Will Gronkowski cash in on All-Pro selection?


FOXBORO -- One of Rob Gronkowski's teammates said the walking, talking, spiking, future Hall of Famer has such an other-worldly skill set that it's like someone created him in a video game and slid every attribute rating to 99. Another teammate called Gronkowski a "[expletive] monster."

To his quarterback, Gronkowski is the best in the game. "It's not even close," Tom Brady told WEEI this week. And most with functioning retinas would agree. But is Gronkowski a lock to be named a First Team All-Pro this season?


While that kind of individual award may seem relatively trivial for a guy who is the most important offensive weapon for the Super Bowl favorites, it's a question that carries a little more heft this year compared to others. 

We've been over this, but as a reminder, reaching First Team All-Pro status would earn Gronkowski the maximum value of his incentive-laden contract for 2017. With 1,084 yards receiving this season, his base salary for 2017 has already bumped from $5.25 million to $6.75 million (when he hit 800 yards) to $8.75 million (when he hit 1,000 yards). 

Gronkowski could conceivably hit his $10.75 million max if he crosses the 1,200-yard mark, or if he catches 11 passes to reach 80 for the season. It's remarkable that either of those are even remotely in play after Gronkowski missed two games this season (one injured, one suspended), but his best shot at earning that last $2 million would be to be named First Team All-Pro. 

Before we get into the implications of Gronkowski reaching that kind of pay day, let's take a peek at his chances of actually earning First Team All-Pro recognition. 

For the last decade, the formula for determining the First Team tight end has been relatively simple: Find the guy with the most receiving yards, and you have your man. It's been the indicator for seven of the last 10 seasons. 

The exceptions? In 2007, Jason Witten (1,145 yards, seven touchdowns) edged out yards leader Tony Gonzalez (1,172 yards, five touchdowns). In 2009, Dallas Clark (1,106 yards, 10 touchdowns) nipped yards leader Antonio Gates (1,157 yards, eight touchdowns). In 2012, Gonzalez (930 yards, eight touchdowns) put up five more scores than Witten (1,039 yards, three touchdowns), winning the award despite Witten's 109-yard advantage.

Gronkowski's only real competition this year for First Team All-Pro is Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce. Both players have eight touchdowns -- as does Eagles tight end Zach Ertz, although he's more than 200 receiving yards shy of both players -- and Gronkowski currently holds a 46-yard advantage over Kelce.

That's tight enough to make this weekend's finale worth something, especially considering how All-Pro voters in the past have been swayed by touchdown numbers when the yardage is close. 

The Chiefs will square off against Denver, and with their No. 4 playoff seed set in stone they'll be resting quarterback Alex Smith and entrusting their passing game to rookie Patrick Mahomes. Kelce tore up the Broncos with seven catches and 133 yards in their last meeting. The Patriots, meanwhile, will go against the Jets with the No. 1 overall seed in the AFC on the line. Gronkowski caught six passes for 83 yards and a score against the Jets back in Week 6.

Giiven what's at stake, it seems likely Gronkowski will see more footballs on Sunday, which means another opportunity to separate himself statistically, which means it feels like his honor to lose. And if he makes his $10.75 million, that could change his outlook on the final two years of his deal.

Scheduled to earn $9 and $10 million in 2018 and 2019, respectively, would Gronkowski be OK with what would amount to a reduction in pay for his 29 and 30-year-old seasons? What could further complicate matters is that the salaries Gronkowski will earn in 2018 and 2019 are already scheduled to make him the second-highest paid tight end (behind only Jordan Reed) and the highest-paid tight end in football. There's not a whole lot of room to re-adjust. 

Perhaps the Patriots could continue to incentivize his deals to allow him the opportunity to earn more cash based on his play, but who knows how open Gronkowski would be to that kind of arrangement?

There's a lot that will happen between now and whenever Gronkowski's deal is re-visited, including as many as four very important football games. But it does seem like another visit, and another adjustment, are inevitable. 


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