Great Patriots Debate: What's the best catch Rob Gronkowski ever made?

Great Patriots Debate: What's the best catch Rob Gronkowski ever made?

If Rob Gronkowski intends on staying retired, the best indication that he's holding to that plan is that he has visibly lost weight. He told NFL Media's Rich Eisen recently that he's down to 250 pounds from a playing weight that hovered in the 260-270 pound range. 

But you can't blame the people who believe Gronk will be back, eventually.

Soon after Gronkowski retired, his agent Drew Rosenhaus indicated that he wouldn't be shocked if his superstar client decided to return at Tom Brady's behest. And in his chat with Eisen, Gronkowski joked that if Brady asked him to return he'd tell him, "Call me when you get to the playoffs." (That'd be a little late since NFL rules say Gronkowski would have to make a decision by Dec. 1. But still.)

Then there's this: Gronkowski and Brady met at UCLA to throw the football around on Monday. Is that a telltale sign Gronkowski wants to take the early portion of the 2019 season off before making his way back? Not necessarily. Brady spends a fair amount of his time in Southern California. Gronkowski was in town for a charity event. They're pals. But their workout won't quiet the throngs of Patriots fans clamoring for the tight end's return. 

With Gronkowski's name in the headlines again, it makes sense for us to focus on him for our next Great Patriots Debate: What's the best catch he's ever made? 

Until he comes back — if he comes back — memories are all we'll have left of the guy's playing days, and there are a few that immediately spring to mind.

For me, if we're talking purely about the acting of catching the football, the first is a regular-season snag in Foxboro that had Brady cursing up a storm in disbelief. Call it The "How the [Bleep] Did You Catch That?" Catch. When Gronkowski left his feet for a pass over the middle, reaching back for the football with his left hand and deftly securing it, he put his next-level athleticism and hands on display. How many pass-catchers — never mind tight ends — could have pulled off a similar feat?

If we're adding Gronkowski's vicious running style after the catch to the equation, then the play he made in Washington in his second season has to be way up the list. That was a historic year for Gronk, and by the time he made his human-wrecking-ball catch-and-run in early December, he had already cemented himself as one of the best in the league at his position. On that particular snap, he made a diving grab, got up before being touched, carried two defensive backs like children for five yards, shook them off, took another hit, and somehow kept his balance long enough to pick up 15 additional yards. 

If we're talking about Gronkowski's ability to take over a game, and if we want to highlight his rare catch radius, then look no further than what he did during "The Gronk Drive" in Pittsburgh in 2017. It came toward the end of the regular season and looked like the game that would determine the AFC's top seed for the playoffs. We all remember Gronk's two-point conversion that he plucked away from poor Steelers safety Sean Davis. We remember him pointing and laughing at Davis as the young defensive back picked himself up off the ground. It was the exclamation point to a drive during which Gronkowski racked up 70 yards on three catches in addition to the two-point play.

But do you remember the shoe-string grab he made for 17 yards on that drive? That season was the one in which Gronkowski was very open about how he'd altered his training methods. He spent more time with Alex Guerrero. He believed he was more flexible, and he looked like Gumby when Brady dropped back from the Pittsburgh 25-yard line on first-and-10 and threw low to Gronkowski just beyond the sticks. The 6-foot-6 behemoth bent down and swallowed it up when it was just a few inches off the turf. CBS play-by-play man Jim Nantz was in awe. "What an amazing catch. That size? C'mon!"

There are other catches worth noting, like when Gronkowski put the Bills on a poster late in 2017 with a one-handed touchdown catch in the front corner of the end zone. Or when he threw Bears defensive back Ryan Mundy off of him in the open field and rumbled for a 46-yard score in Week 8 of 2014.

But any conversation around the word "best," to me, has to account for the stakes. 

That's why his takeover in the 2015 AFC Championship Game against the Broncos stands out, despite the loss. Same goes for his performance in the second half against the Eagles in Super Bowl LII. His touchdown catch against the Seahawks in Super Bowl XLIX has to be considered one of his best, as should the one when he "Mossed" Chiefs safety Eric Berry late in last season's AFC title game.

The No. 1 catch of Gronkowski's career, though? I'd argue it came with 7:46 left in Super Bowl LIII, at the Rams 31-yard line. That's when Brady looked to him for a diving 29-yard completion that set up an easy go-ahead touchdown to give the Patriots a 10-3 lead. 

