving Gronkowski an incentive package with nothing in return: No reduced salaries, no restructuring, no extra terms. Instead, it’s simply more money based on performance, on top of the money Gronkowski already was due to earn.
Gronkowski had been due to make $5.25 million in 2017, roughly $8.5 million in 2018, and $9 million in 2019. As it now stands, he has a three-tiered incentive package for 2017.
According to agent Drew Rosenhaus, Gronkowski can earn another $5.5 million, another $3 million, or another $1 million under the following formula: (1) if he participates in 90 percent of the offensive snaps OR catches 80 passes OR gains 1,200 receiving yards OR scores 14 touchdowns OR is named a first-team All-Pro, Gronkowski will earn the extra $5.5 million; (2) if he participates in 80 percent of the snaps OR catches 70 passes OR has 1,000 receiving yards OR scores 12 touchdowns, he gets the extra $3 million; or (3) if he participates in 70 percent of the snaps OR catches 60 passes OR has 800 receiving yards OR scores 10 touchdowns, he gets the extra $1 million.
The extra payments would be due in February, with the cap charge applying in 2018.
Gronkowski is a three-time first-team All-Pro, he has two seasons with 90 or more catches, one with more than 14 touchdowns, two with 12 or more, and three with 1,000 or more. Every time he has appeared in at least 15 games (with the exception of his rookie year), Gronkowski has had more than 1,000 receiving yards, and he has been named a first-team All-Pro.
It’s a true win-win, giving Gronkowski something more than what he was entitled to and ensuring that the Patriots will have a happy and motivated player. Talks on a potential extension for the 28-year-old will now be tabled until 2018, and his performance in 2017 will be a major factor in those discussions.
Based on his history, a healthy Gronkowski enhances the chances of the kind of season that will help him become a first-team All-Pro, delivering the $5.5 million regardless of playing time, catches, yards, or touchdowns. The only question is whether, given the various offensive additions the Patriots have made, the ball will come his way often enough to allow him to achieve the kind of performance that gets him enough All-Pro votes.
Given the size and reliability of the target he gives to quarterback Tom Brady, that presence of other options shouldn’t be a major issue.