Thoughts on Rob Gronkowski’s new contract incentives

According to multiple sources (Pro Football Talk and Adam Schefter among others), the Patriots recently negotiated new performance bonuses into Rob Gronkowski’s contract. If Gronkowski meets any of 4-5 of the milestones listed below, he will earn $1.0M, $3.0M, or $5.5M.

Bonus $5.5M $3.0M $1.0M
Snaps 90% 80% 70%
Receptions 80 70 60
Rec. Yards 1,200 1,000 800
Touchdowns 14 12 10
All-Pro 1st Team n/a n/a

I would like to explore which of these are likely to be earned and which are not likely to be earned. Normally, that designation would indicate what amount, if any, need to be included in the Patriot’s 2017 salary cap. However, as the amounts are payable in February of 2018 (presumably after the Superbowl), any potential cap charges won’t hit until 2018.

Snap Percentage

In Gronkowski’s prior two health seasons, he played in 73% and 84% of offensive snaps. Obviously, if he were to miss multiple games, he is unlikely to meet any snap milestones. At best, he is looking to earn the $3.0M bonus based on snaps.

Receptions

In his past two healthy seasons, Gronkowski totaled 72 (2015) and 82 (2016) receptions. In every other season except for 2011, Gronkowski has failed to total 60 receptions. If Gronkowski plays in at least 15 games, he should compile at least 70 receptions and earn the $3.0M bonus. Otherwise, he likely won’t get any bonus based on receptions. He has only totaled 80 receptions in 2 of 7 seasons, so the $5.5M bonus is unlikely, even if he plays in every game.

Receiving Yards

Gronkowski has averaged between 71 and 85 yards per game since his rookie year. To earn the $1.0M bonus at 71 yards per game, Gronkowski would need to play in 12 games; 14 games for the $3.0M bonus at 71 yards per game; not possible to earn the $5.5M bonus at that rate.

If Gronkowski performs somewhere around his average season of 77 yards per game, he would need 11 games to reach the $1.0M bonus, 13 games for the $3.0M bonus, and 16 games for the $5.5M bonus.

Gronkowski has only topped 1,200 yards in 1 of 7 seasons, so the $5.5M bonus is unlikely to be met through receiving yards.

Touchdowns

Gronkowski has averaged around 0.8 touchdowns per game throughout his career and closer to 0.7 per game since 2014. At 0.8 touchdowns per game, he would need to play in 13 games to earn the $1.0M bonus and 15 games to earn the $3.0M bonus. Gronkowski has totaled 12 or more touchdowns in 2 of his 7 seasons.

All-Pro

Gronkowski was voted a 1st team All-Pro in 2011, 2014, and 2015. In those 3 seasons, he averaged 81 receptions for 1,200 yards and 13 touchdowns in at least 15 games played.

Conclusion

These potential bonuses come down to how many games Gronkowski is able to play at 100%. Assuming that he’s held out in week 17 like in prior years, if he plays in the remaining 15 games, he is likely to earn the $3.0M bonus as he should hit the receptions and receiving yards milestones. If he plays in at least 12 games, he should earn the $1.0M bonus based on the receiving yards milestone. Absent a 1st team All-Pro selection, he is unlikely to earn the $5.5M bonus.

The likely to be earned/not likely to be earned discussion is very simple: Gronkowski did not meet any of these milestones in 2016, so no amounts would count against 2017’s cap regardless of the timing of payments.