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Pats made Gronkowski an offer he couldn’t refuse

Super Bowl XLVI

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - FEBRUARY 05: Tight end Rob Gronkowski #87 of the New England Patriots warms up prior to Super Bowl XLVI against the New York Giants at Lucas Oil Stadium on February 5, 2012 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

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A debate likely is coming as to whether Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski received a contract that properly reflects his skills and potential. Many will say Gronkowski eventually could have gotten much more on the open market. But Gronkowski, who plays the game in a way that suggests he’s willing to assume plenty of risks, elected to be far more cautious when it came to the subject of his money.

Drafted in 2010, Gronkowski had two years left on his rookie deal, at $570,000 in total compensation this year, and $660,000 in total compensation in 2013. That’s $1.23 million in total pay for two full seasons, before Gronkowski qualifies even once for the tight end franchise tender.

Barring a recurrence of the back injury that knocked him out for all of the 2010 season, the Pats surely would have used the tight end franchise tag to keep Gronk around for 2014 and, if necessary, to squat on him for a sixth season at a 20-percent raise. This year, the tight end version of the tag was only $5.446 million; most franchise tags actually dropped from 2011 to 2012.

So with the Pats dangling more than 6.5 times his total compensation for the next two years via an $8 million signing bonus and with a three-year guarantee in excess of $13 million and a four-year haul of more than $18 million, Gronkowski opted to pocket more now than what he would have made by playing on a year-to-year basis through 2015.

In exchange for the security, Gronkowski has given up his chance to hit the market in March 2016, unless of course the Pats decide not to pick up a $10 million option bonus that triggers the final four years of the deal. Given that he received the kind of guaranteed money that there otherwise was no guarantee he’d stay healthy enough to earn over the next two years, Gronkowski decided to make the long-term commitment and pocket the kind of money that, moving forward under the 2011 CBA, no player will be eligible to receive until making it through at least three NFL seasons.

It’s easy to insist he could have gotten a lot more later. And he could have. He also could have gotten less. In the end, turning down the Patriots’ offer turned out a gamble that Gronkowski, and few others in that same position, would take.