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After tough year, Gronk coming alive at right time for Pats

Tue Jan 22 7:32pm ET
By KYLE HIGHTOWER
AP Sports Writer

Players: Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski, Sony Michel

New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski (87) runs against Kansas City Chiefs cornerback Kendall Fuller (23) during the first half of the AFC Championship NFL football game, Sunday, Jan. 20, 2019, in Kansas City, Mo. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)


New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski (87) is tackled by Kansas City Chiefs defensive back Daniel Sorensen (49) during the first half of the AFC Championship NFL football game, Sunday, Jan. 20, 2019, in Kansas City, Mo. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)


FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) Even as Rob Gronkowski turned in a vintage performance with his big grabs down the stretch in the AFC championship game, the veteran Patriots tight end also did plenty of dirty work.

Gronk the blocker? The label didn't fit in the past. But this season, one of the best receiving tight ends in NFL history and Tom Brady's longtime favorite target made some big contributions to the Patriots' rejuvenated running game.

''Whatever coaches call, whatever plays we call ... blocking, receiving, no matter what is, whatever play is called, just got to go out there and do your job,'' Gronkowski said.

It was an underwhelming season statistically for Gronkowski, who contemplated retirement after last year's Super Bowl loss. He appeared in 13 games as he fought through nagging back and ankle injuries, finishing with 47 catches for 682 yards and three touchdowns.

But Gronk did more of the things that don't appear on the stat sheet. And he's fine with that as he heads into a Super Bowl matchup with the Rams eyeing the third ring in his nine-year career.

Brady said Gronkowski's ability as a blocker might be the most underrated part of his game.

''He's one of the most dominant blocking tight ends in the league,'' Brady said. ''He's a threat any time he's out there.''

One of his biggest plays in the Patriots' overtime victory over Kansas City for the AFC title came in the run game.

After the Chiefs took their first lead, New England responded with a 10-play, 75-yard drive that ended with Gronkowski pushing aside Kansas City linebacker Justin Houston on fourth-and-inches and allowing Sony Michel to jog into the end zone from 10 yards out.

Gronk's future beyond this season is once again an open question. He will be entering the final season of a six-year contract in 2019 and is scheduled to make about $9 million. Before the season, he acknowledged he would like to rework the deal, and he skipped a voluntary offseason workout. He later had bonus incentives added to his contract.

He'd be missed if he doesn't return. After a quiet performance in the Patriots' divisional playoff win over the Chargers, Gronkowski was targeted a season-high 11 times against the Chiefs, catching six passes for 79 yards and coming up with big grabs down the stretch.

Brady was 5 for 5 on third down in the fourth quarter and overtime, with two of those passes going to Gronkowski. Those catches, for 25 and 15 yards, set up the go-ahead and game-winning touchdowns.

It was nothing new for the 29-year-old Gronk, who entered the season with 75 postseason receptions - the most by a tight end in NFL history. In the regular season, he has the most TD catches thrown by Brady to any player (78).

The Rams' defense was the second-worst in the league this season, giving up 1,075 yards receiving to opposing tight ends. It should mean plenty of opportunities for Gronkowski to show the combination of size, strong hands and agility that has made him a matchup nightmare throughout his career.

His chemistry with Brady means he knows the ball could always come his way, no matter what kind of game he's having.

''You've got to have confidence in each other,'' Gronkowski said. ''That's what practice is all about. That's knowing each other is all about. Knowing that when it comes to those situations and you've got to put that ball up, I've got to make the play. ... That's the trust that we have with each other. We love playing with each other. Just a bond we have, to go out there and always be on the same page.''

