Patriots

It's becoming clear Rob Gronkowski isn't ready to stop being 'Gronk'

It's becoming clear Rob Gronkowski isn't ready to stop being 'Gronk'

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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Why Antonio Brown won't face criminal charges from Allegheny County DA

Why Antonio Brown won't face criminal charges from Allegheny County DA

Antonio Brown still could face repercussions from the civil lawsuit filed against him, but they won't come from the Allegheny County District Attorney's office in Pennsylvania.

The Allegheny County DA recently contacted the lawyer of Britney Taylor, Brown's former trainer who accused the New England Patriots wide receiver of rape and sexual assault on three separate occasions in 2017 and 2018, according to ESPN's Jeremy Fowler.

Fowler noted the DA's office intended to investigate Taylor's allegations, but the DA told NFL Network in a statement Wednesday that her allegations come with a two-year statute of limitations.

Since two of the alleged incidents Taylor described occurred in 2017, it means the DA cannot pursue criminal charges against Brown for those allegations, NFL Media's Ian Rapoport explained.

One of the incidents that led to Taylor's allegations happened in Pittsburgh, which is in Allegheny County. That means the DA potentially could have looked into legal action against the ex-Steelers wide receiver had they acted sooner.

For now, the civil lawsuit involving Brown and Taylor is being handled in the Southern District of Florida by federal judge Rodney Smith.

The NFL also met with Taylor on Monday and is looking into disciplinary action against Brown, although the Patriots wideout remains eligible to play as his complicated case gets worked out.

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Bill Belichick: Patriots could expand offense for Antonio Brown, still have to be efficient

Bill Belichick: Patriots could expand offense for Antonio Brown, still have to be efficient

FOXBORO -- It didn't take long for Antonio Brown's athletic gifts to avail themselves during his first game as a member of the Patriots. His craftiness off the line of scrimmage, his speed to threaten deep or to win the edge as a jet-motion runner, he ability to win contested catches. They were all apparent in his first go-round with Tom Brady.

As of now, he's still eligible to play against the Jets in Week 3, and he's expected to be on the practice field Wednesday afternoon to prep for his second game under Bill Belichick. 

With three more practices to hone his connection with his quarterback and to further develop his overall understanding of the Patriots offense, Brown might also now have enough time for Josh McDaniels to design something particularly for him -- something that had he and his physical skills never landed on the doorstep at One Patriot Place never would've become part of the Patriots offensive equation in 2019.

Belichick acknowledged that there are things the Patriots can do to take advantage of Brown's skill set. But there are things to consider. First is time. How much practice time does the team really want to devote to a new play for a new player? Second is payoff. If they're going to spend time on it, it better be worthwhile.

"Yeah, sure," Belichick said when asked about adding things into the playbook for Brown. "There's things we can utilize him for, or Josh, or anybody else. It's just a question of volume and time and reps. You can't put in 20 new plays. If you have, call it, 90 plays in practice over the course of the week, you can't put in 20 plays and expect to be able to rep those and get 'em right and then do all the other things you have to do. 

"You have to be selective. If you want to put in something new, how much time can you allocate to it? How much are you going to use it? How effective is it going to be? Do you really want to put in a play that's going to gain five yards and waste 10 percent of your practice reps during the week on that? I don't know. I'd rather work on a play that's going to gain 50 yards. You just have to decide how you want to do it." 

The Patriots, of course, are already owners of one of the most complex offenses in football. It has been developed over the course of the last two decades with Brady at quarterback, Belichick running the overall operation, and McDaniels in-house for the vast majority of those years.

But part of what makes the Patriots offense so dangerous on an annual basis is not only its breadth but its ability to adapt. Whether it's adjusting mid-season to emphasize an old-school running attack, taking advantage of the rule book to toy with the concept of eligible receivers, or exploiting the individual skills of players who come and go over the years, the triumvirate of Belichick, Brady and McDaniels are anything but stuck in their ways. 

They could continue to add to their missile-motion concepts with a speed threat like Brown in the mix. (Brown had one end-around carry for five yards last week in Miami and was used as a diversion on another play that gained Sony Michel 10 yards.)

They could turn to more passing concepts that highlight the vertical passing game. Something as simple as a four-verticals concept is not something you see the Patriots utilize very often because their personnel hasn't been exactly rife with speed demons. But now with Brown, Gordon and Phillip Dorsett in the mix, that could be the type of play that stresses deep safeties and leaves a down-the-field threat in single coverage.

They could also further emphasize their middle-of-the-field attack with Brown in the fold. With opposing defenses focused on limiting Brown and Gordon's explosive abilities on the outside, then perhaps the area of the field that has always been Brady's bread-and-butter zone -- the short-to-intermediate area between the numbers -- sees even more attention as defenses are no longer able to flood the middle with defensive backs to stop the likes of Julian Edelman and James White.

But the Patriots are also aware of the downsides of trying to get creative. If, for instance, they want to add to their playbook because they have a talent at the receiver position unlike any they've had since Randy Moss then that's fine. But they have to be efficient about it. 

"Can you expand it? Sure," Belichick said. "But it's not infinite. We're not in training camp. We've gotta get ready for a game. There are other considerations with other parts of the team, other players on the team. We just have to try to balance all that out. I'm sure each week we can add a little more with new players whether it be with [Marshall] Newhouse or Korey [Cunningham] or Antonio or Josh or Matt LaCosse -- there's another guy who hasn't played very much football -- all those guys as they get worked back into the offensive flow. Yeah. But it's not limitless."

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