Curran at the Combine: 5 from Day 3

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Curran at the Combine: 5 from Day 3

By Tom E. CurranCSNNE.com Patriots Insider

INDIANAPOLIS - It all starts with the quarterback, they say. Saturday, it all ended with the quarterbacks. All the head coaches and GMs finished their moments at the podium (except the Patriots, who took a pass on speaking to media) and that cleared the way for the star attractions of this week, quarterbacks Cam Newton and Ryan Mallett. Their local link is minor so we'll get to them a bit later in Saturday's edition of the 5. THE TROUBLE WITH TRADINGFormer Patriots GM Scott Pioli said that a lockout shouldn't be a big problem for teams trying to make pre-draft trades."It's one of those things I don't spend time worrying about or thinking about," said Pioli, who was part of the draft-happy Patriots' front office before going to the Chiefs. "Whatever the circumstances are, that's what they are. You can't spend time or energy on things you can't control."There are moving parts to consider though. For instance, the Patriots have so many early picks there will be a market for them. So what if they wanted todeal for the rights to a player? Would that trade hold up post-lockout? And wouldn't the team want to kick the tires or find out as much as possible about the player pre-trade? Surely deals are done without players being contacted all the time, butthe Patriots' draft weekend deal for Randy Moss required extensive conversations. Just another monkey wrench to lob into the works. OLD PATRIOTS DON'T FORGETOn Saturday, Pioli was asked what he remembered of assistant coach Brian Daboll whenDaboll was a Patriots' assistant. Daboll was part of the outflux of coaches that left with Eric Mangini when Mangini got the Jets job. Daboll then went with Mangini to Cleveland and is now the newly-hired offensive coordinator in Miami. Hard feelings over the way Mangini recruited Patriots coaches to go with him to New York and, of course, Spygate seemed to be close to the surface when Pioli answered. "I remember that he was part of a great deal of success there," Pioli said curtly. Pioli could have pulled a punch as well when he was asked about Charlie Weis leaving the Chiefs to go to the University of Florida and coordinate offense. I dont think you enter any relationship thinking its going to be a short-term relationship, especially when someone is under contract. It changes, theres nothing you can do about it, you adjust to it as you have to. Thats life, Pioli said.THE EXPERIENCE FACTOROne thing that may lurk in the back of teams' minds as they shop for players this April is how soon they'll be able to get those players in with their coaches. If, for instance, the situation between owners and players isn't resolved until August, it will be almost a lost year for the incoming group of rookies without much college experience. Those players will have missed out on minicamps, passing camps, etc. And by the time training camp starts, getting the veterans ready may trump the need to get rookies up to speed. So if you're a team looking at a third-year sophomore like defensive end Aldon Smith from Missouri or four-year senior Cameron Jordan from Cal who played twice as many games after high school, wouldn't it make sense to err on the side of experience? The ability of teams to self-start despite not being with coaches is going to be absolutely vital once football starts again if there's a protracted work stoppage. BIG DAY FOR CASTONZOBoston College offensive tackle Anthony Castonzo probably benefited as much as anybody when USC tackle Tyron Smith left the Combine early and passed on running in Indy. Castonzo ran a very respectable 5.23 in the 40 and word from two team sourcesis that Castonzo continues to impress in team interviews. "I'm having a blast," Castonzo told me Saturday afternoon outside the Indianapolis Convention Center. "These interviews are perfect for me. I love the grilling." Castonzo was an exceptional student at Boston College, a bio-chem major. It's no surprise he's killing it. GRILLED QUARTERBACKThere was really no way that Arkansas quarterback Ryan Mallett could win on Saturday when he stepped to the podium. Dealing with a flurry of rumors that he's been involved with drugs, he was bound to be questioned about it. And he was. Four times. After the last entreaty, he ended his interview and left the podium. He'll be criticized for that. People will use that moment to extrapolate he can't take pressure. But, as a quarterback, sometimes you have to know when to get out of a bad play, as it were, and I felt that's what Mallett did. When initially asked about the rumors, Mallett said, "When I saw that stuff, I laughed about it."He insinuated he's being sabotaged by saying, Obviously someone did that for a reason, right before the Combine.Mallett said he wasn't going to address anything in the press conference forum and that he'd speak to the teams in his personal interview. Which is perfectly reasonable. What college kid should be made to address a room full of strangers and possibly unveil drug use when that's only going to turn into headlines for the next two months? And nobody's going to say, "Oh. Thanks, we don't need to know anymore," if Mallett comes clean. As for Cam Newton, his problems were minor in comparison. He had to squish the perception he's a diva after saying he hopes to become "an entertainer and an icon."He tried to undo that by opening his time at the podium with a statement, saying, "First and foremost I understand that my obligation is to be the best possible football player that I can be. I know and believe that.He said he was speaking about an endorsement he'd signed when he said the words. I was making the point that I want to be the best possible ambassador for them just like I want to be the best possible ambassador for whatever team I am lucky enough to play for, Newton said. He's an eminently likable kid. He handled the questions about his readiness with aplomb. And by using the third-person. Obviously, everybody knows that Cam has been in a spread offense and I have been trying to work as much as possible on trying to be fluid, he explained. He was also asked about his father, Cecil Newton, who nearly cost his son his eligibility by allegedly demanding Mississippi State pay for Cam Newton's presence. "My father is just like any other father that wants the best for his son. He wants to see his son succeed in every way possible.He added that the experience brought he and his father closer together.
Tom E. Curran canbe 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.