Patriots

Does Rob Gronkowski have a shot at maxing out his 2017 incentives?

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Does Rob Gronkowski have a shot at maxing out his 2017 incentives?

Even if Rob Gronkowski wasn't specifically thinking about his bank account when he had a catch near the goal line ruled incomplete in Denver on Sunday, you couldn't blame him if his earning potential was somewhere in the back of his mind. 

That's just how his contract is constructed for 2017. It's heavily incentive-laden, with multiple statistical tiers that can bump his $5.25 million salary all the way up to a maximum of $10.75 million. 

We've covered this ground at different points this season, but it's worth revisiting after Gronkowski had what he thought was a touchdown was wiped off the board against the Broncos.

If Gronkowski hits 70 percent playing time, 60 catches, 800 yards or 10 touchdowns he would earn $6.75 million for 2017. The second tier would pay him $8.75 million if he gets to 80 percent playing time, 70 catches, 1,000 receiving yards or 12 touchdowns.

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The big money, the $10.75 million max, would roll his way if he plays 90 percent of Patriots offensive snaps, has 80 catches, 1,200 receiving yards or earns All-Pro recognition. 

After a six-catch, 83-yard game against the Jets in Week 6, Gronkowski was on track to hit the max value of his deal because he was on pace for 1,203 receiving yards.

Though he's still well within reach of hitting that big pay day, he's now on pace to fall just short of the max.

Gronkowski caught four passes for 74 yards at Mile High, meaning that, based on his averages, he's now tracking for 72 catches for 1,093 yards and nine touchdowns. Even though he's been used extensively lately -- he's missed just 17 snaps since Week 6 -- he's on pace to play 81 percent of snaps because he sat out a Week 5 game against the Bucs. 

All of those numbers would slot him in for $8.75 million this season. 

What's interesting about the incentive tiers built into Gronkowski's contract for this season is that if he hits the $10.75 million max, that could then impact how he views the final two years of his contract with the Patriots.

Gronkowski is scheduled to earn $8 million in base salary in 2018 and $9 million in 2019. For both seasons he has bonuses that would combine to pay him an additional $1 million each season -- $750,000 in roster bonuses and $250,000 in workout bonuses, per the Boston Globe.

Should Gronowski hit his $10.75 million this season, he would essentially be taking a pay cut if those final two years on his contract -- his 29 and 30-year-old seasons -- aren't altered. 

That would then put the Patriots in a tight spot. Gronkowski is already scheduled to have the richest base salary among NFL tight ends in 2019, and his 2018 base salary is scheduled to be the second-richest behind only Jordan Reed's.

Would the team be willing to go any further than that for Gronkowski? He's obviously crucial to their operation, but his injury history is what it is, and the likelihood is that he's closer to the end of his career than the beginning.

That might fall under the category of a cross-that-bridge-when/if-we-get-to-it situation for Bill Belichick and Nick Caserio. But if Gronkowski continues to stay healthy and produces as one of the best at his position, and if he hits that $10.75 million mark, it will be a situation worth monitoring.

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Curran: Pats and Steelers a study in contrasts . . . and we should be grateful

Curran: Pats and Steelers a study in contrasts . . . and we should be grateful

PITTSBURGH --- Mike Tomlin started embracing the "elephant" s on November 27.

Foreplay with the pachyderm can finally cease. The Patriots and Steelers get after it this afternoon. This is the Game of the Year in the AFC. Maybe the NFL.

While Tomlin started hyping the Patriots game 21 days ago, the Patriots didn’t breathe a word about it until this week. And that only came after a Monday night loss in Miami that raised the stakes for this game into a do-or-die for the Patriots in terms of getting the No. 1 seed.

PATRIOTS VS. STEELERS

That whiff of vulnerability that descends after every Patriots loss was in the air this week. Segments of the fanbase react like the worst kinds of hypochondriacs -- perfectly fit but thinking every day that every twinge means an aneurysm is near.

But on Saturday, the 40-year-old quarterback did for New England what he’s been doing since 2001. Put his hand on its shoulder and said, “LFG.” 

Thank God for Tomlin. As much as we lampooned his giddy embrace of this matchup, he got the hype train out of the station and the tub-thumping since has made this the most anticipated Patriots game since February.

While we’re at it, thank God for the Steelers. For Big Sloppy Ben, for Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell and the detestable James Harrison. Without them, the Patriots would be completely without a foil in this league.

Think about it. The NFL is Rex-less. Peyton’s long gone, the Colts are dead, the Broncos are also dead, the Ravens are washed, Eli’s on his last legs for a two-win team.

The Steelers are the only ones out there, picking up a rock and fitting it in a slingshot for the rest of the conference, the rest of the league.

Take it a little further: Thank God for the Steelers as an organization. They serve as an AFC measuring stick for the Patriots. They won back-to-back Super Bowls twice in the 1970s and have won six Lombardis overall. While there’s no arguing which franchise has been better since the 1990s, you can have a spirited talk about whether the Patriots have yet supplanted the Steelers in overall historical resume. You want 45 years of really good with spikes of being the best, as Pittsburgh’s had? Or 40 years of not-so-good with spikes of real good and then a 17-year stretch like no team’s ever had?

These Steelers and Patriots have nothing in common when it comes to the way they do things. The coaches are polar opposites. The quarterbacks are nothing alike. The Steelers defense flies around with the same danger and disorganization of a wasp attack. Playing the Patriots defense is like punching a snowbank for three hours. Everything about the Patriots offense is based on timing and precision. The Steelers have an air of winging it when they have the ball, whether it’s Bell hanging out in the backfield after the snap until a crease opens or Roethlisberger waiting to restart a play while Brown skips through the opposing secondary.

The Steelers always talk a big game. The Patriots say next to nothing.

As consumers, we all love the talking and the hype because it ratchets up the drama. But as football observers based in New England, we’ve come to believe that talking beforehand is like giving your own eulogy.

But a lot of what Mike Tomlin said you can agree with even if you’re only on your couch today. You will remember this game, as opposed to the succession of beatdowns over the procession of also-rans the Patriots seasons sometimes become.

"It's good to be in the kitchen,” said Tomlin this week. “The kitchen's in Pittsburgh, PA, this week in the National Football League, and at Heinz Field. That's where you want to be in the middle of December. We don't take it for granted."

And neither should we.

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Patriots will be without Kyle Van Noy for showdown against Steelers

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Patriots will be without Kyle Van Noy for showdown against Steelers

The Patriots' defense won't be at full strength Sunday as linebacker Kyle Van Noy, who's been battling a calf injury for weeks, is ruled out against the Steelers:

And NBC Sports Boston's Mike Giardi wonders if it could have been avoided:

And what will it mean this afternoon? Giardi has an idea:

There is some good injury news for the Patriots, however:

As for the Steelers, they're getting nothing but good news: