Spikes 'finally' getting consistent time


Spikes 'finally' getting consistent time

By Tom E. Curran
CSNNE.comFOXBORO -- Until about Week 12 of last season, the arc of Brandon Spikes' young career was going up at about 90 degrees. Then a four-game suspension after testing positive for a banned substance was followed by a poor performance in the playoff game against the Jets. A weird rumor about an offseason basketball injury, weird Twitter jibberish, a sudden and extended disappearance from all training camp activity and the preseason, and the arc was, shall we say, a bit less steep.
Nobody was using the word "gritty" when discussing Spikes. Spikes has re-emerged some in the past few weeks, playing about 70 percent of the defensive snaps in the Patriots' last three games. But head coach Bill Belichick passed on the opportunity to lob platitudes in Spikes' direction. "He missed so much playing time, practice time and play time during training camp and preseason so these last three weeks kind of have almost been like his preseason, unfortunately," Belichick explained. "I think that practicing on a daily basis, playing on a regular basis that thats what he needed to do. I think he still has a long way to go. Hes probably where a lot of our players were in September, just because he missed all of August."

Moving on from the missed time, Belichick was lukewarm about Spikes' on-field contributions.

"His timing, his overall reaction, his execution, all those things, theyre OK, they are coming along," Belichick said. "Id like to think theyll be better now that hes starting to get into game shape and reacting like you have to react on a football field, both mentally and physically. Hes doing some good things and hes still got a long way to go. The fact that hes been out there finally on a consistent basis to practice and play nothing has helped him more than that."

Bottom line? Spikes is playing now. But the fact that -- for a long stretch -- he didn't play or practice is not quite forgotten.

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.