Following the 2011 NFL season, we can safely say that the New England Patriots have the greatest tight end tandem in the NFL—quite frankly, Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez could be the tandem in the history of the sport.
Gronkowksi is certainly the more dominant one out of the two, but that's no knock on Hernandez—and the Patriots most definitely acknowledged that with Gronk's recent contract extension.
Gronkowski will be a member for the Patriots for the remainder of the decade, as he signed a six-year, $54 million extension later last week. With New England handing out a new deal to one of their third-year tight ends, many would assume that Hernandez would be next in line?
Not so fast, according to Jeff Howe of the Boston Herald.
Howe indicates that with Gronk's extension, it doesn't mean that Hernandez is going to be brought up for contract talks:
Hernandez has two years remaining on his deal, and just because Gronkowski got an extension doesn’t mean Hernandez is next in line. The tight ends are represented by different agencies that could have dissimilar strategies with their respective situations.
Howe brings up an interesting point: Both players are represented by different agencies, which kind of gets me thinking: Wont Hernandez's agent be expecting top-tier money for his client? After all, Hernandez does produce elite numbers, as he recorded 79 receptions for 910 yards and seven touchdowns in 2011.
However, New England is in a nice spot with Hernandez, as he isn't set to hit the open market until 2014, and he's scheduled to earn $540,000 this upcoming season and a base salary of $575,000 in 2013.
Bill Belichick and New England's front office should not engage in any contract talks with Hernandez as of right now—it would be best to wait it out another year.
There's definitely many advantages to locking down young, talented players, but there are some disadvantages—and one that comes to mind is injuries. Hernandez has only played 14 in each of his first two seasons in the NFL. He's not your typical tight end that will line up and physically abuse opposing defenders. He's more finesse, which could lead to him getting beaten up more by linebackers and strong safeties.
Unless Hernandez continues to progress and somehow produces far more elite numbers than he did in 2011, I would not recommend handing out an extension to him.
In New England's best interest, it should have Hernandez ride out his entire rookie contract and could quite possibly slap him with the franchise tag in the 2014 offseason.
But one thing that the Patriots need to keep in mind is that not only does Hernandez's contract expire in 2014, but so does linebacker Brandon Spikes'. Which adds the idea to have both player's play out their rookie contracts, but they could hand out an extension at the end of this season, depending on if they feel either player is that valuable to the franchise.
Ultimately, Hernandez would probably like to avoid being tagged, which could fuel him to perform at an even higher level in 2012 than he did in 2011. With that being said, he would have an even bigger leg to stand on if contract talks arise next offseason with the team.
Be sure to check out Tony Santorsa's blog: PatriotsPlus.