By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — As a team, the Patriots have a lot on the line in their Week 17 meeting with the Jets. Individually, tight end Rob Gronkowski has quite a bit at stake, too.
The 28-year-old tight end restructured his contract in the offseason to include a number of incentives, and that may very well factor in to Gronkowski’s approach — and usage — on Sunday afternoon.
As was reported back in May, Gronkowski will earn $5.5 million in incentives if he can do one of the following:
–Play 90 percent of snaps
–Make 80 catches
–Record 1,200 receiving yards
–Be named to the First Team All-Pro
It’s possible that Gronkowski has already done enough to earn his fourth All-Pro honors, thus activating the full $5.5 million incentive. Gronkowski leads all NFL tight ends with 1,084 yards. Seattle’s Jimmy Graham’s 10 touchdowns are more than Gronkowksi’s eight, but Graham has caught just 54 passes for 435 yards this season.
There are three other tight ends — Kyle Rudolph, Zach Ertz, Travis Kelce — who also have eight touchdowns on the year, but Kelce is the only real comparison to Gronkowski in terms of statistics on the year. However if voters factor in Gronkowski’s role as a blocker, then the All-Pro should be Gronkowski’s.
A vote, though, is not reliable. So, if Gronkowski were to guarantee himself the full $5.5 million, he’d have to either catch 11 passes or record 116 receiving yards on Sunday. Neither number is outrageous, though amassing such numbers might require more usage of the tight end than the Patriots might want in Week 17.
At the same time, the No. 1 seed in the AFC can be secured with a win, so Sunday most likely won’t be a case where the Patriots rest any starters for much of the game. If the Patriots do open up a comfortable lead over the 5-10 Jets, it will be interesting to see if Gronkowski remains a target in the passing game or if the Patriots either commit to a ground game or keep Gronkowski on the sideline.
Gronkowski has already earned $3 million in incentives for recording over 1,000 receiving yards, so Sunday presents the opportunity to potentially earn an extra $2.5 million.
Considering Gronkowski has missed two games this season — one due to injury, one due to suspension — it’s impressive that the incentives are still within reach heading into the final week of the season. That speaks to his on-field performance, which again likely warrants an All-Pro nod.
Of note: In the Patriots’ previous meeting with the Jets this season, Gronkowski caught six passes for 83 yards and two touchdowns.