FOXBORO -- For anyone inside the Patriots locker room who may have their contract status at the tops of their minds, Monday brought with it some interesting data points on both the micro and macro levels.
In house, Patriots right guard Shaq Mason earned a five-year, $50 million extension with $23.5 million guaranteed and about $30 million paid out over the first three years of the deal. A few hundred miles south, Giants receiver Odell Beckham Jr. became the highest-paid player at his position, picking up a five-year extension of his own worth $95 million.
It should come as no surprise that Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski was paying attention. There would be no way to miss the news of Mason's new deal -- teammates were jokingly asking Mason for money in the locker room following a recent practice.
"I mean he’s a great player," Gronkowski said. "His speed is unreal, the way he can close the gap on a small defender and just block him is unbelievable. He’s a great player, and it’s always great to see guys like him get a deal like that."
Gronkowski said he was similarly pleased for Beckham.
"He’s a great player. He comes up clutch in many situations and just his talent is second-to-none," Gronkowski said. "It’s always good to see guys like that that got that talent – I’m in for the players always. I mean, I’m a player, so it’s good to see that."
While any time a player is able to set the market at a position it's good news for all, it's hard not to consider Beckham's deal as the latest in a string of indicators that Gronkowski is underpaid for his services.
A First-Team All-Pro for the fourth time in his career last year, Gronkowski could make an argument for himself as the most impactful offensive weapon in football. What he does as both a receiver and blocker is the definition of game-changing. Even in the preseason, defenses have sold out to stop him, helping his teammates find openings.
It happened just last week in Carolina when there were three Panthers defenders dropping to Gronkowski's area, leaving Chris Hogan open underneath for a 10-yard gain on third down.
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's been a while since he's talked contract -- he mentioned late last month that he'd like to keep all contract discussions "internal" -- but he has been present at every practice, and he participated in last week's preseason game.
If he was worried about doing himself harm before having a new deal in hand, he hasn't shown it.
"It is what it is," he said. "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 may have little other choice. He's under contract through 2019. He could hold out, but if he only wants to play with Tom Brady, and if the option to trade Gronkowski is on the table for Bill Belichick and Nick Caserio, then it might be in Gronkowski's best interest to roll with the status quo.
And there may be 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.
Should the message be, do what he does and you'll get paid? Maybe the Patriots are just waiting to let this offseason breathe before they send that one.
But make no mistake: Gronkowski is playing what amounts to a pay-in 2018. We mentioned this as his All-Pro season was playing out during his incentive-laden 2017 season. He made over $10 million last year by earning All-Pro honors. Now he's playing for about $9 million, and there are no incentives on the table to this point.
It wouldn't take much to make Gronkowski the highest-paid tight end in the league; Green Bay's Jimmy Graham is scheduled to make $10 million per season on his new contract. But would it be enough for Gronkowski to be No. 1 at his position?
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).
This could be a takes-two-to-tango situation. The Patriots have their reasons for not overextending. And maybe Gronkowski isn't all too keen on the idea of another incentive-laden contract that isn't going to reset the market at his position and close the gap on Beckham and others -- if something like that was even discussed.
The result . . . crickets.
There's certainly still time for something to get done, but Gronkowski is operating under the same deal he had when he went to Belichick in April with agent Drew Rosenhaus for what Rosenhaus told ESPN was a "very positive" meeting.
So if it's not going to be Gronkowski, who is deserving of the next raise from the Patriots? There are plenty of candidates. Chris Hogan, Danny Shelton, Malcom Brown, Cordarrelle Patterson, Eric Rowe, Trent Brown, Stephen Gostkowski and Ryan Allen are all scheduled to hit free agency after the season. Jonathan Jones is going to be a restricted free agent.
Trey Flowers, though, may be the most critical piece with an expiring deal, and he might be the most logical player to get the next extension in the Patriots locker room.
A fourth-round pick in 2015, like Mason, Flowers was asked if Mason's deal had Flowers thinking about his next payday.
"What he eat don't make me . . . You dig what I'm saying," Flowers asked, referencing a line from Jay-Z's song "Heart of the City (Ain't No Love)."
"That really don't got nothing to do with me," Flowers added. "I'm just focusing on myself . . . I'm just working, man. I'm going to let that handle itself when the time comes, and I'm going to just keep working. It is what it is."
The dance coming here is as old as free agency itself in the NFL. Take the security of a new contract before hitting the open market, as Mason did. Or wait. Hope to stay healthy. Have a strong season, and maximize your value.
Flowers is in an interesting spot in that he's solidified himself as one of Belichick's most important defenders, but he's not necessarily viewed as an elite-level pass-rusher. He had 13.5 combined sacks in 2016 and 2017.
"Trey obviously is a tremendous worker," Rob Ninkovich told me earlier this summer. "He's got a great work ethic. You know, the Patriot defense is always about multiple positions. The hard part about the multiple positions is, what is the No. 1 position [for him]? Is he a left outside linebacker? Is he a left defensive end? Is he an inside pass-rusher? You know, what are the things that he does best to where this is where he's going to be this year . . .
"I hope Trey has a great year, and I anticipate him to have a great year, but you know it's hard to be the one guy. It's better to be one guy with other guys around you. That's when you can really excel. If it was just me by myself and not having those other pieces, I probably wouldn't have been as productive. When you can have other guys around you that are producing at a high level, that's when you're free to get your one-on-ones. When you're the best guy out there, you have all the attention on you."
Flowers, who's represented by Belichick's longtime agent Neil Cornrich, may want to wait on putting pen to paper in the hopes that he can crack double-digit sacks in 2018. Solid as he is in other areas, and as impactful a rusher as he's been by racking up quarterback hurries and hits, sacks typically get players paid. The Vikings handed Danielle Hunter a deal worth $72 million over five years this offseason after he posted 19.5 sacks in 2016 and 2017.
Getting those sack numbers could be difficult, though, because of the system the Patriots play, Ninkovich acknowledged.
"The sack numbers aren't there because of the fact that there are so many variables you're dealing with," he said. "But as far as what you are to the Patriots, that's one thing that gave me value. Yeah, could I have gone somewhere else and made more money? Yeah. But would I have had multiple Super Bowl wins and played in the playoffs and done all the things I've done here in Boston? No. Not at all."
If Flowers thinks it over and comes to the same conclusion, he could be the next in line to see an extension. He handles multiple roles. Even though he's missed practice time this summer, he's been dependable over the last two seasons, playing all 16 games and through the Super Bowl in each.
And he does things the way the Patriots want them done, including going above and beyond when it comes to his role as a mentor for younger ends like Deatrich Wise and Derek Rivers.
"He does an outstanding job with his teammates at that position," Belichick said recently. "He doesn’t have a lot of practice time this year, but when he does and the opportunities that he has in meetings and things like that, and he's a great example for them. I mean, if they just watch what he does and do what he does, you couldn’t do much better than that. Yeah, he's helped."
If a contract extension truly impacts a locker room, if it truly is a dangling carrot for younger players to chase -- something that forces them to say to themselves, "If I do what he does, I'll get paid" -- then Flowers seems like one of the team's strongest candidates to get the next in New England.