Oft-injured New England tight end Rob Gronkowski, who most recently had his season ended last month due to torn knee ligaments, could end up being one of the NFL's top bargains, even considering all of the time he has missed due to health problems. Gronkowski, who signed a new deal prior to the 2012 season that was commonly represented as the highest-ever at his position, could in fact end up averaging just over $4 million a season for the Patriots and could be gone by the 2015 season.
Gronkowski, whose health history led to him signing a team-friendly extension in the first place, has most of the money in this deal tied up from 2016-2019, which at this point he is unlikely to see. Gronkowski is set to make $15 million alone in 2015, in the form of $5 million in salary (which is guaranteed only for injury but not for cap or production purposes), as well as a $10 million option bonus that the Patriots could opt to pick up at any point in the 2015 league year. Numerous sources who reviewed this contract said they highly doubt New England picks up that $10 million option, which would make Gronk a free agent.
Should New England pick up that bonus, that triggers Gronkowski's deal from 2016-2019 (worth $27 million). Given Gronkowski's run of injuries -- it stands to reason he opens 2014 on the Physically Unable To Perform List and returns to the team midseason -- and the calculated manner with which Bill Belichick often operates, it's quite likely this situation is resolved even before the 2015 season.
Gronkowski makes $3.75M in 2014 -- quite cheap even given his injuries -- and he made just $660,000 this season. He collected $8.82M in 2012 -- when he reached this extension -- and in reality could end up making $12.2 million for those three years and then he released (a modest $4M average). Now, given his health -- Gronkowski had back surgery in college and has been an injury risk throughout his pro career -- the ability to secure that money after two years in the league, at a time he otherwise would have been making roughly $600,000 a year, was significant, but the deal looks very good for the Patriots as well.
Consider, that from 2011-2013, Jacksonville's Marcedes Lewis -- a complete non-factor in the struggling team's offense -- made $20.35 million and you get a sense of just how protected the Patriots were with the extension they signed with Gronkowski. Even if Gronkowski returns to New England in 2015 -- and, again, I wouldn't bet on that now -- he will have made about $18 million, well less than Lewis.