EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — For the second consecutive season, Rob Gronkowski will have to play for a raise. And play well. Like, really well.
Gronkowski’s agent Drew Rosenhaus told ESPN that Gronkowski has signed a restructured contract for 2018 that will contains an additional $1 million in per-game bonuses and $3.3 million in incentives. The All-Pro tight end was scheduled to make about $9 million in 2018 prior to the restructure and now has the opportunity to make up to $13.05 million.
There’s good and bad here for Gronkowski.
The good? If he can stay healthy, and if he earns that per-game bonus, that will mean he’ll work his way back up the tight end ladder. Jimmy Graham, who signed a deal with the Packers this offseason, earns $10 million on average so Gronkowski’s per-game bonus will put him in that ballpark.
Gronkowski also has a chance to haul in about as much cash as Graham will in 2018. If Gronkowski hits all his incentives and eclipses the $13 million mark, that’ll pull him closer to Graham, who’ll receive $13.25 million this year thanks to an $11 million signing bonus.
Gronkowski acknowledged earlier this week that he’d like for tight ends to be lumped into a broader pass-catcher category with receivers when it comes to contract negotiation. And if he can pull in all of his incentive money, he’ll be paid like a top-10 receiver, raking in more cash than Larry Fitzgerald ($12 million) and DeAndre Hopkins ($12.5 million).
MORE FROM PHIL PERRY
He’s clearly a cut above Graham as a player, and in terms of his overall impact, he’s deserving of more than receivers like Allen Robinson ($14 million per year), Jarvis Landry ($15 million), Sammy Watkins ($16 million) and Brandin Cooks ($16.2 million). That he closed that gap may be viewed as a victory for Gronk Inc.
The bad? Gronkowski is going to have to work for his money.
* Gronkowski’s hit 70 catches 3x (2011, 2014, 2015). 69 last year.
* He’s hit 1,085 yards 3x (2011, 2014, 2015). 1,084 last year.
* He’s hit 9 TDs 5x. 8 last year.
* He’s hit 80 playing time 2x. 79 percent last year.
All NLTBE. Won’t count against the 2018 cap. https://t.co/Dt4RA4awc5
— Phil Perry (@PhilAPerry) August 30, 2018
His incentives are all “not likely to be earned” because he didn’t hit those numbers last year. NLTBE incentives don’t count against the current year’s cap, but if a player reaches them, they will count against the following year’s cap.
Gronkowski missed two games last year, but hitting three of those four markers — 70 catches, 1,085 yards, nine touchdowns, 80 percent playing time — won’t be easy. If he can stay healthy, he’ll have a shot. But they are by no means a given. Neither is his health, obviously.
The incentive package can’t thrill Gronkowski, who had to be named a First-Team All-Pro in 2017 to pick up all of his incentive money, which amounted to $5.5 million that was tacked onto his base salary of $5.25 million. He didn’t have a great deal of leverage, however.
Gronkowski is a prisoner of his position in many ways. Tight end is among the least-expensive positions when it comes to franchise-tag value.
He was asked Tuesday if he’d like to have tight ends lumped in with other pass-catchers when it comes to negotiating time, and he quickly provided what may have been the easiest answer of his professional career.
“That would be pretty cool,” he said, before adding that he was “always open” to re-working his deal.
Would he like something done before the season?
“It is what it is,” he said at the time. “That’s not really my focus. I got a long season ahead and just trying to focus on what I need to really do and just let everything else play out.”
Gronkowski remains under contract through 2019. There may have been some reluctance on the part of the Patriots to give Gronkowski an extension with a hefty signing bonus for a few reasons.
No. 1: He’s 29 and his injury history is what it is. No. 2: He openly discussed the possibility of retirement following last season’s Super Bowl. No. 3: Contracts can impact a locker room, as Jerod Mayo has explained on Quick Slants the Podcast in the past, and the Patriots typically want to reward players who do things the way the team wants them done.
While Gronkowski has cemented himself as one of the best tight ends in the history of the game, how he handled this offseason — skipping spring workouts, going into the facility in the spring to hold a press conference where he joked he was primarily focused on dirt-biking — probably wouldn’t be viewed as exemplary behavior at One Patriots Place.
Combine it all — and add to that the fact that Tom Brady took an incentive-laden restructure earlier this offseason — and Gronkowski’s most realistic option to get paid closer to what he’s worth was via incentives.
That means he’ll have to have a very good season, one of his best, to make all he can. It also means that he and the Patriots could be right back in the same situation around this time next year, when he’ll be under contract for a base salary of $9 million and — if all goes well for him this year — likely looking for more.
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