When tight end Rob Gronkowski received a contract extension from the New England Patriots this offseason, it became apparent to many that the team was going to try to get the most they could out of former Florida Gators TE Aaron Hernandez without signing him to a similar extension that would lock him up long-term.
That widely-held opinion was proved worthless on Monday when New England and Hernandez agreed to a five-year extension worth a maximum value of $40 million including a $12.5 million signing bonus and $16 million in guaranteed money.
What helped get the deal together was Hernandez’s willingness to play out the final two years of his rookie contract without having his salary increased. He is set to earn $644,000 in 2012 and $1.523 million in 2013 (including all guaranteed and non-guaranteed monies). The Patriots agreed to enhance his earnings those years by paying out his signing bonus over three seasons ($6 million immediately, $3.25 million in 2013, $3.25 million in 2014), giving him major compensation for being willing to compromise.
Hernandez will then earn $1.7 million in 2014 (not including his signing bonus), $3.3 million in 2015, $6 million in 2016 and $7 million in 2017 and 2018. Those numbers include $500,000 in annual offseason workout bonuses and $500,000 in annual roster bonuses (2015-2018). He will also receive an additional $500,000 every season he is named to the Pro Bowl.
Once he signed the extension, Hernandez immediately donated $50,000 to owner Robert Kraft’s charity while at a gala on Monday.
“One of the touching moments since I’ve known the team — knowing that this is our charitable gala tonight — Aaron came into my office, a little teary-eyed and presented me with a check for $50,000 to go to Myra Kraft Giving Back Fund,” Kraft told ESPNBoston.com. “I said ‘Aaron, you don’t have to do this, you’ve already got your contract.’ And he said ‘No, it makes me feel good and I want to do it.’”
Hernandez spoke with multiple outlets about his donation and relationship with Kraft.
“He changed my life,” Hernandez said of Kraft. “Now, I’m able to basically have a good chance to be set for life and have a good life and I have a daughter on the way [Nov. 12], and I have a family that I love.
“It’s just knowing that they’re going to be OK, because I was happy playing for $250,000, $400,000. But knowing that my kids and my family will be able to have a good life, go to college, it’s just an honor that he did that for me. He gave me this opportunity. So the $50,000 to help his foundation, obviously it’s basically saying ‘thank you’. [...]
“He didn’t need to give me the amount that he gave me, and knowing that he thinks I deserve that, he trusts me to make the right decisions, it means a lot. It means he trusts my character, and the person I am, which means a lot, cause my mother, that’s how she wanted to raise me.”
Hernandez’s extension may not be as rich as Gronkowski’s (six years, $53 million), but he was not in the same situation as his teammate, who was selected two rounds and 71 picks ahead of Hernandez in the 2010 NFL Draft.
Gronkowski had one of the best seasons for a tight end in NFL history in 2011, catching 11 more passes than Hernandez (90-79), registering 417 more receiving yards (1,327-910) and hauling in 10 more touchdowns (17-7) on the same team.
Word out of training camp this offseason, however, is that those numbers could wind up switching around very soon as Hernandez is quickly becoming quarterback Tom Brady’s top target in the passing game.
He is also being used more extensively by New England, taking handoffs in the backfield and even being used rarely as a punt returner on special teams.
That is why Hernandez is actually due more money (and will receive more guaranteed money) in the first four years of his contract than Gronkowski, according to the Boston Globe’s Greg A. Bedard, who also reports that the extension is “the second-richest for a tight end in league history, and the signing bonus is the highest ever at the position.”
Hernandez told MassLive.com that he’s thrilled to be a member of the Patriots for life and that he is appreciative of the organization for turning his life around.
“This is a place that not only did change my future from them paying me, but it just changed me as a person,” he said. “You can’t come here and act reckless and do your own stuff. I was one of the persons that I came here, I might’ve acted the way I wanted to act, but you changed by Bill Belichick’s way. You get changed by the Patriots’ way. Now that I’m a Patriot, I have to start living like one, and making the right decisions for them.”