Ferentz-Belichick connection continues as Patriots sign free-agent lineman

Ferentz-Belichick connection continues as Patriots sign free-agent lineman

Bill Belichick knew James Ferentz's dad when James was about the size of a set of shoulder pads. Now James is under contract with the Patriots.

The team announced on Thursday that it signed the free-agent offensive lineman, along with fourth-round pick Deatrich Wise and rookie free agent Sam Cotton

Ferentz checks in at 6-foot-2, 285 pounds and spent the last two seasons with the Broncos. The 27-year-old entered the league in 2014 as an undrafted free agent out of Iowa and spent that season on the Texans practice squad. 

In 2015, Ferentz made it onto the field for 14 games and one postseason game (against the Patriots in the AFC title game) as the Broncos went on to win Super Bowl 50. Last season, he played in seven games for Denver. He was released last week. 

Ferentz's father is Kirk Ferentz, who has been the head coach at Iowa since 1999. Before manning the sidelines for the Hawkeyes, Kirk spent time in the NFL with the Browns and Ravens. Belichick gave Ferentz his first NFL gig in Cleveland in 1993 as the Browns offensive line coach. Ferentz held that title through Belichick's tenure there and moved with the team to Baltimore, spending three seasons with the Ravens. 

Belichick hired another one of Ferentz's sons, Brian, to the Patriots coaching staff in 2009. In 2011, Brian was the team's tight ends coach. The following Ferentz took over as Iowa's offensive line coach, and in January he was named the team's offensive coordinator. 

The Patriots landed a pair of Iowa products as undrafted rookies earlier this offseason, signing offensive lineman Cole Croston and running back LeShun Daniels Jr. 

When it comes to Gronkowski's restructured deal, 15 is the magic number

When it comes to Gronkowski's restructured deal, 15 is the magic number

Rob Gronkowski's contract looked like one of the NFL's best bargains not too long ago. Now, after agreeing to a contract restructure, he could be paid as the top tight end in the league if he stays healthy.

Granted, it's a gargantuan "if."

According to ESPN's Adam Schefter, Gronkowski's restructured deal will bump his salary for this upcoming season from $5.25 million to $10.75 million should he hit certain statistical thresholds or be named an All-Pro.

Per Schefter, Gronkowski earns $10.75 million if he plays 90 percent of the offensive snaps (which he's done once before in his career), or makes 80 catches (which he's done twice), or gains 1,200 yards receiving (once), or is named an All-Pro (three times). 

Those seem like lofty goals for the 28-year-old who's entering his eighth year as a pro. But history shows that if he stays on the field for a full season or thereabouts -- 15 games to be specific -- he'll get to where he wants to be. 

If you take out his rookie year, before he had established himself as a go-to option in the Patriots offense, Gronkowski has played in three seasons during which he's reached at least 15 games. In each of those three seasons, he's been named an All-Pro. In 2011, he hit all three statistical markers. In 2014, he hit one. In 2015, he hit none. 

The lesson? When Gronkowski stays relatively healthy throughout a given season, even if he doesn't reach the astronomical statistical heights he reached in his second year, there's a very good chance he's considered the best tight end in the NFL. 

And if that's the case again in 2017, he'll be paid like the best tight end in the NFL.

To hit the second tier of his restructured deal -- which would pay him $8.75 million, per Schefter -- Gronkowski needs to play 80 percent of the offensive snaps (which he's done twice), or make 70 catches (three times), or gain 1,000 receiving yards (three times), or catch 12 touchdowns (twice). 

To hit the third tier of his new deal and get $6.75 million, Gronkowski needs to play 70 percent of the snaps (which he's done four times), or make 60 catches (three times), or gain 800 receiving yards (three times), or score 10 touchdowns (five times). 

According to Spotrac, Jimmy Graham of the Seahawks is currently scheduled to be the tight end position's top earner next season at $10 million. Odds are that if Gronkowski avoids disaster and stays on the field, he'll eclipse that.

But the odds of him staying on the field are what they are: He's played in 15 games in four of seven pro seasons. 

The restructured deal seems to be the ultimate incentive for Gronkowski to get healthy and stay that way following last year's season-ending back surgery. If he can, the Patriots will reap the benefits of having the game's most dynamic offensive weapon on the field, and the player will be paid a far cry from what he was scheduled to make when the week began.

Report: Patriots, Gronkowski restructure contract for 2017 season

Report: Patriots, Gronkowski restructure contract for 2017 season

The Patriots and Rob Gronkowski have restructured the tight end’s contract for the coming season, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter. 

The reworked deal can bump Gronkowski’s salary for the 2017 season from $5.25 million to $10.75 million, according to Schefter. 

Gronkowski was limited by injury to just eight games last season. He had 25 receptions for 540 yards and three touchdowns, all of which were career lows. 

The 28-year-old is entering his eighth NFL season since being selected by the Pats in the second round of the 2010 draft. He has played played in at least 15 regular-season games in four of his first seven season, though he’s twice played fewer than 10.