Haley knows defense faces a tough test

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Haley knows defense faces a tough test

FOXBORO -- Todd Haley knows his defense faces a tough test on Monday night. He realizes all of the options that Tom Brady has to utilize.

And forget about preventing the Pats from putting points on the board. The Kansas City Chiefs coach said in a conference call on Wednesday, that it's going to be tough enough to just slow them and their no-huddle offense down.

"Offensively, Tom looks like he's playing at as high a level as we've seen him play," said Haley. "He's got a lot of good -- some veteran, some young -- developing players that look like they all have a chance to be really, really good.

"What Welker's doing to this point is just phenomenal. Having coached receivers for a long time, I know he was really, really good, but what he's doing right now is just off the charts. And then throw in the fact that Gronkowski has 700-plus yards and you still have a guy like Deion Branch over there, and Chad Ochocinco and Hernandez, and the two running backs I really, really like, including Woodhead.

"So up front, they're as solid and sound as any team we've seen, as far as protecting the quarterback," added Haley. "And they look like they have a chance to keep getting better. It's a great challenge for our defense to even slow down this offense."

Haley went on to praise New England's tight-end duo of Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, who are a major part of the Patriots' offense.

"Both of these guys are really playing well, Hernandez and Gronkowski," said Haley. "Players that I, personally, really thought a lot of, coming out of college. We spent time with both of those guys at the combine. We spent a lot of time watching tape. They're players that I really, really thought had a chance to be good, and they haven't disappointed."

Gronkowski's name will be fresh in Kansas City's mind, as he was all over the game film from New England's 37-16 win over the New York Jets on Sunday night.

Brady found Gronkowski eight times for 113 yards and two touchdowns in that win. And on Wednesday, Haley compared him to . . . former wide receiver Keyshawn Johnson.

"Gronkowski is just a physical presence that, much like some receivers that I've coached in the past -- like a Keyshawn Johnson or somebody like that -- once the quarterback understands that you can throw it to him when he's covered, that's always a great trait or characteristic to have," said Haley. "If you're a guy catching the ball from a quarterback, and the quarterback knows he can throw it when you're covered, which obviously Tom does a bunch, that's just a testament to Rob and really how good he is able to position and use his body to make catches on top of it. Just great, great hands."

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.