On Monday, 22-year-old "tight end" Aaron Hernandez signed a contract that will keep him in a Patriots jersey for up to seven more seasons, including this year, through 2018. The deal includes $16 million guaranteed plus up to $40 million in additional money. Just like we do in our acclaimed training program, I'd like to break down all of the details of this deal and what it means for fantasy.
If you add this to the contract that Rob Gronkowski signed in June, there's a lot of new money flowing to Tom Brady's weapons. Gronk got a six-year, $53 million extension, which is the most a tight end has ever received in NFL history. Gronkowski's contract can be extended as long as through the 2019 season.
Both tight ends are entering their 3rd NFL season. Hernandez caught 79 passes for 910 yards last season, which ranked 3rd on the team behind Gronkowski's 1,327 and Wes Welker's 1,569.
You may have noticed that I put "tight end" in quotes in the first paragraph. Mis-use of quotation marks is a pet peeve of mine (I saw a restaurant serving "burgers" last week... What? What's in them, then?!) ... so allow me to explain. The primary tight end is Gronkowski, and sure, Hernandez lines up there too, but his role in this offense is much greater than that. He will often split out wide and late last year he even lined up as a running back on multiple occasions. They love his blend of size and athleticism and want to create mismatches for him all over the field.
Strangely enough he's even been fielding punts in the preseason this year. He's everywhere!
So what effect does this have on fantasy? Hard to say, but I have some thoughts. His average draft position is #53 right now, which makes him a 5th or 6th round pick in most leagues depending on the number of teams. At that cost he's a worthy acquisition. You've already built your foundation with 4 or 5 studs and can go after adding another high-ceiling guy in Hernandez. The Patriots have invested a lot of money in him and they are going to be looking for the return on the field.
Another wrinkle is that several mainstream sites have moved toward adding tight ends into the standard flex spot. So, you could take a guy like Hernandez in round 5 or 6 and back him up a little later with a TE2 and have the flexibility of starting both of them. In the Fantasy Knuckleheads auction league I grabbed Hernandez and Jermichael Finley for that very reason, even though there are only four bench spots. My bench will be a QB2, an RB4, a WR3, and Finley as my TE2. I don't think I'll need a fourth WR with the ability to start Finley at Flex if I need him.
Let's think a little more deeply about this now. What does a contract like this do to the other pass-catchers in this offense? What about Wes Welker?
Welker famously signed his $9.5 million franchise tender really early way back in May. In July he came to camp talking about how it was great to be back and putting on a happy face saying he wasn't disappointed at not having a long-term deal. Good for him. He's a team player. That, and I'm pretty sure he's actually disappointed that he doesn't have a long-term deal. The Patriots can elect to franchise him again after this season, and his salary for 2013 would increase to $11.4 million. So, he could be back again in 2013 but you've got to think he'd prefer to be a free agent to get that multi-year contract. Greg Brosh wrote an in-depth piece on what could happen to Welker after the 2012 season. Make sure to check it out here.
I don't think the contract concern will affect him this year, but if it does it will be extra motivation... not a de-motivating situation as some have suggested. Do you know what else is extra motivation? (Nice segue, Dave...) Unleashing your inner fantasy monster on your league this year. Click here to discover the secrets of unearthing the fantasy football genius that you already have within you. We've got a ton to share with you (that your competition hasn't seen) in our training program.