Word broke today that the New England Patriots signed Rob Gronkowski to a 6-year contract extension which will make him the highest paid tight end in NFL history. I don't know about you, but I was completely blown away by the news. The Patriots are notorious for dragging out contract negotiations until the 11th hour, so the fact that they were so proactive to get Gronk inked 700+ days before his current deal expired came as a big surprise. Over the past few years we've seen players like Richard Seymour, Asante Samuel, Vince Wilfork, Logan Mankins, and even Tom Brady go deep into negotiations before a final outcome was reached.
I'm generally in favor of the Patriots approach of playing hard-ball. New England has shown that it's more than willing to spend money to improve the team, but they do so by spending wisely and maximizing the value of every dollar towards the salary cap. However, in this case, I'm ecstatic that they broke the mold and handed out the big bucks to Gronkowski prematurely. Letting Gronk's rookie deal ride all the way out to its end would have likely cost the Patriots a fortune once he hit the open market. While they are paying out more in the short term and taking on the risk of Gronkowski getting seriously injured in the next two years, in the long-run this move will provide them with much more financial flexibility.
Really, my only concern is how this plays out with the rest of the locker room. Will guys like Wilfork and Mankins be miffed that they had to scratch and claw their way to a contract after years of faithful service to the team, while Gronkowski waltzed his way into a big deal after only his sophomore season? Will Wes Welker feel even more slighted that the Patriots won't pony up a contract worthy of a top-tier receiver for him, yet they gave Gronkowski a record-breaking deal for his position? How does this affect Gronk's partner in crime, Aaron Hernandez, who I'm sure would also like a better payday as well? One would certainly hope that these players can look past these potential issues and continue to be the same strong locker room that they were in 2011.
At the end of the day, Gronkowski signed a team-friendly deal that gave him more up-front guaranteed money, while likely costing him a millions and millions in the long run. In the uncertain world of the NFL, that's not necessarily a bad move for him, and it's a reasonable risk for the team to take. Here's hoping that Rob stays healthy for the next 4-5 years and beyond that and makes this deal seem like a bargain for the Patriots.