When the Patriots won their fifth Super Bowl last season, they did so without perhaps their most important offensive player (not named Tom Brady) in history.
Rob Gronkowski’s injury-filled 2016-17 season is a thing of the past, and the hope is that it will stay that way, as the man simply known as “Gronk” showed up to Patriots training camp this year without any known limitations, according to Bill Belichick.
Gronk hasn’t played a full 16-game schedule since the 2011 season, but if he stays healthy this year he’ll be in for a big spike in pay. The Patriots added some tiered incentives to Gronk’s contract. According to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, Gronk will make $10.75M if he plays 90 percent of the snaps, makes 80 catches, and records 1,200 receiving yards or is named First Team All-Pro. For those scoring at home, he’s been named an All-Pro four times.
Gronk is a matchup nightmare out there, bigger than just about every cornerback, linebacker, and safety who tries to stop him as he barrels into them.
But he’s got to stay on the field. Yes, the Patriots have shown that they can win without him, but their Gronk insurance plan of Martellus Bennett is no more, as Bennett signed with the Packers over the offseason.
The Patriots did go out and trade for tight end Dwayne Allen, formerly of the Colts, so they do have another big, bruising tight end to pair with Gronk this season.
The favorites: Rob Gronkowski, Dwyane Allen
What can we say about Gronkowski that hasn’t already been said year after year? When healthy, he’s the best tight end in the NFL – and may go down as the best all-time when it’s all said and done. But that might also depend on his health the rest of the way. The good news is Gronkowski is now paying even more attention to his health, and working with Tom Brady’s trainer. Gronk is now 28-years-old, no longer a young pup.
“Now as you get older, it just felt like it was that time in my career where I just really needed to focus on [health] and go to the next level or else I could’ve possibly been out of the door,” Gronkowski told reporters. “So just wanted to take it to the next level and keep on going.”
Allen should prove to be a strong No. 2 next to Gronk. A reliable red zone threat and strong blocker (better than Bennett), there should be plenty of opportunity for Allen to contribute to the Patriots. He finished 2016 with 35 receptions for 406 yards and six touchdowns over 14 games. Looking at the Patriots’ weapons on offense, it’s hard to predict where his numbers will go, but Belichick loves his two tight-end sets and Allen certainly allows for that.
The rest: Matt Lengel, James O’Shaughnessy, Sam Cotton (R), Jacob Hollister (R)
The Patriots will have four players battle it out in camp for what could be just one more spot on the 53-man roster. Lengel had limited time with the Patriots last year. O’Shaughnessy was traded to the Patriots from the Chiefs in April. He played in all 17 games for KC last year, mainly on special teams.