Why being a team player could cost Rob Gronkowski
The daily soap opera that is the Patriots had another drama-filled week, and very little of it had to do with Sunday’s game against the Rams.
Let’s take a deeper look at the big stories that unfolded at Gillette Stadium:
■ Patriots fans should remember that Rob Gronkowski was a good teammate this offseason and didn’t stage a holdout or any sort of public stink about his contract. This injury is exactly why it would have been hard to blame Gronk for doing so.
Once again, we saw this year that Gronkowski is the most lethal weapon on the Patriots outside of Tom Brady. The offense flourished when Brady and Gronkowski returned to 100 percent starting in Week 5, and Gronk’s 21.6 yards per catch leads the NFL.
Yet he was pretty well underpaid for an elite receiver. Gronk deserves to be compared with A.J. Green and Dez Bryant, not his fellow tight ends, and while top-end receivers now make $14 million-$15 million per season, Gronkowski made a total $9 million this year (mostly from a $6 million option bonus in March) and is set to make $5 million next year. Quick math says that’s $14 million over two years, or half the going rate.
If your immediate response is say that Gronk signed his deal and he has to honor it, please stop. This is the NFL, not the real world (or any other sport). Teams rip up contracts all the time when players start to slip, and no one in this space would have blamed Gronkowski if he had held out or angled harder for a raise.
Gronkowski sent signals that he wanted a new deal — a tweet from last offseason talking about his “pay cut,” and the presence of his agent, Drew Rosenhaus, at training camp.
Gronk had a little bit of leverage last offseason, but he ultimately didn’t use it. He bit his lip, was a good teammate, and was voted a captain for the first time in his career.
Now he’s rehabbing from yet another surgery, his future uncertain and his leverage for a new deal shot. He also misses out on $250,000 of roster bonuses this year (eight missed games at $31,250 per game).
Gronk is still a good value for the Patriots next year with a $4.25 million base salary, and there’s certainly the hope that he will recover from his surgery and get in a few more good seasons before the disk injury flares up again. There’s no reason not to give him a chance to come back in 2017.
But Gronk is due $19 million over the final two years of his deal (2018 and 2019), with none of it guaranteed, and the finish line for Gronk’s career certainly seems to be in view.
■ The wording of the joint statement from the Patriots and the Gronkowskis is interesting. “It has been determined that it is in Rob’s best long-term interest to undergo surgery to address his lower-back injury.”
Translation: There was some thought, most likely from the team side, that Gronkowski could play through the injury and deal with it in the offseason. Otherwise, there would be no need to state that it was in Gronk’s “best long-term interest” to go under the knife now.
His herniated disk was a cumulative injury, not something that happened on one play, like a torn ACL or a broken arm. Indeed, Gronkowski played four snaps after landing hard against the Jets and didn’t look like he was too injured, before his back started to spasm on the sideline.
While Team Gronk didn’t stage a holdout earlier this year, it’s fair to wonder if it pulled the plug on his season given that the team is only paying him a $2.25 million base salary this year and didn’t redo his contract in the offseason.
■ Gronkowski’s injury puts the trade of A.J. Derby to the Broncos for a fifth-round pick under the microscope, but this isn’t a move that should cause the Patriots’ brass to lose much sleep.
Yes, the Patriots are now thin at tight end, but it’s not like Derby would be filling in for Gronk. Derby is more of a big slot receiver than a true three-down tight end, and he wouldn’t be used in the run game or even in pass blocking like Gronkowski was.
Derby would still be low man in a group of targets that includes Julian Edelman, Chris Hogan, Martellus Bennett, Malcolm Mitchell, Dion Lewis, James White, and Danny Amendola.
Derby has six catches for 65 yards in three games for the Broncos. The Patriots would’ve been able to use him in their offense, but not in the same way they used Gronkowski.
■ The other big move last week was the contract extension for Marcus Cannon, who has gone from bust to cornerstone right tackle over his six-year Patriots career.
The contract is either a six-year deal or a five-year extension, but as always in the NFL, the fine print is important. And in this case, Cannon’s contract is really “two years, then we’ll see.”
