Reimer: Gronk should've held out

Alex Reimer
July 27, 2018 - 10:35 am

Kevin Hoffman/USA Today Sports

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Rob Gronkowski doesn’t appear willing to pressure the Patriots into paying him more money. That's a big mistake.

It was a bizarre offseason for Gronkowski, who teased his retirement after Super Bowl LII and didn’t confirm he was returning until late April. In between, he spent his time sending out cryptic tweets, chock full of wrestling references and Juice J lyrics. There was also his message to the departing Danny Amendola –– “be happy, be free!” –– and strange Supercross event, in which Gronk mocked speculation about his playing future in the bowels of Gillette Stadium.

Five days prior to the Supercross stunt, the Patriots held their first offseason workout program. Gronkowski didn’t attend.

There were several explanations for Gronkowski’s vacillation. NBC Sports Boston’s Tom Curran reported Gronk thought about retiring last training camp, because he was tired of Bill Belichick’s autocratic rule. Also, Gronkowski has undergone nine operations since his college days, and suffered a concussion in the AFC championship. If Gronk wanted to retire at 29 and preserve his body, it would be difficult to blame him.

But as the spring progressed, it became increasingly apparent Gronk was angling for a new contract. At minicamp in June, Gronkowski told reporters he was “trying” to get a new deal. He’s set to be the fourth-highest paid tight end in the league this season at $8.75 million, behind Jimmy Graham ($13 million), Greg Olsen ($12.35 million), and Trey Burton ($11.3 million). 

Gronkowski holds leverage over the Patriots. Their receiving corps is shallow, especially given Julian Edelman’s four-game suspension to kick off the season. Besides Edelman, Tom Brady’s targets currently include Chris Hogan, Phillip Dorsett, Kenny Britt, Jordan Matthews, Cordarrelle Patterson, Braxton Berries and Malcolm Mitchell (injured). The backup tight end is Dwayne Allen, who only caught 10 passes in 2017.

The Patriots need Gronk. He finished last season stronger than ever, catching 23 passes for 382 yards in three games in December, and reeling in nine receptions for 116 yards and two touchdowns in the Super Bowl. All of his pliability work with Alex Guerrero seemingly paid off. 

But Gronkowski’s bargaining power is gone, because he showed up to camp on time this week. In a session with reporters Thursday, Gronk said he thinks his contract situation will take care of itself.

"There’s one thing I can do, there’s one thing I can worry about and there’s one thing that I can control. That is myself, my play. It’s me going out there doing what I have to do to help the team,” he said, per WEEI’s Ryan Hannable.

That’s an uncharacteristically naive answer from Gronk. Despite his frat boy antics, he’s one of the most adept self-promoters in the league. Surely, Gronkowski understands the Patriots, or most NFL teams, seldom give players pay raises without being pressured into capitulation. 

Look at Logan Mankins. The Patriots refused to rip up the star guard’s rookie deal, which propelled him to denounce his restricted free agent tender and call Robert Kraft a “liar.” Mankins wound up becoming the highest-paid guard in the league, signing a six-year contract worth $51 million. It’s unlikely he would’ve gotten that deal if he didn’t make some noise.

This week, Falcons wideout Julio Jones demonstrated the power of the holdout threat. Even though Jones has three years remaining on his deal, reports circulated that he was thinking about not reporting to camp. While Jones denies those intentions, Atlanta still wound up increasing his pay this season. A correlation seems to exist between the holdout reports and Jones' reworked deal. 

But since Gronkowski didn’t force the issue, his fate is now up to the Patriots’ whims. According to Pro Football Talk, “nothing is imminent” regarding a new contract for the five-time Pro Bowler. 

Shocking.

Ultimately, Gronk opted to show the Patriots loyalty. Don’t bet on them showing any back. 

Related Patriots content:

New contract for Rob Gronkowski not imminent

Hannable: Rob Gronkowski’s actions, not words, show he really wants new contract

This post has been updated. 

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