Back on June 5, Rob Gronkowski stood in front of reporters following a Patriots minicamp practice and answered questions about his contract.
Was he re-doing his deal? "I don't know," he replied. "Trying to."
Would he like something to be finalized before the season? "Who wouldn't?"
We're less than a month away from Patriots training camp, and Gronkowski's contract has yet to be altered. No raise. No restructure. No incentive-laden re-write like the one he received last year, which allowed him to more than double his original base salary ($5.25 million) when he was named First-Team All-Pro ($10.75 million).
Gronkowski remains one of the best bargains in football when healthy as he's scheduled to earn $8 million in base salary and almost $9 million in all next season. Though he's the consensus top tight end in the league when right, he still lands behind Jimmy Graham ($13.25 million), Greg Olsen ($12.35 million), Trey Burton ($11.675 million) and Zach Ertz ($10.68 million) in terms of the cash he'll haul in this year.
When one looks at Gronkowski's production more broadly, if he's considered not just a tight end but an offensive weapon, his value is even more obvious.
There are 16 receivers next year who will pull in more cash in 2018 than Gronkowski will on his current deal, according to Spotrac, including some who can't approach Gronkowski in terms of game-changing ability. Sammy Watkins ($21.8 million), Paul Richardson ($12 million) and Marqise Lee ($9.91 million) are all on that list.
Gronkowski is, in many ways, a prisoner of his position. Those who play tight end -- one of the most inexpensive spots in terms of franchise-tag value -- simply play by a different set of rules at the bargaining table than their wide receiver counterparts.
Yet if Gronkowski is "trying to" figure out a new deal with the Patriots, as he said last month, Pro Football Focus may have spelled out one of his arguments for why he deserves a healthy raise.
PFF recently named prototypes at five different pass-catching spots -- shifty slot, big slot, deep threat, possession receiver and route runner -- and Gronkowski came in as their No. 1 big slot.
Almost 54 percent of Gronkowski's routes last season came lined up as a slot receiver, per PFF. He averaged 2.32 yards per route run from there.
"Only one other tight end -- Travis Kelce -- averaged over 2.00 yards per route from the slot all season," PFF wrote. "You’d have to go back to 2012 to find a season in which Gronk didn’t accomplish that feat. That sort of consistency is why he’s the prototype for the position."
Gronkowski's yards per route run out of the slot in 2017 were better than those posted by some of the game's most productive -- and highest-paid -- slot receivers.
Jarvis Landry just received a monster deal from the Browns after averaging 1.59 yards per route run from the slot in 2017. Larry Fitzgerald (1.93) will be paid like a top-10 receiver in 2018, even though he's primarily a slot machine at this point in his career. Same goes for TY Hilton (1.83), who does a good deal of his work from the inside.
Of course Gronkowski's value isn't just tied to his slot performance. He's one of the game's best blocking tight ends when healthy, he can run routes from an in-line position, and he remains a big-play threat when aligned out wide.
Gronkowski knows this. So do the Patriots. But he's still a tight end by trade, not a receiver. He's still under contract. And it wasn't all that long ago that there was some uncertainty surrounding just how much longer he wanted to play.
Those things may not be helping him at the bargaining table as he's trying to hammer out a restructured deal. But that hasn't kept him from trying.