FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- During Bill Belichick's 18 years as head coach of the New England Patriots, the franchise has developed a reputation among many agents for its hard-line approach in negotiations.
That’s part of what makes developments over the last month so notable, as the club -- despite having most of the leverage -- willingly sweetened the contracts of tight end Rob Gronkowski and safety Patrick Chung.
The Gronkowski contract tweak generated significant headlines. Gronkowski can boost his 2017 salary from $5.25 million to $6.75 million, $8.75 million or $10.75 million depending on what incentives he reaches.
Meanwhile, Chung -- who is often tapped to cover opposing tight ends -- can now earn up to an additional $1.7 million in incentives in 2017. As part of his deal, he was scheduled to make $2.5 million in base salary in 2017, and has $400,000 in roster bonuses ($25,000 per game).
So why have the Patriots been willing to add the incentives -- without tweaking any other parts of the contracts -- when they didn’t have to?
Here’s a theory: In each case, the players had previously signed extensions that they felt good about at the time. But as seasons have gone by, both significantly have outperformed the deals.
Acknowledging that dynamic, and also how both haven’t made waves about their contracts, the Patriots basically did each player a solid by taking the best season of each player's career and essentially said, “If that is duplicated in 2017, you can be more in line with others financially at the position, and we continue to benefit as a team.”
To the player, the chance for increased earnings is significant. To the team, it isn't a major dent on the salary cap and cash flow. The approach can also create goodwill with the players in any future negotiations.
It’s anything but hard-line, and a reflection of how the team is ever-evolving at the negotiating table.