Patriots

Rob Gronkowski, not a first-ballot Hall of Famer? Voters explain hesitation

Rob Gronkowski, not a first-ballot Hall of Famer? Voters explain hesitation

There's a chance Super Bowl LIII was Rob Gronkowski's last NFL game. Which means the discussion over his legacy can begin.

Most agree the New England Patriots tight end is one of the best ever at his position and that he deserves a spot in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Not all voters believe he's first-ballot material, however.

In fact, the Boston Herald's Karen Guregian spoke to a few members of the Hall of Fame selection committee who wouldn't vote Gronkowski in on the first-ballot, the highest honor for an NFL player.

Why, you ask? Yahoo Sports' Terez Paylor apparently believes Gronkowski's numbers still aren't good enough.

“His stats aren’t as high as some of these other guys (who are in)," Paylor told Guregian. "But there’s no doubt he’s the most complete tight end of his era. But with his stats, there might be some discussion on whether he’d be a first-ballot guy, or not."

Gronkowski's stats do pale in comparison to those of tight end Tony Gonzalez, who went in on the first ballot this year. Gronk has "only" 521 receptions, 7,861 yards and 79 receiving touchdowns to Gonzalez's 1,325 receptions, 15,127 yards and 111 TDs.

But, you argue, Gronkowski needed just nine seasons to put up those gaudy numbers, while Gonzalez played 17.

Well, the longevity (or lack thereof) of Gronk's career also works against him in voters' eyes.

"The issue with him will be the brevity of his career,” Mike Chappell of Fox59 Sports in Indy told Guregian. “I would almost compare him to (former Lions receiver) Calvin Johnson, who played eight or nine years. He’s way down the list in terms of career stats. But gosh, when he played, he was elite.

" ... I’d pump the brakes on first ballot. To me, there’s always a ton of boxes you have to check for first ballot. And one is longevity."

Chappell's take checks out: The last player to make the Hall of Fame on the first ballot despite playing fewer than 10 NFL seasons was running back Earl Campbell in 1991.

In fact, there are only three tight ends in the Hall of Fame who lasted less than a decade in the league: John Mackey, Kellen Winslow and Charlie Sanders. When you add that Gronkowski has missed 29 regular season games due to injury, you could make the case the length of his career hurts his first-ballot chances.

That said, Gronkowski still is a generational talent who redefined the tight end position for the modern era (and won three Super Bowls in the process). Regardless of whether he gets in on the first try, his bust will be in Canton someday.

But if Gronk wants to increase those first-ballot chances, we'd suggest coming back for a 10th season...

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The stats tell us the Patriots have the best guard tandem in the NFL with Joe Thuney and Shaq Mason

The stats tell us the Patriots have the best guard tandem in the NFL with Joe Thuney and Shaq Mason

More than any other sport, football is a game of inches. As much as we love to focus on superstar wide receivers and hard-hitting defensive players, games are won and lost based on the little things. The Patriots thrive on maximizing every aspect of their team to continually narrow down ways for them to lose games. 

Most of the best Patriots teams run by Bill Belichick have featured strong interior offensive line play, and a Pro Football Focus stat has the 2018 guard tandem of Shaq Mason and Joe Thuney as the best in the NFL. 

Mason, a four-year veteran who has started 55 games for the Patriots dating back to his rookie season, graded out as the best run-blocking guard in the league and the eighth-best in pass protection. Mason signed a five-year contract extension in April, so the Patriots can sleep easy knowing they have a terrific right guard for years to come. 

Thuney turned in an equally strong 2018 campaign. He was ranked the fifth-best pass blocking guard and was second in run blocking right behind Mason. The Patriots running game carried their offense in 2018 when Tom Brady struggled and it's likely they'll lean on Thuney and Mason again with Sony Michel leading the charge in the backfield. 

