Patriots

Report: New Gronkowski contract 'likely'

Report: New Gronkowski contract 'likely'

Rob Gronkowski recently said that he sure wouldn't mind getting a new contract. Maybe one is on the way. 

According to Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk, the 29-year-old tight end does not have a new deal completed, but the expectation is that he'll receive one.   

From Florio: 

Per a source with knowledge of the situation, a new contract for Gronkowski is 'likely,' but 'nothing is imminent.'

The source added that there’s still plenty of work to do. The biggest challenge, in our estimation (and not from any source), would be to determine whether Gronkowski will get another incentive-driven raise (he earned an extra $5.5 million last year) or whether he will have a guaranteed increase in his base pay, regardless of performance.

Florio adds that the most likely outcome is that the Patriots will put an additional "sweetener" is deal for next season, after which Gronkowski will once again consider whether to keep playing or retire. 
 

Bill Belichick says Patriots' mental toughness can improve, but how quickly?

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AP Photo

Bill Belichick says Patriots' mental toughness can improve, but how quickly?

You've seen the clip by now.

Bill Belichick and Tom Brady were standing on the sidelines in New Orleans back in 2009. It was the end of a 38-17 Week 12 blowout. Belichick's headset was off. There was nothing more he could do so he went to his best player to talk. To vent. 

"We got a long way to go," Belichick said, captured by NFL Films for their "A Football Life" special on the Patriots coach.

"We got a long way to go. I'm telling you. We just have no mental toughness. We go on the road, we have no mental toughness. We can't play the game the way we need to play it. 

"And it's not them, either. It's totally us. Just totally us. Gonna have to find a way here to be a tougher team when we get on the road . . . I just can't get this team to play the way we need to play. I just can't do it. So [expletive] frustrating."

Brady shook his head.

"We do it in spurts," he said. "We just don't do it for four quarters."

"No," Belichick replied, "and the tougher it gets, the less likely we are to do it."

With that, Belichick sighed.

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The 2018 Patriots don't have the same DNA that the 2009 iteration of the team did. That was a team that had just lost Tedy Bruschi, Mike Vrabel and Rodney Harrison. It was a team with a second-year captain in Jerod Mayo. It was a team in transition, separating the first half of the Patriots dynasty with the second. 

But this year's team has some of the same issues that one did. It's the first team to lose five regular-season games since that 2009 squad. It's the first team to lose five road games since 2009, when the Patriots lost six away from Gillette Stadium. 

Belichick's primary gripe that night nine years ago in New Orleans was with his team's mental toughness. It would be hard to believe he was thrilled with what this year's team has shown in that regard, particularly after a loss in Pittsburgh where they racked up a season-high 14 penalties, went 3-for-10 on third down and 0-for-3 in the red zone. 

On a conference call Monday I asked Belichick how he'd gauge the mental toughness this year's team has shown. 

"I think it’s a tough group of players," Belichick said. "Like anything, like every year, there’s always room for improvement and that’s the way it is every year. We always try to perform at our best in every area, whether that’s mental toughness, situation football, running game, passing game, kicking game, you name it.

"I mean, we always try to perform at our best, and being physically and mentally tough is a big part of this game, so we always try to do our best at that and there’s always room for improvement."

It's the amount of room there is to improve in those critical areas that's the surprise. Unlike 2009, this is a team that has much of its core from back-to-back Super Bowl seasons intact.

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Brady is at the center. Rob Gronkowski is healthy enough to play. Julian Edelman and Patrick Chung, toughness personified in the Patriots locker room for years, are both still available. Dont'a Hightower, Devin McCourty, Duron Harmon, Matthew Slater, James White, Trey Flowers, four-fifths of the starting offensive line -- all either captains, former captains or key pieces to at least one Super Bowl title (and in several cases two) -- remain.

Mental toughness doesn't seem like something that should be bothering this group. But when I asked Belichick if that is an innate quality, something a player might bring with him from high school through college and something that would get scouted and drafted, he said no

"No, I think we all need to work on it all the time," he said.

The question is can the Patriots make up enough ground between now and when they'll be tested next -- maybe as soon as Wild Card weekend.

"You can't get it in a week," Rob Ninkovich, a member of that 2009 team, said on The Ex-Pats Podcast this week. "It's like an attitude. It's a demeanor. It's when you are kind of backed up into that corner -- are you going to accept the fact that you're there? Or are you going to jump out and try and claw someone's face

"Are you just going to sit there and let it happen to you? Or are you going to do something about it?

There are players on this Patriots team who've done their share of fighting out of tight spots in the past. Super Bowl LI is the easy example for many of players to point to and say, "See!

But they're through almost a full season and the faces clawed in critical situations have been few and far between when away from Foxboro.

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Do Patriots lack leadership? Rob Ninkovich issues challenge to ex-team

Do Patriots lack leadership? Rob Ninkovich issues challenge to ex-team

It's no surprise that critics are writing the New England Patriots' eulogy after back-to-back December losses.

But what do former Patriots think of the team's surprising struggles?

Rob Ninkovich was in New England's locker room during its rocky 2009 season, in which head coach Bill Belichick famously complained his team lacked mental toughness. So, does Ninkovich believe this 2018 Patriots squad has similar shortcomings -- and if so, can they fix those issues?

The former Pats linebacker gave a fiery answer to NBC Sports Boston's Phil Perry on the latest edition of "The Ex-Pats Podcast."

 

"You can't just get it in a week. It's an attitude. It's a demeanor," Ninkovich said. "When you are kind of backed up into that corner, are you just going to kind of accept the fact that you're there or are you going to jump out and try to claw someone's face?"

Ninkovich then wondered aloud if anyone in the Patriots' locker room was holding their teammates accountable after Sunday's loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers, which dropped the team to 9-5.

"Are you going to just sit there and let it happen to you or are you going to do something about it? I don't know," Ninkovich said. "There might need to be somebody in that locker room on that team that gets in people's faces. I don't know. Is there somebody in there that's saying, like, 'What are we doing?' "

Quarterback Tom Brady obviously serves in a leadership role, but Ninkovich was most concerned about New England's defense, which allowed 142 rushing yards to backup Jaylen Samuels on Sunday after surrendering 34 points to the Miami Dolphins in Week 14.

On that front, Ninkovich noted actions sometimes speak louder than words.

"Talk is cheap. Prove it to me. Show me," he said. "Nothing got me more aggravated when I would tell somebody, 'Hey, do this.' Or, 'Be here. Run this stunt. Run it this way.' and they didn't do it.

" ... And then you're just like, 'Man, get the hell off the field. Don't even be next to me if I can't trust you, if I can't rely on you to stay in your gap or to be there when we're going to run a stunt, give me the next guy. Give me another guy that's hungry and just does the right thing."

The Patriots have home games against the Buffalo Bills and New York Jets to right the ship before the playoffs. Perhaps they'll bring Ninkovich in for a guest pep talk to rally the troops.

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