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Ben Volin | Analysis

Rob Gronkowski’s on the money about his contract

Rob Gronkowski made $9 million last season.Steven Senne/Associated Press/File 2016

Rob Gronkowski hung out with Grumpy Cat at the Super Bowl.

Do the Patriots now have a Grumpy Gronk on their hands?

Gronkowski had the rest of his option bonus picked up Monday, locking in his rights to the Patriots through the next four seasons. On Monday evening, Gronkowski sent out a cryptic tweet about the matter:

“If ya think about it that Option pick up basically equals pay cut the next 4 seasons . . . I don’t work hard for those reasons. Haha”

What to make of that tweet? The message is a bit mixed. Is Gronkowski just making a harmless joke about being underpaid and stating that money isn’t a motivator? Or is he complaining about being underpaid?


The hunch here is that there’s truth behind every joke, and that Gronkowski wouldn’t be making that statement if he weren’t just a little ticked off about his contract. No one speaks out against the Patriots unless they know exactly what they’re doing.

Gronkowski also has a point. Back in 2012, he signed what was basically an eight-year contract worth a maximum of $55.235 million, for an average of about $6.9 million per season. It was called the “richest tight end contract in history” at the time, but now looks like the bargain of the century considering Gronkowski’s production.

Let’s look at the yearly cash flows, keeping in mind that his $8 million signing bonus was split between the first two seasons, and his option bonus was split, with $4 million in 2015 and $6 million in 2016:

2012: $4.575 million

2013: $4.66 million

2014: $4 million

2015: $9 million

2016: $8.5 million minimum, $9 million maximum

2017: $4.5 million minimum, $5 million maximum

2018: $8.25 million minimum, $9 million maximum

2019: $9.25 million minimum, $10 million maximum


Total minimum: 8 years, $52.735 million/$6.592 million per year

Total maximum: 8 years, $55.235 million/$6.9 million per year

Gronkowski has already realized four years and $22.235 million ($5.59 million per season). He has four years and $30.5 million-$33 million to go (he gets bonuses of $31,250 for every game he is active in 2016-17, and $46,875 for every game he is active in 2018-19). He will average between $7.625 million and $8.25 million per year over the next four years.

So while he’s actually making the same amount in 2016 as he did in 2015, Gronkowski is “criminally underpaid,” as I said Monday night on Comcast SportsNet New England.

Among NFL tight ends, Jimmy Graham has the highest annual-value contract ($10 million per year) and Travis Kelce, Julius Thomas, and Zach Ertz all make more than the $8.25 million per year Gronkowski is set to make on his new deal (and that’s if he plays in every game over the next four years).

Dwayne Allen, Kyle Rudolph, Jordan Cameron, Greg Olsen, and Charles Clay are all in the same neighborhood as the $7.625 million per year Gronkowski will make as a minimum (if he doesn’t play in any games).

Gronkowski is far superior to every one of those tight ends, and the only ones who even compare are Kelce and Olsen (who also seems underpaid, and who sent out a tweet of his own complaining somewhat about his contract).

Gronkowski is arguably just as dominant a weapon as even the top wide receivers. In the last two seasons, after returning from a torn ACL, a broken forearm, and a chronic back injury, he has played in 35 games (regular season and playoffs) with 185 catches, 2,731 yards, and 29 touchdowns, and was a centerpiece of the Patriots’ 2014 Super Bowl title.


Yet Gronkowski is due to make about half of what elite receivers make. Calvin Johnson was making more than $16 million per year. A.J. Green makes $15 million per year. Dez Bryant, Demaryius Thomas, Julio Jones, and Alshon Jeffery make $14 million or more per year. T.Y. Hilton, Mike Wallace, Vincent Jackson, Larry Fitzgerald, Jeremy Maclin, and Randall Cobb all make $10 million-$13 million per year.

Does anyone want to argue that those players are more valuable to their offense than Gronkowski is to his? In fact, Gronkowski may be more valuable than those guys, given that he does a lot of dirty work in run and pass blocking and is involved in every play, unlike the wide receivers. Yet for some reason, NFL economics are such that elite wide receivers are worth several million more than elite tight ends.

Is Gronkowski planning anything drastic like a holdout? His agent, Drew Rosenhaus (who also represents Olsen), has staged high-profile holdouts in the past, but the tone of Gronkowski’s tweet doesn’t make it seem likely. And no one held a gun to Gronkowski’s head and made him sign his contract back in 2012.

He took a calculated risk at the time, based on his significant injury history, and in exchange for extra money in his pocket up front, he now has to deal with being underpaid.


That said, it wouldn’t surprise us if Gronkowski skipped a few “voluntary” workouts this offseason to prove a point. And it wouldn’t be the worst idea in the world for the Patriots to keep their star tight end happy and throw him a bone. He has $17.5 million in base salary in the final two years of his contract, and maybe the Patriots could convert some of that into a signing bonus now.

However, the timing may not be great for Gronkowski, as the Patriots have several other significant issues to deal with this offseason. They have several holes on offense and need to find at least one wide receiver, one tight end, and one or two running backs.

They also must dip into their war chest for extensions on several key defensive players entering the final year of their contracts: Jamie Collins, Dont’a Hightower, Malcolm Butler, Chandler Jones, Logan Ryan, and Duron Harmon.

Gronkowski won’t be crying poor any time soon, but he has a legitimate gripe about being underpaid. But unless he’s willing to do something drastic about it like a holdout, he might just have to bite his lip and accept reality.

Gronkowski full cash flow breakdown

2012: $540k base salary + $35k workout bonus + $4m signing bonus = $4.575m

2013: $630k base salary + $30k workout bonus + $4m signing bonus = $4.66m


2014: $3.75m base salary + $250k workout bonus = $4m

2015: $4.75m base salary + $4m option bonus + $250k workout bonus = $9m

Total: 4 years, $22.235m = $5,558,750 per year

2016: $2.25m base salary + $6m option bonus + $250k workout bonus + $500k roster bonus ($31,250 per game active) = $8.5m min, $9m max

2017: $4.25m base salary + $250k workout bonus + $500k roster bonus ($31,250 per game active) = $4.5m min, $5m max

2018: $8m base salary + $250k workout bonus + $750k roster bonus ($46,875 per game active) = $8.25m min, $9m max

2019: $9m base salary + $250k workout bonus + $750k roster bonus ($46,875 per game active) = $9.25m min, $10m max

Minimum total: 4 years, $30.5m = $7.625m per year.

Maximum total: 4 years, $33m = $8.25m per year

Overall minimum total: Minimum: 8 years, $52.735m = $6.592m per year.

Overall maximum total: 8 years, $55.235m = $6.9m per year

Ben Volin can be reached at ben.volin@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter@BenVolin.