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Analyzing the Gronkowski deal

Posted by Greg A. Bedard  June 8, 2012 02:41 PM

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It's been taking some time to gather as much information as possible about Rob Gronkowski's new deal to gain a fuller understanding of what it means for the tight end and for the team.

Even before looking at the numbers, you know there are a lot of winners in the deal.

Gronkowski gets something because he was due to only make $1.17 million the next two seasons. Now he's making that plus a guaranteed signing bonus of $8 million. And even if Gronkowski, who sat out his junior year in college with a back injury, suffers a career-ending injury, he’s walking away with $18 million. That's a win for Gronkowski, obviously.

But anytime you get something, you give something up. And, potentially, Gronkowski could have given up a lot by being locked into the Patriots through 2019. There’s a club option for $10 million in 2016. If the Patriots pick that up, that means Gronkowski won’t be able to use the leverage of potential free agency until he’s 31 years old. This isn’t a player’s “huge deal” that they get a shot at. And, potentially, Gronkowski might not get a chance at that until he’s 31. That’s giving up a lot.

So for the Patriots to potentially have the game’s greatest tight end ever locked up until 2019 -- at what in reality is an eight-year, $55.23 million deal ($6.903 million per year) -- could be a huge, huge win for the Patriots down the road.

Gronkowski is not the highest paid tight end in league history, not if the first two years are included -- which they are. You really shouldn't include an option bonus that may or may not happen. Even if you did include the final four years, you still have to average in the two years at minimum salary under his old contract. Gronkowski is the fifth highest-paid tight end.

For the entire eight years at max value, here's where Gronkowski ranks:

Screen Shot 2012-06-08 at 3.44.48 PM.png

It is important to note that Gronkowski ranks fourth in guaranteed money, which is the most important category of all.

And for the Patriots to finally turn the corner on giving young core players new contracts earlier -- following up on Jerod Mayo -- that’s a terrific step in the right direction. Every negotiation does not need to be adversarial. Logan Mankins should have been done after his second year as well. The Patriots are finally getting it. If you come to a player early, then you’re going to get a lot more bang for you buck by getting more years on the backside. No, they shouldn’t do it with every player or position. And I’m a little surprised, given Gronkowsi’s injury history (let alone his off-field activities), that they did do his contract early. They must feel very good about his back long-term, and that he'll calm down a little bit when it comes to his extracurricular activities.

Here are the numbers I've been able to come up with so far. They are not the official numbers, but they're reasonably close.

Screen Shot 2012-06-08 at 2.39.47 PM.png

The numbers in yellow are guaranteed. The numbers in purple are those that we're not 100 percent on.

One big question: is the $8 million signing bonus prorated over five years, as most are, or four years? That would alter the prorated bonus for salary cap purposes.

Basically, the deal is two four-year contracts.

The first one: four years at $18.2 million ($8 million signing bonus), guaranteed. ($4.55 million per year).

Second "deal": four years at $36.97 million ($10 million option bonus) which is $9.2425 million average per year.

The first one is moderately fair. It won't look as good if the Saints give Jimmy Graham a bigger deal.

The second part of the contract ... that's where Gronkowski could lose big if he's healthy and playing at a high level. It would set up a showdown with the Patriots. Gronkowski would not want that option picked up. It would be his last chance at a big contract in his prime...and he could be stuck with a deal that he signed four years earlier.

Albert Breer of NFL Network discovered an important tidbit: if the Patriots don't pick up the option on Gronkowski in '16, they can't franchise him. That puts some pressure on the Patriots. Otherwise, they would hold all the cards and this would be a bad deal for Gronkowski.

Gronkowski wins short term but he could be giving up a ton on the backside.

The Patriots pony up a little cash but they could have the game's best tight end ever locked up below market value for eight years. They also showed the locker room that they aren't going to go to contract war with every single player. That won't hurt anything, that's for sure.

Everybody wins ... for now. Who knows, the cap could explode and the Patriots could redo the deal again. They set a precedent by redoing Mayo's deal twice way before it was due to expire.

Because the upfront money was minimal, and the cap hits are team-friendly early on, I don't see this impacting any upcoming negotiations. A deal for Wes Welker would still save the team some $4 million in cap space this season. There's still money for Sebastian Vollmer and Patrick Chung (expiring in 2012), and Aaron Hernandez and Brandon Spikes (2013).

News, analysis and commentary from Boston.com's staff writers and contributors, including Zuri Berry and Erik Frenz.

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