- Mike Reiss, ESPN Staff Writer
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This morning's blog post looking at the Patriots' roster by contract length can be dissected and analyzed in a variety of ways. The first thing that stands out from this viewpoint is the players with the longest contracts -- Aaron Hernandez (2018) and Rob Gronkowski (2019).
That is a decisive snapshot of the team's approach of locking up its two young tight ends for their prime years, as those deals were struck when both still had two years remaining on their more affordable rookie contacts. The extensions (financial details here) were outside the Patriots' standard course of business for the majority of Bill Belichick's coaching tenure, sparked in part by the strategy of planning for the future in the flat-cap era. The deals were also obviously an acknowledgement of the unique talent of Gronkowski and Hernandez after just two seasons.
As Eagles tight end Brent Celek said, per NFL.com's "Around the League" blog, Gronkowski and Hernandez helped elevate the position with their breakout performances in 2011.
The importance of the Patriots' commitment to Gronkowski and Hernandez is also highlighted in the change currently taking place at the receiver position. With almost a complete overhaul of the receiving corps, the presence of the two difference-making tight ends, in theory, should soften any early receiver-type growing pains ... as long as the tight ends are on the field.
That is another reason why the surgeries/rehabs of Gronkowski (forearm/back) and Hernandez (shoulder) -- already a big story as it is -- are further magnified. As ESPN "NFL Live" host Trey Wingo said on a recent show, these are two of the main players the Patriots have committed to build around -- more so than receiver Wes Welker, whose track record from a durability and games-played standpoint was well established.