Player Notes
Emmanuel Sanders Feb 19 11:30pm ET

Denver Broncos wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders (Achilles) said that he wouldn't restructure his current deal. "It aint happening. No way Jose," Sanders tweeted. The 31-year-old tore his Achilles in practice on Dec. 5 and is schedule to count $12.94 million against the salary cap in 2019. If Denver exercises his 2019 salary before March 12, he'd be guaranteed $1.5 million. The Broncos would save $10.25 million by cutting Sanders, leaving only $2.687 million in dead money. Before the injury, Sanders was the team's best receiver, catching 71 passes for 868 yards and four touchdowns while also throwing a TD and running one in. It remains to be seen if Sanders will even be ready for the start of next season, although his production has been fine when healthy. If the Broncos move on, Courtland Sutton would be the unquestioned No. 1 receiver going into his second year.

From RotoBaller

Kai Forbath Feb 19 4:23pm ET

Jacksonville Jaguars PK Kai Forbath was released Tuesday, Feb. 19.

Hayden Hurst Feb 19 4:13pm ET

Baltimore Ravens TE Hayden Hurst (foot) is fully healthy again after a screw was recently removed from the foot he fractured last August. Hurst was able to play in 12 games in his rookie year.

Terrence Brooks Feb 19 3:43pm ET

New York Jets impending free-agent FS Terrence Brooks will not have his 2019 option picked up, according to a source.

Demarcus Lawrence Feb 19 3:23pm ET

Dallas Cowboys impending free-agent DE DeMarcus Lawrence will not sign the franchise tag if the Cowboys were to use that on him this offseason. Lawrence signed the franchise tag last year and is waiting for a long-term deal. The last day for franchise tags to be used is March 5.

Rob Gronkowski Feb 19 2:40pm ET

New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski's agent, Drew Rosenhaus, said his client will likely make a decision on his playing future "in the next couple of weeks." While Gronk looked somewhat rejuvenated late in the team's Super Bowl run, the 29-year-old has been worn down by injuries throughout his career and has clearly lost a step. He hasn't played a full season since 2011 and had 47 catches for only 682 yards and three touchdowns in 13 games last year. He'd still be in the TE1 conversation if he returns for another season, but Gronkowski is no longer what we'd call an elite TE1.

From RotoBaller

Mike Pennel Feb 19 2:03pm ET

New York Jets DT Mike Pennel's option for the final two years of his contract was declined Tuesday, Feb. 19, by the team, per source, making Pennel a free agent heading into the new league year.

Albert Wilson Feb 19 1:33pm ET

Miami Dolphins WR Albert Wilson is one of the best bets to remain with the team out of a wide receiver contingent that appears headed for upheaval, and new position coach Karl Dorrell has quickly become a fan. 'He was pretty dynamic wasn't he?' Dorrell said recently of Wilson. 'He's a very unique player. I'm really excited about him. .... I hear he's doing a really good job with the recovery process but you could tell when he was on the field, he had a number of ways to affect the defense and to make the defense really pay attention to where he is and things like that.'

Fantasy Spin: A hip injury cost Wilson all but seven games in 2018 but he still led the team with his 15-yard-per-reception average and finished third on the squad with his four receiving TDs. Wilson is a definite fantasy WR sleeper to keep an eye on this summer.

Antonio Brown Feb 19 1:23pm ET

The New York Jets should pursue a trade for disgruntled Pittsburgh Steelers WR Antonio Brown if they're serious about winning, a veteran team reporter wrote Tuesday, Feb. 19.

Fantasy Spin: QB Sam Darnold had Robby Anderson and Quincy Enunwa to work with in his rookie campaign, but Brown would be an obvious upgrade for just about any offense in the league and especially so for a young, up-and-coming QB. And with new head coach Adam Gase taking over, it would be the perfect time to add a new weapon.

Charles Clay Feb 19 12:23pm ET

Free-agent TE Charles Clay (Bills) signed a one-year contract Tuesday, Feb. 19, with the Arizona Cardinals.

Fantasy Spin: Clay's target, reception and fantasy-point totals have been declined in each of the last two seasons, and now he's going one from shaky offense to another. And although the Cards are in dire need of a pass-catching weapon like Clay, don't expect much more than a TE2 season.

