Gronkowski goes for over 100 yards: 'I'm getting back to my old self'

Gronkowski goes for over 100 yards: 'I'm getting back to my old self'

Rob Gronkowski admitted this past week that he's been limited by the hamstring injury that forced him to miss the first two games of the regular season, but he insisted that he was doing all he could to get better every day.

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On Sunday, when he reeled in five catches for 109 yards, he seemed to be at his best. Or at least close to it. 

"I felt a lot better out there this week," he said after the Patriots beat the Browns, 33-13. "Just throughout the weeks, just was improving every single day, every single week, so now I'm getting back to my old self. It feels great. Love going out there and love playing football where I'm back to myself. It feels great to be back out there with the boys, and doing what I have to do to help out the team."

Gronkowski made his impact felt early and in more ways than one. He helped spark his team's first drive of the game when he caught a 19-yard pass from Tom Brady over the middle. Moments later, he was rumbling down the field, leaving a trail of Browns defenders in his wake on a 34-yard catch-and-run that put the Patriots on the goal line. 

To punch it in, the Patriots ran LeGarrette Blount right behind the 6-foot-6, 265-pound tight end for their first score.

The Patriots leaned heavily on their two-tight end sets throughout the game, and there were times where attention paid to Gronkowski clearly benefited fellow tight end Martellus Bennett, who ended up with three scores in the game, a career-high.

On Bennett's third touchdown, a 37-yarder, both Gronkowski and Bennett lined up as run-blockers to help set up a play-action fake. After Brady faked a hand-off to running back James White, both Bennett and Gronkowski had released into routes up the field. It seemed as though the Browns shaded their coverage to Gronkowski's side, leaving Bennett open along the sideline with no Browns safety over the top.

Brady made an accurate throw, and it didn't take long for Bennett to find the pylon.

"That's why it's such a team game," Gronkowski said. "Two defenders come to me, it leaves other guys, the receivers, it leaves Marty open in the end zone one-on-one. That's who you go to. It's [great] seeing people get opportunities and capilatizing on them. That's why it's such a great sport to play because it's such a team game overall."

"Depending on what the defense is doing, they double Rob, they try to jam me, and it's still man-to-man on different things," Bennett said. "Or they double me on a play. [It's] just finding the matchups and it opens it up a little bit for everyone."

Bennett, who returned to the game after suffering an ankle injury in the first quarter, acknowledged that the offense is "dynamic" when he and Gronkowski are on the field together.

"I love playing with Gronk," Bennett said. "I'm very excited for him, and it's pretty dynamic with both of us out there today. He played very well. I expect him to continue to play like that. That's what Gronk is, that's what Gronk does, and that's why he's the Gronkenator."

Report: Cam Fleming visiting the Cowboys

File Photo

Report: Cam Fleming visiting the Cowboys

There's one gigantic hole to fill on the Patriots offensive line.

Replacing Nate Solder is no easy task and it's not exactly clear how the Pats will yet.

NFL Network insider Ian Rapoport was first to report the Patriots would like to bring back Waddle or Fleming.

It now appears that one of the former backup tackle is taking a serious look elsewhere, according to Ian Rapoport. 

It's not the best offensive line free agency market this season, so the Pats may prefer to bring back a guy they are familar with.

If Fleming is off the board, Waddle still remains as an option for New England.



How the compensatory pick formula may impact Patriots free-agent calls

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How the compensatory pick formula may impact Patriots free-agent calls

How highly do the Patriots value their mid-round draft picks? We'll find out as the run on NFL free agents continues this week. 

If Bill Belichick and Nick Caserio plan to make any signings from outside the organization, they'll have to factor into that decision what they will be giving up. Money and cap space matter . . . sure. But there is draft capital at stake.  

The Patriots are currently projected to land two third-round compensatory picks in 2019 after losing both Malcolm Butler and Nate Solder in free agency. There's real value there, and the decision-makers at One Patriot Place may be reluctant to give that up. 

Recent Patriots third-round picks include Derek Rivers, Tony Garcia, Joe Thuney, Jacoby Brissett, Vincent Valentine, Geneo Grissom, Duron Harmon and Logan Ryan. 


Before we get into how the Patriots might lose those third-round comp picks if they remain active in free-agency, it's worth noting how comp picks are assigned. 

The compensatory-pick formula the league uses has never been published, but we know the basics. It's based on free agents lost and free agents acquired in a given year by a particular team. The level of those players is taken into consideration -- based on salary, playing time and other factors -- and then picks are issued to teams who have lost more (or better) free agents than they acquired. Only free agents whose contracts have expired (not players who've been released) qualify for the compensatory-pick formula.'s Nick Korte is the best in the business when it comes to predicting how many picks teams will land based on their free-agent losses and acquisitions, and he has the Patriots down for two third-rounders in 2019 and nothing else. 

That may sound surprising given the Patriots lost Dion Lewis and Danny Amendola in addition to Butler and Solder, but that's the way the formula broke, according to Korte. The Adrian Clayborn signing (given a sixth-round value by OTC) cancelled out the Amendola loss (sixth-round value). The Matt Tobin signing (seventh-round value) cancelled out the Lewis loss (sixth-round value). And the Jeremy Hill signing (seventh-round value) cancelled out the Johnson Bademosi loss (sixth-round value). 

Why do Tobin and Hill cancel out Amendola and Lewis, despite being lower-value moves? Here's how OTC describes the process. (Free agents who qualify for the comp-pick formula are known as Compensatory Free Agents or CFAs.)

1. A CFA gained by a team cancels out the highest-valued available CFA lost that has the same round valuation of the CFA gained.

2. If there is no available CFA lost in the same round as the CFA gained, the CFA gained will instead cancel out the highest-available CFA lost with a lower round value.

3. A CFA gained will only cancel out a CFA lost with a higher draft order if there are no other CFAs lost available to cancel out. 

That final point is key. An example? The Seahawks recently signed CFA Jaron Brown, a seventh-round value. The only Seahawks "CFAs lost" available to cancel out the move were Paul Richardson and Jimmy Graham, both fourth-round values. Even though there's a three-round difference between Brown and Richardson, per Korte's projections, those moves still will cancel each other out. 

With that in mind, the Patriots may want to tread lightly when it comes to signing free agents who will qualify toward the comp-pick formula. They could lose out on the third-rounders they've received for Solder and Butler even if they sign a lower-value free agent.

Players like Saints safety Kenny Vaccaro or Raiders linebacker NaVorro Bowman would count toward the comp-pick formula. Would their value to the team be such that losing a 2019 third-round pick wouldn't matter to the Patriots? Or would their comp-pick impact hurt their chances of being picked up in New England? My guess would be the latter. 

The good news for the Patriots is that re-signing their own players -- like offensive tackles LaAdrian Waddle and/or Cam Fleming -- doesn't impact the comp-pick setup. Neither does signing players who've been released, meaning the Patriots could theoretically make a splash by signing Ndamukong Suh or Eric Ebron and they'd retain their comp picks.

Given the Patriots made just four draft picks last year, and since comp picks can be traded now (that rule was changed last year), it would come as little surprise if retaining those picks weighed heavily on Belichick and Caserio's decisions as they move through the remainder of the offseason.