Patriots

Patriots

It’s a big week for tight end intentions. Jason Witten is rejoining the Cowboys (Dak Prescott and my ears rejoice) and Martellus Bennett is eyeballing a return.

But the most impactful tight-end decision to be made is still dangling out there.

With the league year and free agency less than two weeks away, the Patriots still don’t have a concrete answer from tight end Rob Gronkowski on whether he’s hanging ‘em up.

The Patriots would prefer Gronk doesn’t dawdle. His $9 million base salary and assorted bonuses, etc. will count against the cap to the tune of $11.6 million.  

Given the way he played as both a blocker and receiver in the postseason and his improved mental outlook and engagement after the “blue period” of October and November, my suspicion is the Patriots would be happy to have him back and would do it at the number he’s down for.

That’s a departure from the way I felt during the season.

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When Gronk was battling both ankle and back injuries and having a hard time getting his mind around the fact that he was dealing with those and what he considered a cut-rate contract, it seemed like one way or another, 2018 was his last year as a Patriot. Either he’d wrap it up or the team would say, “Thanks. You were great. Bye.”

But the end of the year went well enough for the team to feel good about keeping him on.

 

Which puts the decision firmly in Gronk’s hands. What factors will he weigh?

First, he’ll have to conclude that the $9 million salary is suitable for his services. The deal he signed in 2012 is still at the top of the tight-end food chain but -- aside from 2018 -- Gronk’s impact has been greater than that of your run-of-the-mill outstanding tight end. When healthy, he’s been at least as impactful as guys like Julio Jones, De’Andre Hopkins, Brandin Cooks, etc. and they make twice what Gronk does in salary.

If that rate isn’t suitable, is he willing to play for incentives as he did in 2018? And how does the team come up with a package of attainable ones so that Gronk doesn’t swing and miss on all of them as he did last season?

It’s a hard equation.

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Gronk’s primary concern is his health and he made it very clear during Super Bowl week that managing his workload is a priority.

Meanwhile, the team needs him available for practices during the week as well as game day. Too often, that wasn’t the case last year and there was some friction over it.

If Gronk wants a raise, snap-based and production-based incentives are really the only way to bump his money after his least productive season. Is he biting on that deal again?

The Patriots have a lot of roster-building to do between now and training camp, especially on offense and especially at wide receiver and tight end.

The sooner Gronk shares his plans, the sooner the Patriots can get on with their business one way or the other.

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