FOXBORO - He is Spicoli in shoulder pads. Minus, presumably, the weed and the surfing. The best pure tight end in football, Rob Gronkowski, added to his burgeoning legend Monday night with four catches for 96 yards, two touchdowns and a pair of earth-denting "Gronk Smash!" spikes. He's got 56 catches for 805 yards and 10 touchdowns. He's second in the NFL in catches, third in yards and first in touchdowns. He will be an All-Pro. He will be in the Pro Bowl. He will also give himself away in a raffle to spend Christmas Eve in the company of Gronk. He will no longer be photographed willingly with porn stars. He will live the Gronk Life and everyone with even a molecule of fun in their being will smile at what appears to be the harmless, laid-back, fun-seeking idiocy of a 22-year-old blessed with a body that's perfect for his vocation. "I call it maximizing the adventure of the NFL," was the response of veteran Gerard Warren when I asked him Monday night about the odd soul a few lockers away. By the time I talked to Warren, Gronkowski's postgame interview with ESPN had ended. With reporters surrounding his locker, he decided to get his media commitments out of the way all at once. He began to peel off his coat then decided he liked the way it looked and left it on. Thinking aloud as he made each decision, feigning seriousness as he faced the throng, this is how the interview went. Gronk was asked about his neck which he landed on when he scored a touchdown in the third quarter. "Feels great. I think it feels better (than it did)."The thunderous spike. Did he almost forget to do it after his crash landing. "I wasn't really thinking of it until I did it. It's just what it is, what it is."Gronkowski punctuated that with a strange cackle. Perhaps a realization that he'd mangled perhaps theeasiest catchphrase New England's football team has: "It is what it is."The medical staff. What did they ask you after the spike?"They were just asking me questions like they gotta. IfI was fine and everything I was just fine. I just got the wind knocked out of me a little bit. You know how that is when that happens."Ya know, among the group he was addressing, there wasn't a one of us who appeared capable of executing the move Gronkowski made without ending up eating through a straw for the rest of their life. So, actually, no. Nobody's had the wind knocked out of them like that. But the trainers, you guys were laughing?"Yeah, they're always cracking jokes. Trainers are cool."What were they asking you, math problems?"I just, yeah. They kept asking me then I started throwing out my own math problems. "They were like, 'Dude, count to 10.' I started counting to 10. It was pretty easy though. They kept letting me play."Now, as I read back what I've written it's easy to see where someone would think I'm making fun of Gronk. But there's no malice. The kid is without guile, without polish, without apology. He is simply him. And he does his best to accomodate requests and do his job with a level of enjoyment that, simply,makes you wish there were a few more Gronks around.You say, "That's how I'd be . . . " if you were good enough and lucky enough to be in the NFL at the level he's at. But almost all of us wouldn't be. You're either born like Gronk or you're not. You can't change the wiring. The best you can do is appreciate the player and appreciate that he, simply, appreciates what the hell's happening. "It's still pretty crazy," he admitted in the moment most closely resembling deep thought. "It's still a dream come true being in the NFL. Some days I wake up. I talk to Dane Fletcher, a Patriots linebacker, my roommate and we're like, 'Dude, we're in the NFL.' It's crazy like, we still can't kinda believe it. It's playing with all these great players and everything that we looked up to when we were in high school even in middle school. It's so much fun coming out, you have to try and treat every moment like your last."God willing, the last of Gronk is a long ways off.
Ever since Derek Carr signed a five-year, $125 million extension with the Raiders to give him the highest average annual contract value in league history, some version of the same question has been posed over and over again.
What does this mean for other quarterbacks looking for new deals?
Despite the fact that Carr's average annual value surpasses the previous high set by Andrew Luck ($24.6 million), and despite the fact that Carr's contract provides him the security that alluded him while he was on his rookie contract, his recent haul may not mean much for the likes of Matthew Stafford, Kirk Cousins and other top-end quarterbacks.
They were already expecting monster paydays down the road that would hit (or eclipse) the $25 million range, and Carr's record-setting contract may not even serve as a suitable baseline for them, as ESPN's Dan Graziano lays out.
So if Carr's contract did little more for upper-echelon quarterbacks than confirm for them where the market was already headed, then does it mean anything for someone like Jimmy Garoppolo?
Carr and Garoppolo were both second-round picks in 2014, but from that point, they've obviously taken very different roads as pros. Carr started 47 consecutive games in his first three years and by last season he had established himself as one of the most valuable players in the league. Garoppolo, by comparison, has started two games.
Both players still hold loads of promise, but unless Garoppolo sees substantial playing time in 2017 and then hits the open market, he won't approach Carr's deal when his rookie contract is up.
ESPN's Mike Reiss projected that a fair deal for Garoppolo on the open market might fall between the $19 million that was guaranteed to Chicago's Mike Glennon and Carr's contract, which includes $40 million fully guaranteed and $70 million in total guarantees, per NFL Media.
Perhaps something in the range of what Brock Osweiler received from the Texans after Osweiler started seven games for the Broncos in 2015 would be considered fair: four years, with $37 million guaranteed. Because Osweiler (before his deal or since) never seemed as polished as Garoppolo was in his two games as a starter in 2016, and because the salary cap continues to soar, the argument could be made that Garoppolo deserves something even richer.
Though Garoppolo is scheduled to hit unrestricted free agency following the 2017 season, there is a chance he doesn't get there quite that quickly. The Patriots could try to come to some kind of agreement with their backup quarterback on an extension that would keep him in New England, or they could place the franchise tag on him following the season.
Either way, Garoppolo will get paid. But until he sees more time on the field, a deal that would pay him in the same range as his draft classmate will probably be out of reach.
Football is coming.
The Patriots announced on Thursday that veterans will report to training camp on Wednesday, July 26 and that the first public practice will take place the following day.
Each of the team's first four practices -- from July 27-30 -- are scheduled to take place on the practice fields behind Gillette Stadium "in the nine o'clock hour," according to the Patriots. Updates to the training camp schedule, including more specific start times for practices, can be found at patriots.com/trainingcamp.
The Patriots Hall of Fame will hold its induction ceremony for former corner Raymond Clayborn on Saturday, July 29 around midday following that morning's training camp practice. Held on the plaza outside the Hall at Patriot Place, the ceremony will be free and open to the public.
The Patriots will host the Jaguars for two days of joint practices open to the public on Monday, Aug. 7 and Tuesday, Aug. 8. The preseason opener for both clubs will take place at Gillette Stadium on Aug. 10.