Patriots

The Gronk dilemma is a sticky one for Patriots

The Gronk dilemma is a sticky one for Patriots

The quote’s been credited to a whole lot of coaches. It doesn’t matter who actually said it. What matters is how much truth there is in the saying, “Once an NFL player starts considering retirement, he’s already gone.”

There are myriad variations but they all arrive at the same spot. Once a player talks about hanging ‘em up, he’s given mental traction to feelings of football ambivalence. Employer beware.

Immediately after the Super Bowl, Gronk was asked about possible retirement.

He did nothing to spike the idea.

“I don’t know how you heard that but I’m definitely going to look at my future for sure,” he said. "I’m going to sit down the next couple weeks and see where I’m at.”

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Rob Gronkowski’s gone past idle musing about retirement. The “that” is the smoking gun there, obviously referring to something that had been ongoing.

In the two weeks since the Super Bowl, we’ve learned Gronk’s  gotten advice from Sly Stallone and The Rock about how much dough he can make in action movies  and that folks in the WWE would offer Gronk a deal similar to Ronda Rousey’s.

Is this an orchestrated attempt to create some urgency with the Patriots so they give Gronk a bump that makes it more worth his while (he’s on the books for salaries of $8 million and $9 million the next two seasons)?

Is this an effort to dip a toe in the entertainment pool while his NFL marketability remains near its apex? A Brady-esque effort to set up a post-football career while still continuing in the main vocation?

Or is it simply what it is – a 28-year-old whose body’s been through the wringer since college using common sense to realize that his position and style of play are going to exact a physical cost on him for the rest of his life?

Yes. Yes. And yes. It’s all of the above.

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And that’s why the Patriots have to take this very seriously.

Gronk and his family have had an eye on his football mortality since he was 19. Because of an insurance policy taken out by his father, Gordie, while Gronk was at Arizona, Gronk could have retired from football and received $4 million tax-free. He considered it as his recuperation from back surgery left him concerned he wouldn’t be able to walk correctly again.

He declared for the draft in 2010 to maximize his earning potential. And he bought in. Then 2012 happened. 

He broke his arm during the regular season and had a plate inserted in his forearm. When he rebroke the arm just above the plate in his first game back, it was described as a fluke. Worst-case scenario. But that was small consolation. And when an infection developed in the arm in early 2013, another surgery was necessary. And the convalescence from that ensued. Then came a back surgery in June of 2013. Then came a longer-than-expected recovery that stretched well into the 2013 regular season and a blown ACL when he did return.

The 2014 season was injury-free, but when Gronk was hit in the knee against Denver in 2015, you could sense his panic as he writhed on the field that something was terribly wrong. There wasn’t. But the team and the Gronkowski Camp released a joint statement about his timetable for return then Gronk underscored his intention of not returning until he was “100 percent.”

The 2016 season ended prematurely with another back injury suffered against the Jets and another surgery. That injury followed soon after a thunderous hit was laid on him by Seattle’s Earl Thomas. And his 2017 playoff run was marred by a concussion suffered in the AFC Championship Game.

So it’s best to remember all that context when eye-rolling about how the Patriots have had to bend over backwards to accommodate Gronk. His care and feeding are a lot different because A) he came to the NFL with injuries that gave him perspective; B) he got burned when he came back quickly from the broken arm; C) the 2013 whisper campaign painting him as a malingerer left a dent and D) his family is uniquely attuned to NFL reality that it’s a business and you best protect your only asset – your body.

The branding and the marketing has felt hamhanded at times but that’s the nature of the business these days and - in hindsight – it’s been a boon for a player who signed a “safe” six-year, $54M contract in 2011 that’s now severely outdated.

So what are the Patriots to do with a 28-year-old who’s suffered multiple knee, head and back injuries and is openly talking about wrapping it up?

They can’t just sit with their hands folded in their laps and wait until Gronk gets around to deciding. They need to know is he in or is he out? Or if he’s completely ambivalent, at which point, would trading him be a horrific idea?

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The irony is, Gronk told me in December that he’s never felt better. “I’m having fun playing football again,” he told me. His body held him hostage until he changed the way he trained and now the results from increased flexibility are obvious in his statistics, his quickness and the types of catches he was able to make last year.

He’s a Hall of Famer if he never plays another down. It’s not hard to make a persuasive argument that he’s the best tight end to ever play.

But how do the Patriots proceed with a legend that – for all the right reasons – isn’t sure he wants to keep playing? It’s a lot to wrestle with.