Charles Clay Feb 19 12:20pm ET

The Arizona Cardinals are signing free-agent tight end Charles Clay to a one-year deal worth up to $3.25 million on Tuesday, according to a source. The deal includes a $350,000 signing bonus. Clay was an afterthought in Buffalo's offense the last couple years and had only 21 catches for 184 yards and no scores in 13 games last season. He's unlikely to produce much more in Arizona with Ricky Seals-Jones and veteran Jermaine Gresham also in the fold with a young quarterback still learning the speed of the NFL. Clay won't even be worth drafting in most fantasy leagues.

From RotoBaller

Calais Campbell Feb 19 11:50am ET

The Jacksonville Jaguars exercised the 2019 options for defensive end Calais Campbell, defensive end Lerentee McCray and safety Cody Davis. Campbell has been a Pro Bowl selection the last two years with the Jaguars and has accumulated 25 sacks in that time frame. He'll enter his 12th season in 2019 and had a franchise-record 14.5 sacks in 2017. He became the first player in team history to have back-to-back double-digit sacks when he registered 10.5 quarterback takedowns last season. Campbell is a four-time Pro Bowler and is certainly an IDP force.

From RotoBaller

Austin Seferian-Jenkins Feb 19 11:50am ET

The Jacksonville Jaguars declined the 2019 option for tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins on Tuesday, making him a free agent. He started the first five games of the season and caught 11 passes for 90 yards and a touchdown before missing the final 11 games with a core muscle injury. His best year came in 2017 with the Jets when he had 50 catches for 357 yards and three touchdowns. Between injuries and off-field issues, teams are unlikely to be knocking the door down to sign ASF this offseason.

From RotoBaller

Antonio Brown Feb 19 11:33am ET

Pittsburgh Steelers WR Antonio Brown and his agent, Drew Rosenhaus, met with Steelers owner Art Rooney, general manager Kevin Colbert and executive Omar Kahn Tuesday, Feb. 19, and all left with the understanding that a trade will be the best route, according to sources.

Fantasy Spin: Brown will be a stud WR1 anywhere he goes, but he may slide a little in a different offense while learning new personnel.

Antonio Brown Feb 19 11:33am ET

Updating an earlier report, Pittsburgh Steelers WR Antonio Brown has received word that the team will attempt to trade him, but he has not received permission to speak to other teams.

Feb 19 11:23am ET

Former Green Bay Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers was hired by the Jacksonville Jaguars Tuesday, Feb. 19, as a defensive assistant.

Landon Collins Feb 19 9:33am ET

New York Giants impending free-agent SS Landon Collins isn't in active contract discussions with the Giants, according to sources.

Aaron Rodgers Feb 19 3:03am ET

Green Bay Packers QB Aaron Rodgers will not be asked to run a dramatically different offense than the one he has operated for most of his career, according to offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett. 'When you take a guy like Aaron Rodgers, who is a very good football player, I mean, he's kind of one of those guys where you can kind of pretty much do a lot of everything. I think a lot of it is going to carry over. I think some of the language will be different but it's going to be a lot of the same premises for him,' Hackett told PackersNews.com.

Fantasy Spin: Rodgers is unlikely to be the overall QB1 in drafts this summer following the emergence of Patrick Mahomes, but he'll come off the board shortly thereafter as the QB2 or QB3. It will also be interesting to see how receptive the 35-year-old will be to the schemes of new head coach Matt LaFleur and Hackett, although it's hard to imagine he'll drop off considering how vanilla Mike McCarthy had become with his play-calling in recent years.

Le'Veon Bell Feb 19 12:43am ET

Pittsburgh Steelers RB Le'Veon Bell is unlikely to receive a franchise or transition tag from the team, according to ESPN's Jeremy Fowler.

C.J. Mosley Feb 19 12:33am ET

Impending free-agent LB C.J. Mosley and the Baltimore Ravens are reportedly optimistic they will agree to a long-term contract before the March 5 deadline for franchise tags, according to ESPN's Jamison Hensley.