"I just knew it was going to come to me," Gronkowski said after. "I just understand how we work as an offense, understand the play-calling. We've been together for how many years now? Tom and I, McDaniels and I. Everyone. I knew it was going to come to me, and I knew I had to make that play."

It wasn't the most athletic play of his career. It didn't involve him embarrassing anyone with his brute strength. It wasn't punctuated by a spike. But his last catch (for now, at least) was his best.

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Patrick Mahomes contract will be an albatross for dynasty-chasing Chiefs

Patrick Mahomes contract will be an albatross for dynasty-chasing Chiefs

“We’re chasing a dynasty.”

That’s how Patrick Mahomes closed his ode of gratitude after signing the richest contract in pro sports history.

Of course you are, Patrick. You and everyone else.

But are you chasing “a” dynasty? Do you just want to be mentioned along with the Packers, Steelers, Niners, Cowboys and Patriots, the only dynasties of the Super Bowl era?

Or are you using chasing as in following? As in the dynasty that came immediately before you? Specifically, New England. The only dynasty of the salary cap era.

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Because if you’re chasing the Patriots, modelling yourself after the Patriots, thinking you and the Chiefs might be the Patriots and go to four Super Bowls in one decade and five in the next, you and your team just made a fundamental mistake. You went “pig at the trough.”

That phrase is one I heard from key folks in the Patriots organization several times in the early 2000s. Tom Brady? Not a pig at the trough when it came to contract time. Peyton Manning? Pig at the trough.

What difference does it make?

Without a piggish quarterback, you can still go 11-5 because there’s talent all over the roster. The Patriots did that in 2008. But when you have to feed and feed and feed that position? The roster gets so thin elsewhere that – without the quarterback – a team might go, say, 2-14 after nine straight seasons of double-digit wins as the Colts did in 2011 without Manning.

This isn’t to say that the Chiefs did the wrong thing in signing Mahomes. Business-wise, they win. And Mahomes wins as well. But lack of funds because of fat cap hits will inevitably make the on-field product suffer and make the chase for a dynasty that much harder.

You can’t blame the Hunt family.

Mahomes is the most important and impactful player in the NFL.

What he authored in the 2019 playoffs is unprecedented - erasing a 24-0 deficit and winning 51-31 in the Divisional Playoffs, going on a 35-7 run in the AFCCG to erase a 10-point deficit then score 21 unanswered in the fourth to erase another 10-point deficit in the Super Bowl. All that coming after the AFCCG nut punch from the Patriots at Kansas City when Mahomes did all he could in the second half to resuscitate KC but came up short because the Chiefs defense sucked.

Having Mahomes sewn up for a dozen years makes their already-skyrocketing asset that much more valuable.  

Consider this: according to Forbes, the Chiefs were the 28th most valuable franchise in the NFL with a total value of $986 million in 2011. By 2018, they were 24th in the league worth $2.1 billion and last September they were still 24th worth $2.3 billion. That will likely rise to nearly $3 billion when Forbes' new list comes out given the Super Bowl win and the presence of Mahomes, which will bring in way more revenue over the next 12 years than the $503 million they pay him.

The Chiefs made the deal as easy-to-swallow as they could in the first two years. Plus, the so-called “guarantee mechanisms” give the Chiefs an escape hatch they can use basically every year.

As for Mahomes, what’s he going to do, turn down a half-billion? Take the money and run, especially since the NFL could be approaching a bit of a recession.

The cap is going down in 2021 because local revenues are going to suffer with the pandemic. The changing media landscape, the financial fallout networks may experience because of COVID-19 and the fact this season may not deliver the same product the networks signed up for all may serve to diminish the next TV deal. The wrangling over how to deal with the drops has just begun.

So the deal is good for the Hunts and it's good for Mahomes.

But the cap hits begin getting big in 2022 ($31.5 million) and they are around $40 million for the next five seasons after that before ballooning to $60 million. If the NFL spreads out the revenue loss and cap decline it’s going to realize this season over a three-year period to soften the blow, the cap is not going to rise at the anticipated level.