Cannon’s 2017 and 2018 base salaries are fully guaranteed, but part of his 2019 guarantees don’t kick in until the third day of the league year. So a decision will come in March 2019 whether to keep Cannon on his current contract, force him to take a paycut, or release him altogether.
But this is still a good deal for Cannon. He now has job security for the next two years, a rarity in today’s NFL.
Cannon will make a minimum of $16.03 million for the 2016-18 seasons, and a maximum of $17.4 million if he makes weight, attends offseason workouts, and plays in every game. With deferred signing bonus payments, Cannon will have steady cash flows the next three years — $6.25 million, $6.5 million, and $4.65 million.
For a former fifth-round pick in Cannon, who didn’t know if he would pan out in the NFL, this is a nice deal. And for the Patriots, it’s a very reasonable contract to have a veteran right tackle protecting an aging Brady.
■ It’s important to remember that decisions such as leaving Jabaal Sheard home from San Francisco as a healthy scratch have a financial component. Sheard gets paid $62,500 for every game he is active, the highest per-game roster bonus on the team. Losing out on that check two weeks ago was not lost on Sheard and some of his teammates.
AT WHAT COST?
Pricey veterans on chopping block
Now that we’ve reached December, it’s time to start looking at veterans across the league who will be the subject of some tough decisions this offseason.
The first is in New York, where cornerback Darrelle Revis is finishing up the second year of a five-year, $70 million deal he signed before the 2015 season, with $39 million fully guaranteed.
Revis is currently the worst value in football, making $17 million this year and giving the Jets average or below-average cornerback play. The Jets still have one more season of guaranteed money with Revis, but they might view it as a sunk cost and decide to move on.
The total price tag to keep Revis next year is $16 million. To get rid of him, it’s $6 million.
The Jets pretty much have to make a decision by the second day of the league year (in March), as they owe him a $2 million bonus that day.
If they don’t pick it up, the Jets still owe him $6 million guaranteed, but they save $10 million, plus the final two years and $21 million off the contract.
Revis’s insistence on not receiving a signing bonus, and instead receiving the bulk of his money in the form of salary, will work against him. A $6 million cap charge next year is fairly reasonable if the Jets want to get rid of Revis.
■ Another interesting decision will be what the 49ers do with Colin Kaepernick. While they seemed ready to move on from Kaepernick after a disastrous 2015 season, he has meshed pretty well with new coach Chip Kelly.
Although Kaepernick and Kelly haven’t won a game yet, Kaepernick’s performance has been revived this year.
He threw for 398 yards and two touchdowns four weeks ago against the Saints, played decently against the Patriots two weeks ago, and had a huge game against Miami last week, throwing for 296 yards and three touchdowns while adding 113 rushing yards.
Kaepernick reworked his deal in October to void the 2018-20 seasons and give himself more flexibility, but the 49ers would probably be wise to stick with the Kelly-Kaepernick pairing and build up the roster around them.
But Kaepernick is due a $14.5 million base salary, $400,000 workout bonus, and $2 million in roster bonuses ($125,000 per game) next year, and $16 million is a lot for an up-and-down quarterback.
Fisher’s follies say a lot about Rams
Jeff Fisher is on pace for his fifth consecutive losing season with the Rams since taking over, and while we don’t like advocating for anyone to lose his job, the events of last week only reinforce the need for new leadership as the team tries to build excitement in a new city and prepares for a move into their sparkling new home in 2019.
Fisher’s flap with Rams legend Eric Dickerson was a bad look from a team that has had no problem using LA celebrities on the sideline to help build buzz.
Dickerson does seem like a handful, and there’s nothing more eye-roll-inducing than former legends coming back and complaining nonstop about the football team. (I saw it all the time when covering the Dolphins.)
That said, Fisher looks awfully sensitive when he offers this explanation for not allowing Dickerson on the Rams’ sideline: “He’s totally entitled to his opinion, and he has every right to be critical. But as I told him in the conversation, you can’t have it both ways. You can’t be critical, and then come back and ask for this and ask for that.”
