McCourty building confidence in practice

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McCourty building confidence in practice

FOXBORO -- Devin McCourty is just one of those players whose every week will be scrutinized until he establishes consistency or falls off into oblivion.

Having a tremendous rookie year and following it up with a sophomore slump will do that to a guy.

The McCourty evaluations in Year Three so far sit on both ends of the spectrum. Some say he's played well, others say he's been awful.

McCourty rides neither too high nor too low on the ever-changing analysis. For example, after netting just two interceptions in 14 games last year, he pulled down that many just last weekend against Buffalo.

"As a defensive back it always feels good to come down with interceptions," he said Wednesday. "That's what we work hard for and that's really the biggest reward of playing defensive back. That's big. And defensively, turnovers always help."

Is he still on Cloud Nine? Not really. McCourty prefers to build himself up on the next week's work.

"It's probably sometimes a little overrated," McCourty said of reveling in one good Sunday. "Because a lot of things that we go into the game with are determined in practice. When we have a good week in practice, when we have a good week studying film, you go into those games confident.

"Just because you have a great game one week, it doesn't mean that you're going to go into that next game feeling like no one can attack you. There's different offenses, you see different guys each week. So that week in practice always determines a lot."

He can't worry about whether or not those two picks will be the only he brings down all season. McCourty can't even think about trying to triple the total by January.

Easy does it.

"We work hard in practice to go out there and try to perform well on Sunday. I think my confidence for this week will start today with going out and having a good practice and just keep building it throughout the week."

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.