It is poetically fitting that the New England Patriots began voluntary offseason workouts on the Boston holiday known as Patriots Day. In addition to the running of the 122nd Boston Marathon, Monday, April 16, 2018, also marked the fifth anniversary of the tragic Marathon bombing in 2013 (although the actual anniversary was on Sunday, April 15.) If that did not provide enough commemorative drama, it was also the 66th birthday of head coach Bill Belichick.
For the team, however, the workouts signify one thing…and one thing only. The 2018 season has unofficially begun. In true Patriots fashion, they are just getting warmed up (both literally and figuratively.) After all, in New England, there always seems to be a story lurking below the surface.
Without further ado, here is the first edition of FPC Patriots Dispatches for 2018:
Absence Makes the Gronk grow Richer?
Many adjectives can be used to describe Pats tight end Rob Gronkowski. Inconspicuous is certainly not one of them. Therefore, when reports surfaced that Gronkowski would be sitting out the start of voluntary workouts in Foxboro on Monday, the ship of speculation began to steam ahead at full speed.
On Sunday afternoon, ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported that Gronkowski is still considering whether or not he will play football in 2018. As a result, he has decided to remain absent from the start of Monday’s program. However, later on, Sunday, Jeff Howe of The Athletic reported that Gronkowski’s absence from Patriots workouts was due to his desire for a reworked contract, which would include an increase in salary.
Although New England’s All-Pro tight end is reportedly seeking a raise, he might be doing so at his own peril. As reported by 98.5 The Sports Hub, Gronkowski is due an $8 million base salary in 2018. He can also earn up to $750,000 in per-game roster bonuses and $250,000 in workout bonuses. How might he collect the latter of those bonuses? It would be by attending the team’s offseason workouts. While he may have failed to attend on Monday, Gronkowski can still collect the bonus as planned, in August. However, he must attend at least 33 of the team’s remaining 35 offseason workouts.
As one might imagine, this does not appear to be an ideal situation for the Patriots or their head coach. As Bill Belichick looks to build his team for 2018, reports have surfaced regarding growing frustration on both sides. In fact, WEEI’s Kirk Minihane indicated on the Kirk and Callahan morning radio show that this posturing might be a sign that Gronkowski could be traded before the start of the 2018 season.
BREAKING: @kirkmin is reporting that Rob Gronkowski will be traded before the start of the 2018 season.
— Kirk & Callahan (@KirkAndCallahan) April 16, 2018
Despite the prognostications of doom, there is no concrete evidence that Gronkowski is on his way out of New England. In addition to his initial report, Schefter also said that Gronkowski has had “good communication” with the Patriots this offseason. In addition to that point, Karen Guregian of the Boston Herald reported that some of this communication has focused on Gronkowski’s contract.
The Patriots restructured Gronkowski’s contract in 2017. This allowed him to earn over $10 million, including the maximum of $5.5 million in incentives (which he earned by garnering First Team All-Pro honors in 2017.) Could Gronkowski’s absence lead to his enrichment or his displacement? One thing is certain. We will learn sooner, rather than later.
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Et tu, Brady?
Rob Gronkowski was not the only renowned Patriot missing from the start of the Patriots’ offseason workout program. Quarterback Tom Brady was also absent on Monday. However, his reason was a bit different from that of his prolific tight end.
Brady had been attending a charity event in Qatar over the weekend. He was not expected to return from the Middle East until late Monday afternoon. As a result, ESPN’s Jeff Darlington reported that he would not be in attendance on Monday.
Darlington further went on to report, however, that Brady should not be expected to be a regular participant during offseason workouts. He stated via ESPN:
Even after Tom Brady returns from Qatar, I do not anticipate he will be a regular participant in team’s offseason program. He plans to spend more time with family and body coach Alex Guerrero. Brady did miss parts of Pats’ offseason program in 08, 09 and 10 so not unprecedented.
On the surface, Brady’s absence is of little cause for concern. First, he has missed portions of the workout program in past years. Second, Brady is known for his relentless approach to conditioning. As Darlington noted, he will be using the time wisely by working out with Guerrero. Even though Guerrero has been a somewhat controversial figure in Patriots lore this past year, he has played a key role in helping Brady remain in optimal shape as he approaches age 41.
However, the report will almost certainly lead to added speculation about turmoil inside the Patriots organization. While there is no tangible connection to any discontent by Brady, some will use this as evidence (of the circumstantial variety) that the reigning-MVP is harboring negative feelings toward Belichick and the ‘Patriot Way.’ Brady is expected to return for organized team activities in late May. Should he do so, this speculation will amount to ‘much ado about nothing.’ Should he not, the collective eyebrows of Patriots Nation will be raised…and this time, with adequate cause.
James Harrison Retires
On Monday, linebacker James Harrison announced his retirement from the NFL via Instagram:
I’ve missed way too much for way too long…and I’m done. Many thanks to my family, coaches, the fans, and everyone who played a role in my football life. #2ndAndFinalRetirement #HarrisonFamilyValues #BlessedAndHighlyFavored #GodsPlan
Most famous for his time with the Pittsburgh Steelers, Harrison enjoyed a stellar career in the NFL. He became a two-time Super Bowl champion, five-time Pro Bowl selection and one-time defensive player of the year.
In addition to the Steelers, Harrison also played one season with the Cincinnati Bengals, as well as the last four of his 215 career games for the Patriots. Harrison’s addition to the Pats’ linebacking corps helped the team reach Super Bowl 52. The 39-year old was the oldest defensive player in football. Despite persistent rumors that he would play in 2018, Harrison ended that speculation by announcing his retirement on Monday.
Though his tenure with the Patriots was brief, his tenacious play over his 16 year-career will ensure that his time in New England is remembered fondly. Congratulations to James Harrison on a memorable career.
–Mike D’Abate is a Managing Editor and National Columnist for Full Press Coverage Sports Media. He covers the New England Patriots and the AFC East. Follow him on Twitter @mdabateFPC