A key variable missing from the Patriots' strong running game in 2018 won't be there when their Super Bowl championship defense kicks off this September. With Rob Gronkowski's retirement, Thuney and Mason will have to step up and be relied upon even more than last year to get a solid push on opponent's defensive lines. 

New England has invested a bit more into their outside receiving corps in drafting N'Keal Harry and bringing on Demaryius Thomas, so maybe we'll see more of a vertical passing game in 2019, forcing Mason and Thuney to hold up in pass protection. As we can see in PFF's grades, that shouldn't be a problem.

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Tom Brady is just one of a multitude helping Josh Gordon

Tom Brady is just one of a multitude helping Josh Gordon

Anyone dealing with mental health or substance abuse issues needs a web of people to help him or her get “better.”

Josh Gordon’s no different. Professionals play a vital role but then – for a person like Gordon – friends, family, coaches, confidantes, teammates and concerned citizens also have value.

Last week, Tom Brady posted an Instagram video of him throwing with the still indefinitely-suspended Gordon. It’s the latest instance demonstrating that – despite the suspension – the team has kept him involved as much as they can.

Brady’s a pretty persistent poster so – to me – it seemed like a, “Hey, this is what I’m doing today…” share. Gordon is a teammate. Brady cares about him. Wants him to play again. Is including him in an informal workout.

But since the video, the narrative since has grown to make it seem as if Brady’s role currently and in the future is to “foster” Gordon. Which seems an overstatement.

How did we get to that?

A couple of days after the post, ESPN’s Jeff Darlington – who has a good relationship with Brady – was asked about the video on NFL Live. Darlington reiterated what was often reported locally after the Patriots traded for Gordon last September.

“When Josh Gordon got to the Patriots, Tom recognized that Josh Gordon made the team better and recognized that he was going to need some attention,” Darlington said, via Dov Kleiman, who tweeted the transcript of the reply on Saturday morning.

Darlington added that, “Josh Gordon was going out to dinner with Tom Brady and Gisele [Bundchen] at times because Tom recognized that he needs to bring this guy in, foster him, make him feel like he is at home, recognizing some of the issues that Josh Gordon goes through.

“While that is, in part, a guy just trying to get better, it’s also Tom Brady being a really good person, continuing to try to help out and manifest Josh Gordon. . . .Tom Brady, to this day, really respects Josh Gordon and would love to see him live a better life.”

After Darlington’s observation and Kleiman’s tweet came a Pro Football Talk story saying Brady “intends” to foster Josh Gordon.

There’s surely no harm in lauding Brady for being welcoming last year and continuing to be now. But Brady is among a number of people – teammates and team personnel included – who took an interest in Gordon. The initial use of the word “foster” and the addition of the tidbit Brady intends to keep on fostering conjures an image of Brady taking on a quasi-parental role for Gordon.

And far as I know, they’re not out there hiking Mount Monadnock together and cooking up S’mores on the campfire.

Maybe I’m splitting hairs but – as with so much related to Gordon – there’s already enough presumption out there about has and hasn’t happened and what will and won’t.

For instance, Gordon was not at the Patriots ring ceremony, according to Paul Perillo of Patriots.com but someone wrote his name on a small piece of paper and put it at a place-setting in an apparent attempt to let him know he was on their minds.

That turned into hopeful reports that Gordon was at the ring ceremony. He wasn’t. He wouldn’t be allowed there. It would have been a nice story. But it wasn’t real.

I’ve been delving – or trying to delve – into the intricacies of Gordon story for the past few weeks. It’s complicated.

There are substance abuse and mental health components. Gordon’s right to privacy. The gradual acceptance of marijuana’s medicinal value – the substance which reportedly landed Gordon in trouble in the first place. The blurred line between Josh Gordon the man and Josh Gordon the football player and the realization that the help he gets comes with an unspoken quid pro quo that he produce as an employee as well. The question of who gets a second (or fifth) chance and why.

In short, it’s messy. And placing one person above anyone else as Josh Gordon’s white knight really oversimplifies and overstates what’s truly going on.

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