By Eric Schmidt

Last week, record setting New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski received a very generous contract extension from the franchise. Should teammate Aaron Hernandez now expect a similar contract extension from the Patriots? The tight end tandem entered the league in 2010, each signing four-year rookie deals, Hernandez will become a free agent after the 2013 season. The duo make up the most formidable tight end pairing in the NFL currently and wreak havoc on opposing defenses for years to come, but what is it reasonable for Hernandez to expect from the Patriots?

Hernandez was the Patriots third leading receiver last season with 79 receptions for 910 yards and seven scores while Gronkowski re-wrote the NFL record book with 1,327 receiving yards and 17 touchdowns.

Hernandez, a University of Florida product, is playing in the third year of his rookie contract, scheduled to earn $540,000 dollars along with a $104,000 dollar roster bonus this season. That is a bargain given his production. His salary increases to $575,000 dollars in 2013. At some point, if his production continues, a raise is going to be in order.

Gronkowski received a $54 million dollar contract extension last week, but Hernandez should not expect that type of figure when he receives his offer from the Patriots.

Next offseason, New England will likely open discussions with Hernandez on a contract extension, but not along the lines of what Gronkowski received. The Patriots would never tie up that much money on the roster in two players in the same position.  He might demand more money and decline the offer, playing into the final year of his contract with free agency looming. Heading into the 2014 season, New England could use the franchise tag on Hernandez, securing him for yet another season at a reduced amount of money, while Hernandez would miss out on the guaranteed money a long-term contract would include.

Hernandez could refuse to sign his tender offer and that might result on him being traded to another team. In the Patriots way, no player is above the team (except for Tom Brady). In 2014, Hernandez will turn 25, and be heading into his prime. As the use of athletic tight ends continues to evolve in the NFL, Hernandez would draw significant interest from teams around the league.

He will have a lot to digest in the coming years, making a decision to determine if he would take less money than Gronkowski in order to receive guaranteed money in order to remain with the Patriots or will he remain steadfast and refuse to sign a tender offer from the franchise tag.

Something else Hernandez will have to weigh, in 2014, QB Tom Brady will be 37 and what direction will the Patriots offense take as Brady’s career winds down.

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