The big news yesterday was that the Patriots rewarded TE Rob Gronkowski with a six-year, $54-million contract extension. It’s a massive reward for the player who set the yardage record and touchdown record at that position last year.
Today, the player who is currently the game’s highest paid tight end spoke about that development, offering a serious appreciation for Gronk’s prowess. Representing the FRAM Ready to Role program, Cowboys TE Jason Witten appeared a local Walmart to lead a hands on, under-the-hood, car care skills training deal with the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Dallas teens.
Before it all happened, I asked Witten for his reaction to Gronk’s new riches.
“I think obviously the bar just continues to get raised on where guys are going and that’s good,” Witten told me. “That’s a good sign with where the league is. Obviously, the guy’s very deserving. Really what (Gronkowski) did last year, we really hadn’t seen across the league in a long time, probably ever. I think being in the position and watching it, you have even more respect. It’s not just that. He does it in all phases of the position. That’s really what being a complete tight end is all about. He’s very deserving, a terrific player. Really a big reason why they were in the Super Bowl last year.”
Gronk’s year was special. With 90 catches for 1,327 yards and 17 TDs, it was the best year for a tight end ever. Throw in his blocking, and you get one of the NFL’s best heading into his third year. With a new deal, Gronkowski will be the highest-paid tight end once his extension kicks in in 2014. Treated as an eight-year deal, he averages just under $7 million.
That still makes Witten, who signed a five-year, $37-million extension last year, the NFL’s highest paid.
Does he care?
“Well, I think it’s all relative, right?” Witten said. “You really don’t get caught up in it. You feel like you’re a good player and you want to be rewarded like that, but obviously it’s a different situation. I’m going into my 10th year, he’s going into his third year, so all signs say that he’s probably going to play more of that deal out than a veteran would be. I don’t think you get caught up in the ins and outs of that. Those guys (at that position) probably don’t realize…. I remember coming into the league 10 years ago and it was really just (Shannon) Sharpe and (Tony) Gonzalez. And now there’s 10, 12, 14 guys that are good players at the position. And the position’s really evolved in the last decade and you’re seeing now these young guys benefit because of that.”
Witten was on the premises for a special event aimed at providing mentorship opportunity with “sports stars and celebrities, while also teaching transferable life and car care skills,” as the release says. Witten explained.
“You have these chances as an athlete,” Witten said, “you to have a little interaction with them and be able to encourage them at this time in their life, spend time with them and do something special. For me, I grew up in the Boys & Girls club. I know firsthand the benefits that it can have to have people believe in you, really before you even believe in yourself.“