NFL kickoff change could benefit Patriots

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NFL kickoff change could benefit Patriots

By Tom E. Curran
CSNNE.com

My buddy Rich Levine, who ably columnizes mostly on the Celtics, stepped over today to weigh in on the "safety" issue related to the NFL's kickoff changes. Enjoy. As a practical matter, though, how does moving the kickoff line of scrimmage from the 30 to the 35 impact the Patriots both on kickoffs and returns?Check out some of the numbers. First, on kickoffs, Stephen Gostkowski has gotten progressively more explosive on kickoffs. Here's his year-by-year touchback stats2006: 12 touchbacks on 81 kickoffs (14.8 percent)2007: 15 on 112 (13.4)2008: 17 on 95 (17.9)2009: 21 on 91 (23.1)2010: 15 on 42 (35.7)That 35.7 percent - in limited duty - was second in the NFL behind the Ravens' Billy Cundiff, who had touchbacks on 50.7 of his kickoffs in 2010. (The Ravens can basically just send Cundiff out there by himselfnow if they want to this year.) Only two other kickers were over 30 percent in touchbacks (Matt Prater, Denver: 35.1; Sebastian Janikowski, Oakland: 31.2). Four players were over 30 percent in 2009. Gostkowski was 11th in touchback percentage in '09, but he was the highest among cold-weather, non-dome kickers.Even though he underwent surgery on his injured right quad, you have to figure a young athlete like Gostkowski will return at or even beyond the same level in 2011. He's a ridiculously talented athlete and - with rehab and conditioning what it is these days - the layoff and chance to strengthen could even help him. Mike Reiss at ESPNBoston.com did some research on the touchbacks Gostkowski had in 2010. He found that 22 of Gostkowski's 40 kicks traveled into the end zone (again, 15 touchbacks). If the LOS had been the 35, seven more kicks would have traveled in. So if even five more of those kicks resulted in touchbacks, Gostkowski conceivably would have been at 50 percent. And that's good for New Englandfor a few reasons. Not onlyis 80 yards a long way for an offense to go to score a touchdown, but every touchback means a high-speed, high-collision play on which the risk of injury and the threat to team personnelis high. Take it a step further: Kickoff returns are flash plays that can alter momentum if a big one is broken.
In the AFC East, the Jets have one of the best in the business in Brad Smith. In 2010, Smith led all returners with over 25 returns, averaging 28.6 yards on 50 returns with two touchdowns. Miami's Nolan Carroll averaged 24.3 on 27 returns. Buffalo's CJ Spiller returned a kicoff for a touchdown in the second game of the season but no Buffalo returner was in the top 40 in return average. How does New England's return game get affected by this? Well, Brandon Tate - who was terrific early in the season, then showed an amazing aptitude to not make anybody miss as the season wore on - finished fifth in the NFL among returners with 25 or more chances with a per return average of 25.8. Because his greatest attribute is speed rather than elusiveness, you may see Tate continue to bring out kicks that sail up to 5 yards deep in the end zone (one of his touchdowns was a 103-yard return). But it will hamper the explosiveness of Dan Connolly. Elusive. Not fast.

Tom E. Curran can be reached at tcurran@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Tom on Twitter at http:twitter.comtomecurran

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.