A year ago, the New England Patriots picked up an option on tight end Rob Gronkowski’s contract — something he called “a pay cut.” Now he’s getting a raise. The Patriots and the four-time Pro Bowler agreed on a contract extension, and it’s structured in a way that will reward Gronkowski for being healthy enough to play and for contributing on the field.
The contract will pay Gronkowski up to $10.75 million per year if he’s able to hit certain benchmarks, according to NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport. ESPN’s Adam Schefter said that those targets include playing 90 percent of the Patriots’ offensive snaps, or hauling in 80 catches, or racking up 1,200 yards, or being named an All-Pro.
Gronkowski’s new contract could make him the highest-paid tight end in the league if he’s able to hit that top tier. That surpasses Jimmy Graham, who earns $10 million per year.
While the two-time Super Bowl champion is considered the best tight end in the league, he isn't the most durable. In his seven-year career, Gronkowski has played in just 88 out of 112 possible games due to injuries. He missed the second half of the 2016 season after undergoing back surgery for the third time since 2009.
Yet when healthy, Gronkowski is a matchup nightmare for opposing defenses. He has been one of Tom Brady’s favorite targets since the Patriots drafted Gronkowski in 2010, and he can line up as a receiver on the perimeter, work in the slot, and line up as a blocker.
For instance, in a 41-25 win against the Buffalo Bills in Week 8, Gronkowski lined up as a receiver and used his route-running skills to beat cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman for a 53-yard touchdown. That was the 69th touchdown of his career.
In eight games last season, he caught 25 passes for 540 yards and three touchdowns. Even though New England clinched the first seed in the AFC and engineered the biggest comeback in Super Bowl history without its star tight end, Gronkowksi makes this offense more lethal.
But on the field, he’s different. Last September, head coach Bill Belichick told MMQB that his tight end “is a versatile athlete, but he’s also a versatile guy mentally.
“He can handle a lot of different assignments. Some guys can’t. Either they mentally can’t do it, or it’s just too much and their game slows down. They don’t play to the same skill set you see athletically because they’re thinking too much. That’s not the case with Rob.”
He already registered 405 catches for 6,095 yards and 69 touchdowns in his career and has proved to be one of the best tight ends in the league. The only question surrounding him is if he can stay healthy.