It may seem unusual to read about all of the apparent dissension with the Patriots. There have never been questions before about Tom Brady’s professional relationship with Bill Belichick or the quarterback’s desire to play for as long as physically possible.
But with Rob Gronkowski, the drama and uncertainty is nothing new.
The latest rift between Gronkowski and the team can be traced back to last summer. According to NBC Sports Boston’s Tom Curran, Gronkowski was considering retirement at the start of training camp, because he was so frustrated with the Patriots’ training methods. “(Gronkowski) wanted to train a certain way; the team didn’t necessarily want him to train the way he wanted to train,” Curran said in February on NBC Sports. “They were at loggerheads. He was pissed. And the season played out, and by the end of it, I don’t think that some of the principle players on this team were really happy with the atmosphere and the climate.”
At Brady’s behest, Gronkowski started training with Alex Guerrero last year. Belichick, of course, significantly curtailed Guerrero’s access during the 2017 season.
Gronkowski's reported dissatisfaction with the Patriots’ training and medical staff first percolated to the surface when he broke his left forearm in 2012. Then-Patriots team physician Dr. Thomas Gill performed surgery on the injury, and Gronkowski was back on the field six weeks later for the regular season finale. But then Gronkowski re-injured that same forearm in the Divisional Round against the Texans just two weeks afterwards. He underwent three more arm surgeries— in addition to a back operation — over the next five months.
Despite all of those procedures, the Patriots expected Gronkowski to return in mid-September the following season. But Gronk didn’t wind up coming back until Week 7, when Dr. James Andrews, an independent physician, cleared him to do so.
A whisper campaign against Gronkowski started to build during his absence as well. ESPN’s Ed Werder reported the All-World tight end’s prolonged recovery was creating “resentment” towards him in the locker room.
Two years later, when Gronkowski suffered a knee injury against the Broncos, the Patriots filed a strange joint statement with Gronk’s family about his status. The uncharacteristic announcement coincided with Gronkowski recording a video for Bleacher Report, in which he pledged he wouldn’t return until he was completely healthy.
Much like Gronkowski’s previous moments of discontent with the Patriots, it looks like the two sides will work past their differences. The Brandin Cooks trade appears to signify the Patriots have no plans to deal the most dominate tight end ever, which ESPN’s Adam Schefter affirmed on K&C Tuesday (sorry Ken Laird). Earlier this week, NFL Media’s Ian Rapoport said the Patriots expect Gronkowski to show up at workouts in two weeks without making any sort of announcement.
Gronkowski’s long-term viability with the Patriots is in question as he nears his 29th birthday. It looks like his window is tied to Brady’s. But then again, it probably was never realistic for the injury-riddled Gronkowski, whose undergone nine surgeries since 2009 and is coming off a concussion suffered in the AFC championship, to play well into his 30’s. This will be Gronk’s ninth season in the NFL. That’s longer than many expected him to last, given that he missed the entirety of his junior season at the University of Arizona. Remember, there were so many questions about Gronkowski coming out of college, he dropped to the middle of the second round.
From the moment he was drafted, Gronkowski was seemingly playing on borrowed time. He’s acted like it, too, reportedly living exclusively off his endorsement money –– and pocketing his NFL earnings.
Sure, there’s been more noise around Gronk than usual. But in the context of his career, it shouldn’t be surprising that he’s voiced doubts about his playing future. In fact, the surprising thing is that he's lasted this long.