Best & Worst: Patriots camp 2011

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Best & Worst: Patriots camp 2011

By Tom E. Curran
CSNNE.com Patriots Insider Follow @tomecurran
It's been less than a week since the lockout was settled. Why's it seem like it happened a month-and-a-half ago? Probably because a month-and-a-half's worth of NFL transaction activity has happened in the span since the now-forgotten lockout ended. With the Patriots taking a break from practice on Monday, I've slapped together a quick best-and-worst before going out to see what the hell happened to the back lawn since last week when I disappeared into the training camp abyss. Chinch bugs? Don't tell me it's chinch bugs. BEST SHOW OF SUPERHUMAN STRENGTHAlbert Haynesworth, perhaps hustled onto the practice field Sunday to head off the inevitable "Haynesworth Watch" that was coming if he didn't partake for a second straight day, rag-dolled Ryan Wendell and Rich Ohrnberger during a brief appearance in drills. And he showed his edge with a little shove given to the relatively diminutive Wendell after the play. WORST SENSE OF IMPENDING DOOMHaynesworth is one of the nastier defensive linemen in the league. Logan Mankins is one of the nastier offensive linemen. Very soon, the two men will be lining up across from each other. In the heat. With each having something to prove to each other, themselves and their teammates. That they will scrap is inevitable. Whether either gets hurt (bet on Haynesworth) and how much collateral damage is exacted are the only unknowns. WORST FIRST IMPRESSION (ON-FIELD)Chad Ochocinco has not been glue-fingered. He's had close to 10 drops in his first three practices -- an alarming number. He's got a habit of leaving his feet to make catches inside the numbers. It's a ploy that receivers use to help protect themselves - if they're planted, their resistance is greater against oncoming hits and going up allows them to turtle a bit and absorb impact - but Ocho does it more than necessary. And with a quarterback as accurate as Tom Brady, it takes away the YAC opportunity. Also, Ocho doesn't let a failed play end without emoting in some direction - quarterback or defender. It's a little whiny. BEST FIRST IMPRESSION (OFF-FIELD)Ty Law has been the single funniest Patriot I covered. He was the best at his position for a time and had the kind of enjoyable arrogance that very few pro athletes capably carry off. Ocho's got that too. He overstates and self inflates and you know he believes what he says. But he's so quick and so aware of his audience that it's completely harmless. He said he's going to keep his distance from the media and I don't doubt he will. He all but locked out the Cincy media the past few seasons. His interactions will be self-designed. You can disagree with the way he goes about his business, but it's hard to dislike him. WORST HOLDUPRookie first-rounder Nate Solder still isn't in camp as he haggles over his contract. This was supposed to be easy with the new rookie wage scale, but apparently there's wrestling over whether or not these guys are going to get guaranteed contracts (see PFT post here on matter). All the remaining first-round holdouts are players taken between 17 and 24. Solder was taken 17th. BC lineman Anthony Castonzo, the 24th pick by Indy, wants a guaranteed four-year deal. Coltsvice chairmanBill Polian cuffed that notion around. "We are old school and if we wont give Joseph Addaiwho helped us to two Super Bowls and helped us win two AFC championships, a fully guaranteed contract, we arent going to do it for a rookie, any rookie. We love Anthony. We think hes a great draft choice and we think he would be a great Colt, but its time for him to prove that before he gets a fully guaranteed contract.BEST HOLDUP INSURANCEMatt Light. As we told you all along, this was going to get done and it did. Contract's not signed but the agreement - as of Monday morning - is in place. WORST CROWD INTERACTIONThis one. About the :40 second mark

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

Slater missing from start of Patriots practice

Slater missing from start of Patriots practice

FOXBORO -- The Patriots were without two key members of their special teams units at Friday's practice. 

Both Matthew Slater (foot) and Jordan Richards (knee) were not spotted at the start of the team's most recent workout. Defensive lineman Woodrow Hamilton (illness) was also missing. 

Hamilton and Richards did not participate in Thursday's practice. Slater was present on Wednesday and Thursday after missing Sunday's game against the Jets. 

