FOXBORO - Rob Gronkowski could've done what Khalil Mack did. Or Aaron Donald. Or Le'Veon Bell. He could've held out.
And if he wanted to max out his football income, it might not have been a terrible idea. Look at how that approach worked for the first two names on the above list. We'll see how it goes for Bell.
But Gronkowski went a different route. He showed up for all mandatory workouts, and he didn't get the new landmark type of deal that Mack and Donald got. Instead, he got an incentive-heavy restructure for 2018 that could pay him a max value of a little more than $13 million.
Trying again...— Phil Perry (@PhilAPerry) August 30, 2018
* 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
On Tuesday, in his first meeting with reporters since making the new deal official, he said he was perfectly happy with that.
"I’m super satisfied with my situation," he said. "If I wasn’t, I would try to pull a move like they did. It works out. You get rewarded for holding out, but I’m not frustrated at all or anything. I’m super satisfied and just ready to go. Ready to play. That’s my main focus."
Gronkowski's contract now 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.
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 salary ladder. Jimmy Graham, who signed a deal with the Packers this offseason, earns $10 million on an average annual basis.
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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.
That $13 million figure would also bring Gronkowski closer to some of the more highly-paid receivers in the game. It won't be near the average annual contract values of Allen Robinson ($14 million), Jarvis Landry ($15 million), Sammy Watkins ($16 million) or Brandin Cooks ($16.2 million) money. But in terms of total cash, Larry Fitzgerald ($12 million, No. 10 among receivers) and DeAndre Hopkins ($12.5 million, No. 9) are both scheduled to rake in less than Gronkowski's max salary for this season.
Gronkowski said back in July, after skipping all voluntary workouts -- and holding a bizarre press conference in the spring during OTAs where he joked he was focused on riding dirt bikes -- that he never considered holding out.
"No, it hasn't even come close to considering that," Gronkowski said. "Not even one bit. What I can do, though, is keep preparing, keep showing up every day, keep doing what I've got to do to get better."
The best-case scenario for a holdout is what happened with Donald this summer. He ended up pulling in $135 million over six years, including $87 million guaranteed -- a record-setting deal for defensive players. He stayed with the team that drafted him and got paid.
Mack's holdout paid off in a big way as well. He'll bring in $90 million guaranteed after signing a new deal with the Bears, who coughed up a coffer of draft picks to get Mack in-house.
Gronkowski could have argued that his abilities are just as important to his team as Donald's and Mack's were to theirs. But Gronkowski is in a bit of a different scenario than those two. He's older, now 29, and his injury history is far more involved than theirs. He also has two seasons remaining on his contract, whereas Mack and Donald were set to hit free agency after 2018 (barring the application of the franchise tag).
And if a trade was on the table -- as it was for Mack and the Raiders, obviously -- then Gronkowski would have sacrificed time with Tom Brady for more money elsewhere.
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Gronkowski could have forced the Patriots' hand. He could've held out for a better deal. He could've held out for a trade.
But it seems as though that was never in the offing. Probably, at least in part, because the reality of playing in another city, in another offense, with another quarterback -- and having no say in the matter -- wasn't all that palatable.