Patriots

Patriots

There was a steady flow of Rob Gronkowski injury information on Sunday and into Monday.

That there was any “flow” at all made it clear the information wasn’t coming from the Patriots.

Clinching that was the late-day pivot. Sunday night and into Monday the information from national writers like Adam Schefter, Ian Rapoport and Albert Breer signaled Gronk dodged a bullet and had a knee strain/bruise. He wouldn’t be gone long. Maybe he wouldn’t be gone at all.

This Tweet was from Adam Schefter: Update on Rob Gronkowski: told it's a "minor knee strain" and the timeframe is "a week or two most likely," per source. Best case for NE.

Then the next one from Schefter: Rob Gronkowski not expected to play Sun vs. Eagles, per sources. Likely to miss multiple weeks; return date will be a pain tolerance issue.

Someone was “getting it out there” that Gronk’s long-term health was the priority, not rushing back in order to beat the Eagles.  

A loooooong time ago, Bill Belichick shared in a press conference his philosophy on estimating the length of time a player would be out.

The gist of what he said: “If we say it’s four weeks and it turns out to be six, then everyone’s blaming the guy for not getting back faster. If we say it’s four and it winds up being two, then we rushed him back”

So who, then, is setting the timetable for Gronk’s return in this instance? Probably Gronk Inc.

Gronk Inc. would consist of his agents, Drew Rosenhaus and Jason Rosenhaus, and Gronk’s immediate family: Gordie Gronkowski, his dad, and any of his brothers who also played in the league.

I called Rosenhaus and left a message for him Monday. He hasn’t called back.

So is it a bad thing if Gronk Inc. is calling the shots and not the Patriots? My take is not hot. I don’t know.

The sight of Gronk writhing on the field Sunday night and the implications of a catastrophic injury forced two facts to be faced in rapid-fire succession.

No Gronk, no 16-0.

No Gronk, no Super Bowl.

And then the questions and “what ifs?”

What if it’s another blown ACL? It would be the second in barely more than two years. What would it mean for the rest of his career?

Would he be able to come back and rehabilitate again after all he’d already been through: two broken arms, two plate insertions, an infection, two surgeries to clean that out, two different back surgeries, the ACL in 2013, all by the age of 26?

Who was to blame? The safety, Darien Stewart? The NFL for allowing defenseless players to be targeted low? Tom Brady for throwing to him? Josh McDaniels for throwing at all? Fate? God? The Devil? Goodell?

It was like a little Greek tragedy playing out and then, thankfully, we came to realize it wasn’t tragic at all.

But that didn’t erase the fact everyone had to consider Gronk’s football mortality. And that those whose first interest in Gronk is as a son, brother or client would be shaken to the core by what they saw.

Would it be a surprise if the conclusion reached was something like this: “Look, this kid is a target. He’s 26 and he’s been cut open and sewn up about a dozen times. The team is going to the playoffs. If he’s out there, he’s going to be not just the best option but often the only option. You want him out there risking his health against the Eagles, Texans, Jets or whoever else in games you could without him or do you want him out there against the Bengals in January and the Panthers in February? He’ll be back in a while.”

Hence, the latest bit of information leaving open-ended the date of Gronk’s projected return.

Every single player in the league faces his ending every time he goes on the field. But pass catchers and quarterbacks are the most vulnerable players on the field because, in the performance of their duties, they must leave themselves unprotected. It’s what they’ve agreed to do.

Even among them, Gronk stands out. He is first among equals.

Because of his size and power, the best (only?) way to neutralize him is by hitting him low before he’s aware of where the hit is coming from. Hit him high, you go for a ride. Announce your arrival, get thrown aside. So his vulnerability is higher than most. So too is his importance to the league’s best team. Every opponent knows that. That only trebles the level of risk he encounters.

Meanwhile, it’s almost impossible to have an unspoken pledge to keep him out of harm’s way in a pro football game. The routes he runs down the seam and across the middle are the ones that make him who he is. Can you ask McDaniels not to call those? Brady not to throw them? Gronk not to compete? Not realistically. You can’t have 45 players suited up on game day carrying out responsibilities, trying to win while the extraordinary talents of one aren’t being used because of caution.

Even if the other 45 and everyone in the organization would agree that Gronk might be a special case because of what he can do, his importance to the ultimate goal and the fact he’s been broken in the past, can you coach a team that way?

Protecting Gronk. Saving him. The notion of doing either with five games left and no playoff seedings sewn up would seem to run counter to Bill Belichick’s philosophy. Yet there is a case to be made that keeping Gronk out of harm’s way in December might be “what’s best for the football team.”

Sunday night, Gronk scored his 63rd receiving touchdown in his 76th career game. Hall of Famer Shannon Sharpe needed 202 games to score 62. Future Hall of Famer Tony Gonzalez needed 162 games to get to 63.

He is the most productive tight end in NFL history. Never been anyone like him.

Because of that, the argument for “protecting” a player during the stretch run of a football season has never been stronger than in Gronk’s case.  

But do all parties agree?