Bill Belichick about to make Patriots pay for lackluster play in two consecutive losses

Bill Belichick about to make Patriots pay for lackluster play in two consecutive losses

This will not stand. 

Bill Belichick isn’t going to watch good players playing badly on Sunday night and shrug.

He’s not going to hear about Rob Gronkowski answering a question about offseason machinations after a convincing loss on the road and not react, no matter how honestly and timely (thanks to a Sunday morning report from ESPN) the answer may have been.

He’s not going to respond to Chris Gronkowski’s morning tell-all on WEEI’s Kirk & Callahan by putting his hands up and saying, “Family . . . what can ya do?”

You know how Belichick has said in the past that you’d rather be early than late personnel-wise? Same thing goes with grabbing a team by the scruff of its neck when it’s performing like these Patriots are and making completely preventable mistakes. Or giving us media jackals content.

Sunday night, we saw Shaq Mason get destroyed on a third-and-one by Ricky Jean-Francois, resulting in a one-yard loss and the Patriots third straight three-and-out. Mason didn’t seem to know the snap count.

We saw tight end Dwayne Allen get rolled by a defensive back on a third-and-one that ended up losing two.

We saw Duron Harmon let Marvin Jones traipse through the secondary uncovered for a touchdown.

We saw Dont’a Hightower get cleared out of holes with stunning ease.

We didn’t see any real resistance from Malcom Brown on the defensive line.

The Patriots have played two non-competitive performances on the road and have an upcoming game against a 3-0 team. Belichick knows the Dolphins aren’t going to look at the tape of those games and say, “Ohhhh, they’re just a play away on offense and the outcome would be so different . . . ” Miami will look at the tape and see a team ripe for the picking on both sides.

For a long time, Bill Belichick has been doing what he’s doing better than anyone who’s ever done it.

The “why” of the Patriots struggles doesn’t really matter right now.

Sony Michel’s running the ball so much because Dion Lewis left, Jeremy Hill got hurt and Mike Gillislee got cut? So?

Tom Brady’s throwing punts because Danny Amendola left, Brandin Cooks got traded and Julian Edelman got suspended? So?

The defense is slow because no linebacker speed was imported or drafted? So?

Gronk’s still miffed and his family is even miffeder? Get over it.

Gronk got fined in 2017 for carrying Brandin Cooks off the field after a touchdown. So which is more incendiary to the head coach, a piggy-back ride or Chris Gronkowski seemingly speaking for his brother and lacerating the offensive talent? Even though there wasn’t a false word in what Chris said, I would imagine Belichick won’t care about that either.

I don’t know if we’ll see the fallout in the form of reduced playing time or benchings. But on the field and off, based on years of prior observation, it feels like the stuff is threatening to hit the fan.

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Will Josh Gordon quick learn Patriots system? Josh McDaniels says yes, Tom Brady not so sure

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USA Today Sports Photo

Will Josh Gordon quick learn Patriots system? Josh McDaniels says yes, Tom Brady not so sure

One week after it was announced that the Patriots acquired Josh Gordon in a trade, Tom Brady is still not ready to pin his hopes on the new guy. 

Brady spoke to Jim Gray during Westwood One's Monday Night Football broadcast less than 24 hours after falling to the Lions -- a game where the Patriots could've used some receiver help.

"I'm not gonna make any projections or expectations," Brady said when asked about Gordon. "I just met him a week ago. He's working to learn. He's working to [learn] how we do things. Whenever he's back healthy and out there, that's when we get to work and see what we're all capable of when we're out there. It's just a work in progress. We're working through a lot of things."

Gordon was limited in practices last week with a hamstring injury. He was ruled inactive before Sunday night's game in Detroit, watching from the sidelines as Brady was able to complete just 14 of 26 passes for 133 yards, one touchdown and one interception. 

Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels said in a conference call on Monday that he wasn't concerned about Gordon's ability to figure out what exactly the Patriots are doing offensively, even though he's new to the building. 

"I’m not worried at all about Josh’s ability to pick up our system," McDaniels explained. "He’s already demonstrated an ability to do that. I think he’ll be fine, and the guys we have are doing the same thing. They’re working hard each week, and we have enough variance in our system to tweak it based on the opponent that we play and that’s our job."

If Gordon can get involved, it might help relax some of the double-teams that have faced Rob Gronkowski through three weeks of the regular season and bogged down the Patriots passing game.