At this point, the distinction between which rumors are true versus those that aren’t as it concerns the health of Rob Gronkowski is as definitive as when the Patriots' tight end will make his season debut.
Multiple reports, beginning with the Boston Herald on Saturday, have suggested that New England believes Gronkowski is healthy enough to play, though the All-Pro’s inner circle – seemingly encompassing Gronk, his family, and his agent, Drew Rosenhaus – is hesitant to see him return before he feels 100 percent for fear of suffering another setback. According to the NFL Network, that influence may be coming from Gronkowski’s father.
A divide between any player and his organization is alarming, but it’s all the more problematic when it’s a star player wary of his medical treatment.
In an effort to squash the speculation, Pats president Jonathan Kraft said exactly what you’d expect when he joined 98.5 The Sports Hub prior to Sunday night’s survival of the Falcons.
“There is absolutely no disagreement between the team and Rob Gronkowski,” Kraft stated, before then explaining the need for injured players to be cleared medically and, essentially, mentally. “He’ll come back when everything is right for him to come back.”
It’s entirely possible and understandable if Gronkowski and his camp are skeptical of a premature return from four forearm surgeries and one back procedure – all within the last year – on account of the fact that he already made an early return last season in the playoffs against Houston, and subsequently re-broke an arm that is reportedly and troublingly still giving him problems. After all, team orthopedist Thomas Gill, who operated on the arm, is the same physician who left the Red Sox following the 2011 season in response to a number of internal disagreements, including what Jacoby Ellsbury felt was a botched diagnosis of his rib fracture the year prior.
Gill has already had a brief but rocky tenure with the Patriots, having been the subject of an NFLPA grievance in July regarding his treatment of former defensive lineman Jonathan Fanene. The eyebrow raising declaration was over whether Gill was acting in the best interests of the organization rather than Fanene. The complaint was dropped on Sept. 18.
In this situation, the long-term health of Gronkowski is more important than his short-term availability, especially in light of the team’s 4-0 start. The 24-year-old is under contract through at least the 2015 season and potentially the 2019 campaign, pending certain bonus decisions. Before then, his money is guaranteed, so finances don’t factor into the equation.
If the two sides are truly divided, both have reasonable gripes. The Patriots’ offense is still chasing consistency, great as it was in Atlanta, and Gronkowski may not feel mentally where the team believes he is physically. In saying that, it’s difficult to not side with the player in this instance.
When Sox pitcher Clay Buchholz missed three months during the regular season, the team and many of his critics grew frustrated because, in the end, he effectively had a stiff neck and a sore shoulder.
Gronkowski has had five major surgeries inside a year, including one on his lower back that prevented him from doing any sort of lifting, conditioning, or training for multiple months, and it forced him to miss all of camp and the preseason. As the argument goes with any athlete, only he knows his body, but that’s all the more relevant when it comes to taking hits, providing blocks, and doing so at remarkably uncomfortable direction-altering speeds for 70 or 80 snaps a game.
Gronkowski hasn’t suddenly become timid or interested in returning for only part-time duty. Like anyone else, he wants to be on the field at his maximum effectiveness, which is a luxury he hasn’t had when the club has needed him at season’s end over the last couple of years. In order to return to the form he’s used to, it is necessary he be at his typical weight and strength, and there’s a process and time that goes into making that happen for his entire body, not just the repaired areas. There’s a fine line between being practice-ready, going at full speed and taking hits from teammates, and game-ready, when the opposition is out for blood.
I’ve written for months (and months and months) that the Patriots made the wrong decision in not putting Gronkowski on the physically unable to perform list to start the year, which would have meant he’d miss the season’s first six weeks. Admittedly, there’s value in his being able to practice with teammates, whereas he could not have done so had he been given the PUP designation, and, fortunately, the decision to keep him around hasn’t hurt the team since they haven’t needed the roster spot.
However, the move would have created one giant relief: this very situation would not exist. Gronkowski would be off-limits, rather than the “Break Glass in Case of Emergency” guy. Any possibility or pressures of a premature return, at least one before Week 7, would be off the table, no matter which side that insistence is coming from.
Gronkowski and the Patriots have been clear. For a return, the team, medical staff, and player must all be on the same page. It’s currently two-out-of-three, if the reports are to be believed, and that’s not good enough. The tight end is making the right decision to put his foot down until he feels ready.
Do the Patriots need Gronkowski in the red zone, among other areas? His addition sure wouldn’t hurt, but the team made significant strides on Sunday. For the time being, they’re winning in spite of his absence. Every week they can forge on without him is another week closer to getting the football-spiking man they’ve missed back on the field.
Plus, he’d tell you, the Pats would rather have the jacked guy than the skinny one.
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About this blog
Adam Kaufman is a writer and broadcaster who can also be heard regularly on 98.5 The Sports Hub, WBZ NewsRadio 1030, the national CBS Sports Radio Network, and broadcasting Boston College hockey games. The Massachusetts native is a Syracuse grad and a pop culture fanatic who offers a unique and entertaining look at your favorite Boston sports teams. Please don't hold his love for Jean-Claude Van Damme movies against him.
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