While Rob Gronkowski continues to remain in the public spotlight, he sounds increasingly less interested in coming back to the Patriots and football.
Without question, the loss of superstar tight end Rob Gronkowski remained the biggest offseason storyline for the New England Patriots all spring and summer.
As always, both free agency and the draft elicited intrigue and plenty of questions and reactions regarding the shakeup and then shape-up of the roster. OTAs, minicamp, training camp, and the preseason all provided New England fans with subject matter to think and talk about as well.
But the headlining story for the Patriots post-Super Bowl 53 was, is, and continues to be how the team will fare without Gronkowski in the lineup for the first time in 10 years.
Based off the way the initial 53-man roster has been constructed, it’s fair to assume that this offense will now flow primarily through a stable of diverse skill-sets at the running back and wide receiver positions. Absent Gronkowski and with Benjamin Watson and Lance Kendricks both opening the season on suspensions, tight end figures to be a bit of an afterthought this year.
At running back, Sony Michel and Damien Harris are young, forward-plunging pistons capable of chugging out tough yards on the ground; Rex Burkhead and James White can spell both of them as rushers while also adding receiving yards through the air. These running backs collectively might be the top unit in all the league.
Meanwhile, Josh Gordon, Demaryius Thomas, and N’Keal Harry (when he returns from IR) together represent the biggest-bodied trio at receiver Tom Brady has ever had to throw to; underneath and between the hash marks, Julian Edelman, Jakobi Meyers, and perhaps Gunner Olszewski are primed to catch dozens of balls and keep the chains moving. What once was considered a question mark and liability amongst positions on offense is suddenly a major strength as September begins.
And throughout it all, Patriots fans still comb the Internet for any news or updates regarding a potential return for their beloved No. 87.
Gronkowski hasn’t done them any favors since announcing his retirement back in March. He has repeatedly used his public speaking and media appearances to fan the rumor flames surrounding a potential comeback down the road, rather than pour water on them to extinguish all the chatter once and for all. It’s almost as if the fun-loving big man is enjoying all the speculation and consternation he’s causing thousands of fans.
To be fair, every time he goes anywhere, the questions are always the same.
Whether he’s appearing in Hollywood at a red carpet event for an awards show, partying it up in some tropical location, sitting down for an interview, or lending his celebrity support and endorsement to a business venture, everyone wants to know the exact same thing: will he consider a return to football if the Patriots – or more specifically, if Tom Brady – comes calling in the future?
While Gronk has enjoyed messing with all of us and sending mixed messages through cryptic tweets and verbal responses, he also has remained fairly consistent with the bottom-line of his answer. Time and time again, he has ultimately refuted any talk of a comeback… while not ruling it out altogether. His underlying statement is always that while he theoretically could return to the NFL physically, he simply doesn’t have the desire to do so right now from a mental health standpoint.
During a much-covered recent media appearance endorsing a CBD product, Gronkowski straight-up told fans that “football was bringing (him) down” in 2019 and throughout the later, injury-riddled years of his career. He stated point-blank that he was “losing that joy in life,” per Chowder and Champions’ Sam Minton, and that unless he rekindled that passion and that happiness at some point in the future, he couldn’t see himself returning to the gridiron anytime soon.
Perhaps it’s time to take him at his word.
He also was a guest recently on ESPN’s Adam Schefter’s podcast, and during the conversation, he offered up a detailed explanation of just what it would take to get him back into the NFL, via NESN’s Mike Cole. Amongst a hilariously long-winded, circuitous response, he outlined a zany scenario in which he’d show up on game days without the prerequisite of any week-long practices, run a few basic routes, and just have Brady heave the ball up to him five times on five plays and see what happens.
Most fans might agree that they’d take that from Gronkowski over an alternative in which he remains retired from football, but it’s hard to fathom Bill Belichick ever going for such a cockamamie plan. Even Gronkowski probably knows it’s a far-fetched dream scenario, which means he’s most likely joking, and only concocting this whole fantasy purely as a means of entertaining Schefter’s listeners and further toying with the hearts of diehard Pats fans.
None of these developments means Gronkowski is 100% never coming back to football or to the New England Patriots, of course.
He’s still just 30 years old, and there’s no telling where he’ll be at physically, mentally, and emotionally once the regular season rolls around, the playoffs begin, etc. It’s entirely possible that he takes a year off, maybe two, and then decides he wants to come back for Brady’s swan song or something similarly storybook and cinematic.
In the meantime though, it feels as if it’s high-time to let Gronkowski focus on being Gronkowski outside of football and the NFL… at least for the 2019 season. Patriots fans can take solace in the fact that this season’s team is still as deep and potent on both sides of the ball as it was last year, if not more so, even without Gronkowski in the lineup. That should be our focus now… not when or if Gronkowski is going to return.