Ridley looks to 'close out games' in backfield


Ridley looks to 'close out games' in backfield

By Danny Picard

FOXBORO -- Two of the New Englands last three picks on Friday wererunning backs. And following the selection of Shane Vereen in the second round,came the selection of Louisiana State University tailback Stevan Ridley in the third round, at 73 overall.

Ridley described the entire draft process as a dream cometrue and described himself as a tough runner, for those who dont watch muchSEC football.

My running styles pretty simple, said Ridley in aconference call on Friday night. Im not a blazer by any means, but I just getthe ball, and try to go there and do what I can with it. Im a downhill runnerthats going to fight for the tough yards. And I just give my all. I play withmy whole heart every game.

With that tough running ability at 5-foot-11, 225 pounds,Ridley said his biggest strength is closing out games. At least, that was hisjob at LSU: run hard in between the tackles and run out the clock with theoffense on the field.

When the fourth quarter comes around, you need that runninggame to go in there and finish it out, said Ridley. I think I get stronger asthe game goes on.

As for a weakness, Ridley sounded somewhat concerned withhis blocking, but as the other previous Patriots draft picks have said thisweekend, he trusts in the New England coaching staff to make it work.

Im going in there to play, said Ridley. I know how toblock, but my technique can always be better. I just have to go in there, andbe ready to improve as a player, and focus on what these coaches are willing toteach me. And I think that Ill be OK at the end of the year.

New England couldnt have been any more perfect, he said. Itsa team that has a history of LSU players. Its a team that wins championships.So Im just looking forward to going into New England, and playing with a lotof guys that knows what it takes to win, and becoming a part of this team.

Danny Picard is on Twitter at http:twitter.comDannyPicard.

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.