Patriots

Patriots

 

FOXBORO -- It's the Summer of the Holdout in the NFL. Aaron Donald seems prepared to carry his into the season. Khalil Mack may wait for Donald's to end before he shows up to work. Earl Thomas hasn't reported to camp. Ditto for Le'Veon Bell. Julio Jones threatened to hold out until his deal was adjusted.

Rob Gronkowski is certainly that caliber of player. And he'd certainly like to see his deal receive an adjustment of its own. But he's not planning on withholding services.

Not even close, he told reporters following Day 1 of Patriots training camp.

"No, it hasn't even came 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."

Gronkowski avoided all voluntary workouts in the spring and during minicamp spoke openly about his desire to have a new contract.

"Trying to [re-do the contract]," he said. Before the season? "Who wouldn't?"

We know the situation by now. Gronkowski is set to make about $9 million in 2018. That's a tick below what he earned on his incentive-laden re-done contract for 2017, when he pulled in $10.75 million for being named a First-Team All-Pro. It's also less than what the highest-paid tight end in the league (Green Bay's Jimmy Graham) will make on a per-year basis. 

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The Patriots wouldn't have to go very far to make Gronkowski -- typically the consensus top tight end in football when healthy -- the highest-paid player in the league at his position. But is that far enough for him? Gronkowski is a prisoner of his position, one of the lowest-paid in football based on franchise-tag numbers, and where the receiver market has gone has made Gronkowski's contract (drawn up in 2012) look like one of the best bargains in the NFL. 

Sammy Watkins is making $16 million a year. Brandin Cooks is getting $16.2 million. Jarvis Landry is getting $15.1 million, and Allen Robinson is pulling down $14 million per year. There isn't a football-following soul who would agree that any of those players bring more value to the field than Gronkowski. 

When healthy. And that may be part of the issue in getting a deal done for Gronkowski. There is no argument that he has been injury prone. He's entering his ninth training camp. He's no longer the young, fun-loving goof who catches everything. Now he's just a fun-loving goof who catches everything. 

For the Patriots, there could be a bit of a hangup in rewarding a player who hasn't been all-in on the program of late. We know his workout regimen has veered, which he argues has been to his benefit. But skipping voluntary workouts, holding strange press conferences in moto-cross garb and flaunting the fact that he would be skipping voluntary workouts . . . not exactly exemplary behavior for a Belichick-coached team. 

In a building where culture matters, and where players who adhere to and positively influence that culture are often rewarded, flinging a large sack of cash Gronkowski's way might be difficult. 

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It is noteworthy then that Gronkowski seems to be walking back his #bandsamakeherdance act. 

After an offseason where tension among key Patriots figures dominated headlines, he spoke of unity. 

"Everyone's together as a team," he said. "Everyone's together as a unit."

And when his contract came up, he struck a much different cord than the one he did in the spring. 

"I'm just focused on getting better and it's just internal – internally with stuff like that," he said. 

He added that he felt the deal would take care of itself as long as he took care of his health and his play on the field. 

"Yeah, exactly. I mean, there's one thing I can do," he said. "There's one thing I can worry about and there's one thing that I can control and that's myself, that's my play, that's me going out there doing what I've got to do to help the team."

On Day 1 of camp, he did that. He caught three consecutive passes early in an 11-on-11 red-zone period and looked uncoverable. 

But most importantly to the Patriots, he showed up. Which not every NFL star hoping for a new deal can say at this point in the summer. 

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