FOXBORO - There were some among Patriot Nation who, seeing the photos of a hobbled Rob Gronkowski dancing the night away at the team party after losing to the New York Giants in Super Bowl XLVI, wondered openly if the big tight end should be partying after such a disappointing defeat.
No one can deny today, however, that Gronkowski doesn't have 54 million more reasons to dance.
The Patriots, acknowledging the value of their asset, reportedly tacked an additional six years onto the end of Gronkowski's rookie contract on Friday at the staggering sum of $54 million, including an immediate contribution to his wallet of $8 million in the form of a signing bonus.
It's a smart move, locking up the player that might be the best tight end in all of football to a long-term contract that may be more economically sound than it looks at first glance. If Gronkowski will be 31 years old by the time this extension (as yet unconfirmed by the team Friday evening) expires, and if he plays to its end, the Patriots may have gotten quite the bargain if his productivity remains top-of-the-league stuff.
Gronkowski, 23, scored 18 touchdowns last year (17 on receptions), catching 90 passes for 1,327 yards in the regular season. His value was underscored, although in a negative way, when a sprained ankle suffered during the AFC Championship Game limited his effectiveness in the Super Bowl.
Gronkowski played in the game despite severely limited mobility, catching two passes for 26 yards. But the loss of him as a full-field offensive threat hamstrung the Patriots' offense in the 21-17 loss to the Giants.
According to various media sources, Gronkowski's extension not only includes the $8 million signing bonus, it also has $18.2 million in guaranteed money. Now the highest-paid tight end in NFL history, Gronkowski was scheduled to make only $1.1 million in base salary over the next two years.
The contract also reportedly includes a $10 million option bonus the Patriots can exercise in 2016.
There is an element of gambling involved in giving the University of Arizona product a long-term deal, and it involves his health. Gronkowski missed his last year in college due to a back problem, causing him to sink to the second round of the 2010 NFL Draft, but he has not missed a game since becoming a pro. His injured ankle required surgery after the Super Bowl, but he is reportedly well on his way to a full recovery.
In tandem with Aaron Hernandez (who may be next in line for a contract boost), Gronkowski has helped the Patriots redefine the tight end position. Both are agile and athletic receivers who, when on the field at the same time as Wes Welker and Deion Branch (and Brandon Lloyd will enter into that mix this season), give nightmares to opposing defensive coordinators.
The signing comes at a time when the Patriots have added a little surplus to their salary cap situation following the release of Chad Ochocinco. But they still have ongoing negotiations with Welker (who signed his one-year, $9.5 million franchise tender), and must consider players like Hernandez, Patrick Chung and Sebastian Vollmer for future bumps. Hernandez has two years left on his rookie pact, but Chung, a stalwart in the safety corps, and Vollmer, likely a starter at left or right tackle this year, are in the final years of their original contracts.