Patriots used designation to return from IR on Brissett, can't for Gronkowski

Patriots used designation to return from IR on Brissett, can't for Gronkowski

FOXBORO -- Though it's clear that Rob Gronkowski is staring at a significant recovery period following back surgery, it remains somewhat unclear as to whether or not his season is definitely finished. 

According to Vic Carucci of the Buffalo News, Gronkowski is expected to be out of action for eight weeks. If Gronkowski could return following that eight-week period, that would mean he'd be available to the Patriots at the end of January -- not in time for the AFC title game, but perhaps in time for the Super Bowl on Feb. 5. 

If that's the case, and there is the possibility that Gronkowski would be healthy enough to play for a championship in Houston, the Patriots may face a difficult choice: Keep Gronkowski on the 53-man roster, or place him on season-ending injured reserve to free up a roster spot for another player? 


One indication that this latest development with Gronkowski may have caught the Patriots somewhat off-guard is that they opted to designate third-string quarterback Jacoby Brissett as their player to return off of IR. Had they kept that designation in their back pocket, they would have left the door open to place Gronkowski on IR and free up a roster spot while keeping alive the possibility of bringing the All-Pro tight end back for the Super Bowl. 

Gronkowski is a unique player whose impact on the Patriots offense is so valuable that the Patriots might consider making him the 53rd man on the roster for the remainder of the regular season and most of the playoffs just on the off-chance that he could help them win Lombardi Trophy No. 5.

Aside from Tom Brady, he may be the only player on the roster worthy of that kind of consideration. 

AFC East is starting to prepare for post-Brady life

AFC East is starting to prepare for post-Brady life

The Patriots' "direction" never really changes. They're always "going for it" because they're always one of the best teams in the league. 

The rest of the AFC East is usually in flux. The other teams range from hoping for 8-8 to trying to bottom out in hopes of a high draft pick. Yet right now, it seems the stars are aligning and that the Jets, Bills and Dolphins all have the mindset: Change things now and be ready to pounce once Brady is gone. 

The Jets traded up to No. 3 on Saturday, assuring themselves a chance at one of this draft's top quarterbacks. The Bills, with picks Nos. 12 and 22, are expected by pundits to make a similar move up. The Dolphins, fresh off cutting bait with Ndamukong Suh in an attempt at a culture change, have the 11th pick and could use it on a quarterback to either push or replace Ryan Tannehill. 

None of the three teams are close to pushing the Patriots as long as Brady's around, even with the Bills coming off a season in which they reached the playoffs. Yet there's a two-or-three-year plan on which all three teams could have designs: Get the quarterback now, build around him and be in a good situation by the time Brady is done. 

We've seen these teams try to rebuild before during the Brady Era, with only limited success. Mark Sanchez worked out better in New York than anyone could have initially expected, but that success lasted way shorter than any believers could have hoped. Now, it seems they try again. 

Over in Buffalo, the end of the Tyrod Taylor era hardly means the beginning of the Nathan Peterman era. Those two first-rounders should easily be able to get the Bills into the top five, and they've also got two second-rounders and two third-rounders. Hell, they have the pieces to get to No. 1 if Cleveland is bold enough to pass on their choice of Darnold/Rosen/Allen/Mayfield. 

The Dolphins are in the more interesting spot. Tannehill missed all of last season and he's 29. If you're six years into your career and your team still isn't totally sure if you can be one of the better QBs in the league, you probably aren't one of the better QBs in the league. At the very least, Lamar Jackson should be there at No. 11. They could also trade up. 

At the start of last season, the Patriots had far and away the two best QBs in the AFC East. Now, it stands to reason that at least two of their divisional opponents (the Jets and Bills) will come away with what they hope are franchise quarterbacks. And if any of these guys hit, the Pats will have gone from the best QB situation in the NFL to seeing some actual competition waiting for them by the time their own quarterback is done. 

Of course, all three of these teams usually suck at everything, so it shouldn't be a big deal. 


Second ex-Pats OT to make free-agent visit to Cowboys

Second ex-Pats OT to make free-agent visit to Cowboys

The Patriots, who lost left tackle Nate Solder to the Giants last week, have a couple of his possible replacements, Cameron Fleming and LaAdrian Waddle, reportedly making free-agent visits to the Dallas Cowboys.

The Fleming visit was reported Sunday. On Monday, Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network reported that Waddle will be joining his former Patriots teammate in Dallas.

Replacing Solder is obviously a key part of the Patriots offseason and retaining Waddle or Fleming could figure into those plans. Waddle, who turns 27 in July, was signed from the Detroit Lions in 2016 and appeared in 12 games last year, starting four. Fleming, a fourth-round Pats pick from Stamford in 2014, turns 26 in September and also played in 12 games last season, starting six.