Hernandez, Gronkowski come up big for Brady

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Hernandez, Gronkowski come up big for Brady

By Mary Paoletti
CSNNE.com Staff Reporter Follow @mary_paoletti

MIAMI -- Which tight end did you pick for a sophomore slump: Aaron Hernandez or Rob Gronkowski?

Either way, you got it wrong.

Or so it seems after New England's Monday night fight with AFC East foe Miami. The Patriots walloped the 'Fins, 38-24, and Miami's inability to contain the two tight ends was a deciding factor. Hernandez had 7 catches for 103 yards and a touchdown; Gronkowski, 6 for 86 and a touchdown.

The match-up mess got especially frustrating in the fourth quarter for veteran Dolphins safety Yeremiah Bell. Brady opened his first drive with a 15-yard pass to Gronkowski, who Bell brought down with help from Reshad Jones. Bell, infuriated by yet another first down by yet another Brady-to-tight end connection, punched a balled-up fist into the field and let out a roar.

Hernandez ended up with 42 receiving yards on that drive and New England got three more points. More impressively, the efficiency helped Brady to a record-setting 517 passing yards -- the first of his career and 11th in NFL history.

Housed (and probably lost) inside that tremendous benchmark is another first: The first game both Hernandez and Gronkowski recorded a touchdown catch. Hard to believe, right? One of the two tight ends caught a six-point ball in every regular-season game last year (Gronkowski had 10, Hernandez 6), but they never did it on the same night.

Until now.

HERNANDEZ CONFIRMS THE TD CELEBRATION YOU THOUGHT YOU SAW: "Ummm. I made it rain a little bit."

ON GETTING BETTER WITH TIME: "I'm a lot more comfortable because now I'm learning a little bit more about defenses and more plays. But I've still got a long ways to go and I just take it day by day."

WHY THE TWO TIGHT END SET WORKS: "Sometimes they worry about Gronkowski and they forget about me. And sometimes they worry about me and forget about him. That's why it's a great combination.

GREAT TIGHT ENDS THINK ALIKE:
After the game, Hernandez was asked to describe Gronkowski.

"He's a beast," he yelled, nodding over to his teammates stall. "Everybody knows that he's a playmaker. He's a great tight end."

When the media hoard shuffled down to Gronkowski's locker to ask the same question, he returned the compliment. "Hernandez? He's a beast," Gronkowski laughed. The reporters yukked it up in kind. "Great teammate to have. Great tight end, goes out there, gets open. He helps in the running game and everything. It's great to have each other and push each other. It's awesome."

GRONKOWSKI ON GRONKOWSKI (brother Dan, tight end): "That's cool that he's on the team and everything and he had a great game, too. He had a great blocking game overall and he played a lot. It was awesome to be out there with him."

Mary Paoletti can be reached at mpaoletti@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Mary on Twitter at http:twitter.comMary_Paoletti.

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.