The Patriots did have a Gronkowski back on the field Friday, but it wasn't Rob, who was expected to undergo back surgery in Los Angeles. It was fullback Glenn Gronkowski, who has apparently been re-signed to the Patriots practice squad for his fourth go-round on New England's 10-man unit. Practice-squad tight end Kennard Backman, who has not been at Patriots practice since Wednesday, has likely been released in order to make room for Gronkowski. 

 

Curran: Patriots holding all the cards with Gronkowski contract

Curran: Patriots holding all the cards with Gronkowski contract

FOXBORO – If the Patriots ever do file for divorce from Rob Gronkowski, it’s not going to be because they don’t like what they are paying him.

When the team picked up the $10 million option on Gronk’s contract in March, activating the back half of his six-year, $54M contract, the Patriots got the upper hand business-wise.

Gronk is signed through the 2019 season – same as Tom Brady. His salaries from 2017 to 2019 are $4.25M, $8M and $9M. His cap hits are $7M, $11M and $12M.

The salary cap for 2016 is $153M. Between now and 2019, it could balloon to more than $170M. 

Gronk fits neatly under it. The franchise tag for tight ends in 2016 was $9M. Gronk is on the books to play for less than half of that in salary in 2017.

That explains why Gronk sent that tweet back in March,  passive aggressively kicking rocks about the “pay cut” he took when the Patriots picked up his option. And it’s why, throughout the summer, his agent Drew Rosenhaus was trying to get the Patriots to the table to work out a new deal for his client.

This back injury couldn’t have come at a worse time for Gronkowski business-wise.

Even if the Patriots tore up the final three years of the deal and gave him a new contract without knowing how he’ll come out of this latest back surgery, the new deal would have to be performance-based and loaded with playing-time clauses.

In that case, as opposed to self-preservation to ensure he can walk fairly well at 50, Gronk, now 27, may feel compelled to play even when he’s not “right.” And, if he’s playing while less than 100 percent, will he be able to play with the abandon that made him the transcendent player he’s been?

That’s if Gronkowski and his Gronktourage would even agree to that kind of a contract, which I’m not sure they would.

They will want security. They may also feel they are owed security because of the physical sacrifices Gronk has made in his seven-year career. And that’s not even taking into consideration the windfall the franchise has realized both financially and in public perception because an inimitable player has been on their roster for seven years. The team should expect a request that they relax their generally hard-line bargaining

While the Patriots have had a strong relationship with Gronk’s agent, Drew Rosenhaus, this contract is – on face value – embarrassing for Rosenhaus at this point.

That Gronk “won” for the first portion of the contract isn’t going to be recalled. But he did win. Gronk signed the deal on June 8, 2012. Within months, he fractured his arm on a PAT attempt against the Colts. Then – after having a plate inserted – he broke it again in the playoffs right where the plate ended. An infection ensued. Gronk also had back surgery that offseason. He very slowly returned to action in 2013, missing the first six games. He returned for Week 7, caught 39 balls for 592 yards over the next seven games, then had his season ended by an ACL blowout.

At that juncture, the security of the contract was a godsend. But the way those two years went – the rushing back to the field, the plate insertion, the infection – has shaped the entire relationship with the team since.  

And considering Gronk’s father, Gordie, was a successful businessman himself and sent four sons to the NFL, there may be no more well-informed family out there as to the harsh realities of the business of football.

Beyond just knowing how the sausage gets made, though, the Gronkowskis have been considering Rob’s football mortality and making sure to maximize his earnings since he was 19.

Not hypothetically either. After Gronk’s sophomore season, he declared for the draft despite having ruptured a disk for the first time. The reason? If he played another down of college football his $4M insurance policy was void. If he suffered a career-ending injury, he would realize no dough from the sport. So he entered the draft to start making as much as he could before the body gave out. 

Which is to their credit. The kid had a skill, he loved playing the sport, making sure he’s well-compensated for plying that skill for as long as possible is what any parent should do.

But we’re approaching a crossroads now. Will Gronk want to continue playing? Will his family encourage him to? Will he even be cleared?

And even if those answers all came back in the affirmative, would the Gronkowskis sign off on Rob playing for relative peanuts compared to what lesser tight ends are receiving?

The Patriots have the favorable hand right now. The young man may well be on an operating table still, so this would not be the time to play it.

But the hard realities of that contract are impossible to ignore. And at some point, they’ll come to a head.