It appears to me, after hours of reflection, that Rob Gronkowski Belichicked Bill Belichick on Tuesday.
He went on strike for a year, waited for the team to be in a bad position relative to the salary cap, let it be known he’d accept a trade to only Tampa Bay and counted on the Patriots not calling his bluff if he unretired.
The Patriots had no recourse but to give him what he wanted. Unless they wanted to start heaving about $10M worth of 2020 salary overboard to activate a player who might’ve just decided that he really didn’t want to come back after all.
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Think about all the Patriots greats who got into pissing contests with the head coach/GM over the past 20 years.
Here’s a few: Deion Branch. Mike Vrabel. Richard Seymour. Logan Mankins. Randy Moss. Even Jamie Collins.
And what happened to all of them? Bundled up and shipped out of town, usually to places that would have been LAST on their list of preferred destinations.
But Gronk? Belichick tried to ship him out before the 2018 season. Had him signed, sealed and nearly delivered to the Lions before Gronk said, “Hell, no I won’t go,” and Tom Brady made it known they’d be minus one quarterback as well if they pulled that off.
So he came back in 2018 to serve out his time.
He didn’t particularly enjoy himself in his final season much more than he did in 2017. Days before Super Bowl 53, I asked him if the season became “fun”? He launched into a description of how mentally and physically debilitating the demands of the game had become on him. For good measure, he got himself the thigh bruise to end all thigh bruises early in that win over the Rams before setting up the game-winning touchdown.
Gronk took a bite out of the Patriots tight end succession plan by dragging his feet on a retirement decision. The Patriots wanted to bring Jared Cook aboard but Cook didn’t want to be 1B to Gronk’s 1A so he opted to go to New Orleans. Cook honored that commitment after Gronk did “hang ‘em up.”
He took a year off, clearly had all the fun he thought he’d been missing, kept chumming the water with hints of a return so that he turned into the boy who cried wolf.
And then he sprung this.
If you’re a Patriots fan, you have cause to be a little pissed that Gronk’s exit strategy made your favorite football team worse. And that it was designed for maximum irritation to Belichick.
But the reality is that Gronk did give Belichick a gravy boat of his own medicine. With Deion Branch, Richard Seymour, Logan Mankins and Lawyer Milloy, Belichick pulled the trigger just before the start of the season and kneecapped guys who — in Seymour and Mankins’ case — had kids about to start school, etc.
“Business is business,” we all said.
But we knew and he knew that it was less than ideal for those men.
For Gronk — despite the emotional aspect and hurt feelings that’s accompanied his personal soap opera — this is business too.
For years, I’ve referred to the network of family and associates around him as Gronk Inc. He’s had it hammered into him that he’s part of a collection of 53 independent contractors who are all divvying up a finite amount of money each season.
Now, owners, coaches, media and fans all push and regurgitate the notion players are beholden to the team and their teammates and that making individual decisions that benefit the group is noble.
But the fact is, these players are pitted against each other when it comes to slicing up the payment pie. The organization is forever able to make cold decisions and then point to the cap as the cause. A player? He doesn’t get the same latitude, especially here where we have been told for two decades that the consummate Patriot is the one who isn’t a “pig at the trough.”
Gronk made a cold decision to benefit Gronk Inc. It was best for his personal business if he wasn’t miserable when he went to work. So he forced his way out of the contract he signed.
It makes me wonder how the Patriots are going to regard him going forward. We’ve seen myriad hatchet burials take place over the years. Vrabel, Branch, Collins and Seymour spring to mind.
It will be interesting to see whether Belichick is willing to let bygones be bygones with Gronk. Will Gronk want to?
Meanwhile, as for those guys who got Belichicked over the years?
I wonder how many of them looked at Gronk a little like Red looked at Andy Dufresne after he made his escape from Shawshank (I’m not comparing Belichick to the warden or the Patriots to a prison … relax). I wonder if there’s a little shared, “Good for Gronk... he got over on Bill. Nobody gets over on Bill.”