Pats finalize preseason schedule

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Pats finalize preseason schedule

The lockout is (at least temporarily) lifted, the Patriots are making (err, trading) picks, and the preseason schedule has been finalized. Yes, football seems to be right around the corner.

The Patriots have been a hot ticket for years now, and with just eight regular season games, it's the hardest sports ticket to come by.

Regular season a bit too pricey? Weather too cold? Just looking to tailgate? Maybe you want to be there for Patriots first round pick Nate Solder's first NFL play?

No worries, the preseason was meant just for you!

And with that, the finalized preseason schedule:

The Patriots kick off the preseason with a home game against the Jacksonville Jaguars on Thursday, August 11 at 7:30 p.m., perhaps quarterbacked by first round draft pick Blaine Gabbert, picked 10th overall by the Jaguars this year.

Hopefully they fare better against this rookie QB than they did when the Rams' Sam Bradford threw all over them last preseason.

The next week, Thursday, August 18 at 7:30 p.m., the Pats will travel to Tampa Bay, followed by another road game the week after in Detroit on Saturday, August 27, scheduled for 8:00 p.m. The Pats will see their fair share of the Lions' Ndamukong Suh and 2011 first round pick Nick Fairley.

The third week of preseason usually sees teams use their starters for a good half or so of the game, but Pats fans won't be upset if Tom Brady sits out the majority of it with those two players lining up on the opposite side of him.

The Pats wrap up the preseason on Thursday, September 1, at 7:30 p.m. against the New York Giants. This is the seventh straight year the two teams have met in the preseason. Perhaps another preseason victory over the Giants will make Pats fans forget about . . .

Never mind.

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.