And that’s not that good for the football team. Right now, defensive end Chris Jones is playing on a $16 million franchise tag and is pissed about it. Travis Kelce will make about $9 million the next two years as the best tight end in football. The Chiefs have six players this year with cap hits over $15 million. They can do that because Mahomes is a bargain with a $5.3 million cap hit.

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“If the Kansas City Chiefs can keep all the players together, we’re going to be a dynasty,” Chiefs receiver Sammy Watkins said on Tuesday. Yeah, well, about that.

It’s virtually impossible to keep all the players together when A) one guy is making a huge percentage of the cap and B) your team starts getting pilfered because it plays well every year.

There will be pooh-poohing about Mahomes’ cap percentage and insistence on TV and gambling money rolling into the coffers. Again, post-pandemic, I don’t see the cap rebounding that quickly.

And if the cap gets to $225 million by the time Mahomes starts seeing his $40 million hits beginning in 2023? That’s 17.7 percent of the cap.

Tom Brady’s highest cap percentage in the past decade was 12.2 percent in 2018. His average cap hit since 2011 was 9.8 percent.

Brady’s willingness to take less for so long enabled the Patriots to pay Vince Wilfork, Logan Mankins, Stephon Gilmore, Darrelle Revis, Devin McCourty, Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez and Donta’ Hightower really well (ever notice how many of the fat deals are on defense for Bill Belichick?). And it also allowed them to make sure the so-called middle class was squared away too.

By the end of it, when Belichick blanched at every Brady request to give him a bump, it was obvious the head coach was dying to be unburdened of a big-ticket quarterback.

We’ve gone over this at length already this offseason. And the benefit of Brady allowing himself to be lowballed was annually highlighted at Super Bowl time by national media.

People (Mike Felger) want to pretend the cap isn’t real. It is. You can ignore it. You can delay it. But eventually bills come due as they have for the Patriots this year.

New England’s stay in cap hell should be short. Meanwhile, a team like the Ravens who will now have Lamar Jackson using the Mahomes contract as a comp? Hell is on the horizon. Same for the Cowboys and Dak Prescott. Teams like the Rams, Raiders, and Eagles are already in hell now or approaching it next year having paid maybe really good but maybe not first-round picks like Jared Goff, Derek Carr and Carson Wentz huge amounts.

Mahomes is a unicorn. We can all agree on that. But his contract is going to be an albatross.

DeAngelo Hall calls himself 'greedy knucklehead' for not joining Patriots in 2009

DeAngelo Hall calls himself 'greedy knucklehead' for not joining Patriots in 2009

DeAngelo Hall was one of the top cornerbacks of his era and earned a lot of money and individual accolades, including three Pro Bowl selections. One thing missing from Hall's résumé is a Super Bowl ring, and that might not have been the case if he joined the New England Patriots in the middle of his career.

Hall isn't shy about saying one of the biggest regrets of his career was re-signing with the Washington Redskins instead of joining the Patriots in free agency after the 2008 season.

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"When I signed to play half the season with Washington in 2008, there was a line in my contract that said the team could not franchise tag me that next season. I remember negotiations for a new deal with Washington weren't going well, and there were other teams in the picture, including New England," Hall said, per an article posted Tuesday. "At that time, players didn't take short-term deals, but Randy Moss had just signed a three-year, $27 million deal with the Patriots. I couldn't believe it.

"In my own contract discussions with the Pats, I recall Bill Belichick telling me they couldn't give me the contract Moss signed. Being a young and greedy knucklehead, I chose to stay in Washington on a long-term deal (six years, $54 million), which ultimately had me making the same per-year salary as Moss. Over a few million, I could've changed my legacy by being part of that dynasty. That was on the table for me, and I wish I would've made the decision to take less money and play for Belichick."

Hall played for the Redskins through the end of the 2017 season before retiring. The Redskins made two playoff appearances in that span -- NFC Wild Card Round losses in 2012 and 2015. The Patriots, over that same span, played in four Super Bowls and won two. New England's active playoff appearance streak of 11 seasons began in 2009, and it's the longest such streak in league history.

There's no guarantee Hall would've won a Super Bowl with the Patriots. They didn't win another Lombardi Trophy until Year 5 of Hall's six-year extension with the Redskins. But Hall definitely would've been a nice upgrade for the Patriots defense in the second half of his career.