FOXBORO — Knowing what a special player he is, when it comes to Rob Gronkowski, you are always left wanting to see more, not less.
You count down the days until the Patriots play just to get your next Gronk fix.
Yet, lately, it seems injuries have either kept the big lug on the sidelines or limited him decidedly on the field.
As fun to watch as Gronkowski makes the games, and as much as he tips the scales in the Patriots’ favor come the playoffs, the outlook for the future of the all-world tight end is one that doesn’t figure to be as much fun.
Because the very essence of what makes Gronkowski so great, so appealing to the masses, so valuable to the team, is likely what’s going to take him away sooner than anyone would like.
He’s in his seventh season, but given all the injuries he’s endured, with hamstring, chest/lung and back ailments merely this year’s additions, it almost seems inevitable his shelf life as a football player is running out. He may only be 27, but his body is on the back side of his career.
Gronkowski looks as if he could be following the same path as Bears great Dick Butkus or perhaps even Oilers legend Earl Campbell.
Like Gronkowski, those Hall of Famers constantly barrelled over and through people to get the job done. They played incredibly hard. They were unbelievable to watch. Then they were gone, out of the game.
Butkus played nine seasons at middle linebacker, retiring at age 31 when both of his knees eventually surrendered to all the pounding. Campbell, meanwhile, left after eight years, when the beating his body had endured in his career at running back had taken its toll. He was 31 when he retired in 1986.
While Gronkowski has inflicted his share of pain on opponents, his body has been on the receiving end of much abuse. His injury list is extensive. He’s had multiple back surgeries. He’s undergone ankle surgery. He broke his forearm and needed multiple surgeries to remedy that along with an infection that persisted for months. He tore his ACL and had a major reconstruction. Name the injury or surgery, he’s probably had it.
So if you add it all up with what’s happened lately, it hits you that while Gronkowski is incredibly special, we might not get to enjoy this gift much longer.
How much does Gronkowski have left? Only he knows for sure. Only he knows how much more he wants to endure. But constantly having to deal with injuries, surgeries and rehab is draining.
Gronkowski was not at practice yesterday, a day after he skipped a charity event at Children’s Hospital on the advice of the Patriots medical staff because of his back injury. As it was, the Pats appeared to be pushing the envelope by having him play Sunday against the Jets with the chest injury he suffered against the Seahawks. That chest injury was also reported by several media outlets, including the Herald, to be a perforated lung. So the Patriots will probably play it safe and not rush him back against the Rams. If there are any lingering issues, they’ll sit him out until he’s completely healthy.
For that reason, it’ll probably be stop-and-go with Gronkowski the rest of the season.
“Gronkowski is a big physical player. He takes a big, physical beating,” NFL Network analyst and former NFL head coach Brian Billick said. “If you’re dealing with an injury, the coach is weighing all the factors. He needs him for the playoffs. But I got to get to the playoffs, as well.”
The Patriots will get there but don’t want to squander a chance to gain the top seed and home field throughout, which is what happened last year. So that’s the balancing act facing Bill Belichick.
As for Gronkowski, maybe you see him, maybe you don’t. Belichick, Gronkowski and the medical staff will ultimately decide. But when you do see No. 87, keep in mind, just like Tom Brady, how great it’s been having such a dominant player doing his thing. Because sooner than you might think, there will be no Gronk.