Rapid Reaction: Patriots extend Gronk

According to ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter, the New England Patriots and tight end Rob Gronkowski agreed to a six-year, $54 million contract extension on Friday.

The full details of the contract are not yet known, and it is not known if this will be six years added to his existing contract, or a re-working of the final two years of his deal with another four years tacked on. Gronkowski was set to earn base salaries of $540,000 and $575,000 over the next two seasons, but it is unclear how significantly Gronkowski's cap numbers in 2012 and 2013 will increase with the new agreement.

The deal, according to Schefter, makes Gronkowski the highest-paid tight end in NFL history. The 23-year old had 18 touchdowns last season, and is considered to be among the NFL's elite tight ends, if not the premier player at his position. At 6-foot-6, 265 pounds, Gronkowski's combination of size and athleticism have made him a difficult match-up for opposing defenses over the past two seasons.

Patriots guard Brian Waters said after a playoff game last season that Gronkowski and fellow Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez have "changed the game" since coming into the league as second- and fourth-round draft choices by New England in 2010. It's hard to argue against that, and the Patriots have paid Gronkowski accordingly, despite two years remaining on his rookie deal.

There is little precedent for the Patriots giving a player a new contract after only two seasons, and with more than a year remaining on an existing deal. Last December, the Patriots added five years to linebacker and defensive captain Jerod Mayo's contract, which was set to expire after the 2012 season.

But in years earlier, the team often refused to toss out remaining years on rookie contracts. Notably, the Patriots and receiver Deion Branch went through a contentious negotiation as he entered the final season of his rookie deal in 2006. Branch held out and was eventually traded. In 2005, defensive lineman Richard Seymour held out of the beginning of training camp looking for a new deal with two years remaining of his rookie contract. The Patriots only offered him a pay raise for that season before he earned an extension the following spring.

With Gronkowski, the Patriots have avoided going down the same route as Branch or Seymour, and have locked up one of their young stars, who now becomes one of the highest-paid players on the team.