Is Gronk coming back?
It’s a cotton candy conversation. Airy. Unsubstantial. Every bite dissolving into nothingness. Sugary sweet, bad for your teeth.
There’s no denying it’s a question worth posing. He’s one of the best players to ever play his position and he’s done at 29?
Obviously, the chance exists he decides being a retiree isn’t all it was cracked up to be.
And Gronk is the one that keeps undercutting the decision Rob Gronkowski made in March. Every few days, a new fistful of bread crumbs teasing a possible return are tossed out and they are dutifully gobbled up and regurgitated.
But what’s passing for concrete answers? That’s where the nothingness resides. It’s guessing, spitballing and maybes on the part of sources and it’s masquerading as information. It’s useless as the Yellow Pages.
Pro Football Talk poobah Mike Florio reported Tuesday that “a source close to Gronkowski pegs his potential for a first annual unretirement at 40 percent.”
Basically, a coin flip.
Bleacher Report’s Mike Freeman reported last month that, “The belief is that once the season gets going, and Gronkowski starts missing football, he will rejoin the team. It's not just a hunch, sources say; you can count on it.”
None of the speculation is bad for the business of Gronk Inc. It keeps his name in everyone’s mouth, especially during this soon-to-be completed NFL dead period.
Gronk saying to Drew Brees, “Yeah, I’m coming back…” ? Pennies from heaven even if there was no context around his words.
Gronk telling Rich Eisen, “I never had an August off in my life. So, it's gonna be a little different. That's when it's gonna start really seeing the change is when that comes around in August when I'm not in training camp; I might not know what to do with myself."
Gronk working out with Tom Brady at UCLA: "Tom needs someone to throw to so, you know, he calls Mr. Reliable Robbie G the one and only! … I can’t really say how I’m going to feel about it when the games start rolling around and everything."
Everybody wants Gronk to come back. But it was Rob Gronkowski that retired from football.
He’s the guy that, when I asked him during Super Bowl week about the “fun” quotient in 2018 veered into a treatise on the physical and mental abuse he’s subjecting himself to.
Rob Gronkowski said, “To tell you the truth, just try and imagine getting hit all the time and trying to be where you want to be every day in life. It's tough, it's difficult. To take hits to the thigh, take hits to your head. Abusing your body isn't what your brain wants. When your body is abused, it can bring down your mood. You've got to be able to deal with that, too, throughout the season. You gotta be able to deal with that in the games.
"And no one realizes that, and everyone expects us players to be wide awake every single day, and it's like 'yo, i just took 50 hits to my head' — or not to my head, but I'm saying I just took 50 collisions, and then like the next day everyone wants you to be up. They want practice full speed, next week they want the game to be full speed, but they don't understand sometimes what players are going through with their bodies, with their minds. That's why I've been saying you see a shift in players in games where people are down the whole game, and then you see, all of a sudden, the next week it's like, 'How did this team just go from one switch to the other?'"
Rob Gronkowski seemed very, very ready to call it a career in February. After a joyless 2017 and a pain-filled season for most of 2018, when he finally got near the finish line and his health returned, he seemed both liberated and at peace with the choice he was making.
That’s why all his hinting — inevitable, though I suppose it is — makes you wonder if it’s Gronk talking or Rob Gronkowski.
And which one is ultimately going to make the decision on whether or not he returns?
Retirement was a choice he seemingly made for his own good. Not just for the back and the knees, but the head. He decided he’d given enough and that the cycle of recovery then rebuilding his body in the offseason just to have it battered for seven months wasn’t worth it anymore.
But if he’s already predicting the beginning of camp is going to give the itch and the start of the season is going to be a full-blown fever then reasonable Rob Gronkowski is already being overtaken by Gronk.
It’s easy to envision the circumstances of his return. He cuts a deal to come back, jumps from the reserve/retired list back to the active list sometime around Halloween, works himself into shape and by Thanksgiving he’s on the field. He spares himself OTAs, minicamp, training camp and half the season.
Would Bill Belichick sign off on that plan? Well, the relationship improved greatly in 2018 after the agitations of 2017, so it’s not like they were sideways when he retired.
If “what’s best for the football team” is the measuring stick Belichick would use, a return by Gronk would qualify as a positive late-season development.
But all of that assumes Rob Gronkowski isn’t ready to just be Rob Gronkowski yet. He still has to be Gronk, if not for himself, then for everyone that’s hopefully predicting his return.
A couple of months ago, I believed it was insulting to Gronk that people couldn’t respect his decision. As if he didn’t know his own mind and body well enough to make an informed call on his future.
Now, he’s not only invited speculation that his announcement was fleeting, he’s the one that’s advancing it. Obviously, he can do what he wants. Watching him play has been a privilege and reporting on him is always fun, never boring.
But if Gronk plays again, I hope Rob Gronkowski is at peace with the decision.
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