We’ve turned Gronk into Brett Favre.
In fact, I don’t even blame Rob Gronkowski for this incessantly-foolish will-he-or-won’t-he come back to the New England Patriots storyline that has stamped this season like a watermark. I blame the man who is most synonymous with turning the word “retirement” into “professional siesta.” I blame Brett Favre.
Alas, here we are in the midst of another retirement storyline where the meat is merely trying to determine the player’s target return date. Gronkowski has a couple more weeks to declare if he, indeed, sees fit to return to the Patriots this season for another postseason run. Maybe by the time that Nov. 30 dates comes and passes, we can focus ourselves on more-realistic ways that Bill Belichick and Josh McDaniels might find to fill the hole Gronkowski left by hanging his cleats up last spring.
Because it won’t be Gronk.
Or, even if we do need to leave that door ajar in order to satisfy the benefit to Gronkowski’s professional brand, it shouldn’t be Gronk.
Let’s leave aside the fact that among the tasks Gronkowski has taken in his post-playing days includes becoming a spokesperson for CBD, an extract of cannabis that is still banned from use by the NFL. There’s also his new gig with Fox for the NFL pregame show and his role in the new — ugh — James Corden-produced game show coming up on CBS.
Beyond all that, have you seen the guy? Gronkowski looks like Steve Rogers compared to his Captain America playing days. His claim that he weighed 245 pounds as recently as September seemed high based on some of the images that leaked of him pre-training camp, back when the sight of his body, the victim of rapid weight loss, should have put the nail in any more discussion about him being a possibility to return to his position at tight end. He doesn’t look nearly ready to play.
None of that matters though in the 24/7 news cycle where any Gronk news is fit to print for an audience not really thirsting for any. The latest episode in this saga came over the weekend when Schefter-wannabe Ian Rappaport detailed on the NFL Network how Patriots owner Bob Kraft told Gronkowski that he wanted him to return for a playoff run at the end of the 2019 season.
Kraft told him that in March. March. I might have told my wife during March that I’d clean the gutters at some point. Doesn’t mean it’s happening.
There seems to be this assumption that Gronkowski, whatever weight he checks in at, could walk in and deliver a version of himself from six years out. If that’s the case, call Ben Coates and have him try out. Find out if Benjamin Watson is….um, never mind on that one.
As it turns out, old man Watson is the leading pass-catcher among Patriot tight ends, a pretty telling stat considering he didn’t even play for the first month of the season, was released, and then brought back on board. His eight catches are 55th-best among tight ends. Even in his limited capability last season, Gronkowski still gave the Patriots 47 catches, 13th among tight ends in the NFL.
Admittedly, that was a slower, less dynamic Gronk we watched in 2018. Now, imagine a slower, less dynamic, and deflated Gronk getting the job done. No. Thanks.
Even if he were phased out of the blocking scheme, could Gronkowski help the Patriots with their red zone issues? Right now, Tom Brady and Co. could welcome another option near the goal line, converting at only a rate of 50 percent, 21st best in the NFL. Especially with Brady’s propensity to only throw the ball to anyone who has been grandfathered into his circle of trust, the option of Gronk returning almost seems a necessary if New England is to fix its ailments.
Either that, or hoping the offensive line and Sony Michel can figure things out to a satisfactory degree. Then again, the way Brady looked at the second-year running back during the loss at Baltimore, and Michel might have to spend some time in the QB’s dog house. Jakobi Meyers is waiting there too, for some reason.
Still, the Pats were 12th in the league last year with a 62.86 percent success rate with Gronkowski at their disposal for 13 games. Is he really going to be that much of a factor a year removed from a season during which he only had three regular season touchdowns anyway?
Yes, there’s the timely catch in the Super Bowl, a point of discussion that suggests without Gronkowski the Patriots might not have that moment of pivotal importance. But predicting when that kind of play will come is like pinpointing the exact moment when the hamster gets to work in Adam Gase’s head. It may never happen.
Gronkowski isn’t coming back, despite the facts that his owner would love to see him back, he hasn’t officially filed his retirement papers with the league, or that he fails to answer the question of his return with anything other than a “no,” but all with a wink, a nod, and a shrug of the shoulders that suggests we come back next week (same time, same channel) to further our interest in the tale going nowhere.
The Patriots welcoming back a prime version of Gronkowski would be something majestic. No doubt. So too would be me recovering my hairline from 1994. They are both, sadly, retired.
“He’s said countless times this year that he’s not coming back, so you just have to take his word for it,” Brady said during his Westwood One interview with birthday boy Jim Gray Monday night.
If only we could. Please.
Damn you, Brett Favre