Gronkowski not highest-paid tight end in NFL

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Gronkowski not highest-paid tight end in NFL

When news dropped that Rob Gronkowski signed a 6-year, 54 million extension, he was quickly dubbed the highest-paid tight end in the history of the NFL.

Not so fast.

A closer look at Gronk's contract, thanks to the Globe's Greg Bedard, shows that Rob Gronkowski is actually the fifth-highest paid tight end in the league.

Gronkowski's current deal is really an 8-year, 55.23 million dollar deal since the next two seasons are included. The last four seasons of his new deal are not guaranteed -- the Patriots would need to pick up a 10 million bonus in order to keep Gronk for 2016-2019 -- but even if they were, Gronkowski's per-year salary is still below that of four other tight ends.

Jason Witten, Dallas: 7.4 millionyr, 18.5 million guaranteed
Vernon Davis, San Francisco: 7.35 millionyr, 23 million guaranteed
Antonio Gates, San Diego: 7.235 million, 20.4 million guaranteed
Jermichael Finley, Green Bay: 7 million, 1 million guaranteed
Rob Gronkowski, New England: 6.9 million, 18 million guaranteed

By being locked up by the Patriots through 2019, Gronkowski may lose out on a big-time pay day down the road. But for a guy who sustained a serious back injury in college and continues to play as hard as he does, the 18 million guaranteed couldn't be passed on.

Patriots have perfect attendance at final practice of AFC Championship week

Patriots have perfect attendance at final practice of AFC Championship week

FOXBORO -- The Patriots had perfect attendance at Friday's practice, meaning they had all 53 players on their active roster present and accounted for at all three practices this week. 

Contrast that with how things have gone for the Steelers this week, and there is a stark difference. Star running back Le'Veon Bell missed each of his team's first two on-the-field workouts this week, and several Steelers players are dealing with a bug that seems to have circulated the locker room. 

The Patriots could have an interesting game-day roster decision to make should Chris Hogan (thigh), Malcolm Mitchell (knee) and Danny Amendola (ankle) both be healthy enough to play on Sunday. They have not entered a game with five receivers in uniform this season but could potentially dress Mitchell, Amendola, Julian Edelman, Chris Hogan and Michael Floyd.

Other players listed as limited participants in practice this week are Brandon Bolden (knee), Martellus Bennett (knee), Dont'a Hightower (shoulder) and Jabaal Sheard (knee).

Patriots pregame rituals: Step-by-step with the players on game day

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Patriots pregame rituals: Step-by-step with the players on game day

What goes through Dont'a Hightower’s mind in the minutes before he takes the field and lowers himself into a cauldron of collisions, pain and exultation?

Not a thing.

“I rest. I literally rest,” said the Patriots Pro Bowl inside linebacker. “I don’t do anything else. I sit at my locker, I don’t listen to music. I don’t do anything out of the ordinary. I don’t look at film, I don’t look at notes. I’m just relaxed. Calm before the storm. I’ve done enough preparing, I’ve done enough notes, I’ve done enough of that stuff during the week. If I don’t know it by now, I don’t know it. It’s not gonna help me last minute. It’s only gonna make me play slower.”

By the time an NFL team hits the field – in the Patriots case, runs out of a giant, inflatable helmet while Ozzy Osbourne’s “Crazy Train” blares – they are primped, polished, taped and glistening.

But what is their day like leading up to that? I asked a few Patriots to take me through their game-day prep from wakeup to anthem to give me insight into what we don’t see.  

You can hear Hightower, Nate Solder, Alan Branch, Devin McCourty and Rob Ninkovich detail the steps they take to get game-ready. French toast is involved. So are naps. And sock preparation.

It all builds to that moment of theater that Ninkovich says is what players truly miss when they leave the game – that feeling of euphoria.

“When we finally get to run out, that’s the most exciting time in the world,” says Solder. “The crowd wasn’t there earlier when we went out there and all of a sudden, the crowd is there. Very exciting, very fun, especially with the guys you work so hard with.”

Says McCourty, “I always think when I run out of the tunnel to look up and say, ‘Thank you’ just to be able to play.”

Listen to them tell their stories here: