One of the most intriguing stories of the offseason for the Patriots was the contract incentives given to tight end Rob Gronkowski. The All-Pro tight end has arguably been one of the more underpaid players in the league after signing an extension early in his career. Seemingly in an attempt to develop goodwill with their star player, the Patriots added incentives to Gronk’s contract this past offseason to give him the opportunity to earn more money. The numbers he has to reach to earn up to an additional $4.3 million are slightly above what he produced in 2017. At the halfway point in the season, Gronk doesn’t seem likely to reach many, if any, of those numbers.
Through seven games played this year, Gronk has tallied 29 receptions for 448 yards and just one touchdown. Assuming he plays in each of the Patriots final eight games, this would put him on pace for 66 receptions, 1024 yards, and two touchdowns. This would put him out of reach of all of the additional incentives except possibly the play time incentive. He could earn $1.1 million for playing 80% of the total offensive snaps, a number that he is currently on pace to hit.
Now let’s get one thing straight. Despite what some in the Boston and national media might say, this is not some conspiracy by Bill Belichick to prevent Gronk from reaching these numbers. There certainly has been some friction among the major players at One Patriot Place over the past year. However, to think that Belichick would step in on offensive game planning simply to cheat Gronk out of money is next level crazy.
Gronkowski’s lack of production is mostly due to the Patriots early season personnel issues. With Julian Edelman sidelined for the first four games of the season, opposing teams focused on the Patriots tight end. Defenses routinely double and triple teamed Gronk; at least one linebacker would press him off the line, and a safety would help pick up coverage after. Chris Hogan, Phillip Dorsett, and Cordarrelle Patterson did essentially nothing to take the heat off of Gronk. Number 87 may be the best tight end in the league, but it’s hard to ask him to rack up numbers when teams are going out of their way to ensure he doesn’t get the ball.
However, Gronk’s numbers have been climbing over the last few weeks as the Patriots offense has been playing at a higher level. Over the first four weeks, he only managed 233 yards. He has almost matched those numbers in the last three weeks alone, racking up 215 yards.
The return of Edelman and the continued growth of Josh Gordon have forced opposing defenses to focus on more than just Gronkowski. This has eased the pressure on him because he is no longer the primary target on every single passing play. It has also allowed him to find more favorable matchups for Brady to target him on.
The second half of the season will likely see a significant jump in Gronkowski’s statistical output. Tom Brady targeted him eight times on Monday night in Buffalo, which is tied for a season high. If Brady continues to feed Gronk the ball that much, then the All-Pro tight end will begin to collect receiving yards like a kid collecting candy on Halloween.
Gronk’s touchdown numbers should also see a bump simply based on how poor the Patriots red zone efficiency has been. They only managed one touchdown against Buffalo after being stagnant in the red zone. Gronk is one of the best offensive weapons in the NFL. Increasing his red zone targets will very likely help the Patriots put the ball in the end zone much more.
Gronkowski has seemingly had a quiet season so far. However, he is still one of the most exciting and explosive players in the NFL. His slow first half may end up creating nightmares for the Patriots second-half opponents. Remember, this is a player who routinely does this:
There’s only so much you can do to limit a monster like that.
Until next time – B$