But Rams owner Stan Kroenke should be more concerned with Fisher’s embarrassing gaffe on the conference call with New England media this week.
Asked a generic question about evaluating the Patriots’ three running backs — anyone who even remotely pays attention knows those three are LeGarrette Blount, James White, and Dion Lewis — Fisher offered a rambling non-answer that lacked any specifics and mentioned “Brandon” (Bolden) and then “Danny” (Amendola). Not only is Amendola not a running back, but Bolden has played only 13 offensive snaps all season, and none in the last four games.
For a coach not to have a full grasp of the Patriots’ personnel the week of the game is rather amazing. Meanwhile, Bill Belichick stood on the podium on Friday giving detailed breakdowns of Rams linebacker Alec Ogletree, the Rams’ Tampa 2 defense, and Jared Goff’s college tape.
The last two Belichick-Fisher matchups resulted in 59-0 and 45-7 wins for the Patriots, and now we see the difference in the attention to detail.
Raiders’ plan is hard to pin down
A group of investors headlined by Ronnie Lott has come up with the skeleton of a stadium plan that would keep the Raiders in Oakland, with the investors providing $600 million in private funding, $300 million from Raiders owner Mark Davis, $200 million from the NFL, and $200 million from the city.
But Davis doesn’t seem to care, as he appears intent on moving the Raiders to Las Vegas, where he has a deal for a new stadium with Clark County and with billionaire casino magnate Sheldon Adelson.
The NFL has long maintained that it would rather keep the Raiders in Oakland, as the size and wealth of the San Francisco Bay Area makes it more attractive than Las Vegas.
Davis needs the approval of 24 of 32 owners to move his team, but Davis looks like a guy who wants to move his team to Vegas, approval or not. (He certainly has it in his bloodlines.)
And in San Diego, a report from ESPN emerged last week that, barring a miracle, the Chargers are intent on moving to Los Angeles and becoming a tenant of Kroenke’s new stadium when the deadline arrives Jan. 15.
We’re having a tougher time buying this one, given that everyone in the NFL wants the Chargers in San Diego, and that the Chargers don’t really want to be the stepchild to the Rams in LA.
The Chargers also have year-to-year leases at Qualcomm Stadium until 2020, giving them time to come up with a solution.
Don’t report on the demise of “Thursday Night Football” just yet. As Jonathan Kraft noted on last week’s pregame radio appearance, the NFL has contracts with CBS and NBC for “Thursday Night Football” through next season. And while TV ratings are down, the games are still likely drawing much higher ratings than whatever sitcoms would replace it. What seems more likely is the NFL adding a second bye week to the schedule and allowing teams to get extra rest before a Thursday night game instead of scrapping the night altogether . . . Oh, that tricky John Harbaugh. The Ravens coach ordered 10 of his players to commit egregious holding penalties on the final play of last week’s win in order to give the punter enough time to run out the clock, since games can end on an offensive penalty. The NFL’s competition committee is going to review the tactic this offseason. Harbaugh should have no problem with eliminating “deception” plays . . . Bills left tackle Seantrel Henderson is another prime example of why the NFL and NFLPA need to get rid of their marijuana penalties altogether. Henderson, who takes THC products to help manage his Crohn’s disease, has now been suspended 14 games for multiple violations. It’s another case, along with Josh Gordon and Ricky Williams, of the NFL needlessly taking a talented young player off the field . . . Jason Pierre-Paul likely isn’t up for Comeback Player of the Year, but he deserves it. Pierre-Paul has seven sacks and three forced fumbles in 11 games, returning to dominant form 1½ years after suffering a career-threatening hand injury . . . The deadline to buy raffle tickets for a VIP experience with Bill Belichick before next Monday night’s game against the Ravens is Dec. 10. Tickets support the Bill Belichick Foundation and can be purchased here .
Tyreek Hill has made a name for himself during his rookie season. The Chiefs wide receiver has become a dangerous all-purpose player, as evidenced by his performance against Denver last Sunday. He became the fifth player, and first since 1965, to record receiving, rushing, and kick return touchdowns in a game.