The Patriots hope Gronk can return healthy in time for the opener
Even though Bill Belichick has an affinity for Tight Ends and is carrying double digit players at the position right now, the situation the Patriots find themselves in regarding that position is a complicated one.
We all know that Gronk has had 5 surgeries since he originally injured his arm against the Colts late in the season, but that is the least of my worries when it comes to this position. The reason Gronk re-injured himself last season is because he pushed himself to come back too soon. Although he was cleared by doctors to play, his arm was still tender as evident when he re-broke it against Houston in the playoffs.
However, if it was early in the season I'm sure Gronk would have been kept out at least a week or two longer to ensure he really was 100% healthy. Since it was the playoffs, Gronk pushed himself to play maybe a bit sooner than he should have, and it resulted in another break of his arm.
This season, Gronk should obviously stay out until he can play to the best of his abilities without a hinderance. The first 3 games on the schedule do not worry me minus Gronk: (@BUF, vNYJ, @TB) The toughest early season game comes Week 4 when the Patriots will travel to play Atlanta on the road. If he returns for that game, it will put him nearly 15 weeks removed from his most recent surgery on his back, a surgery that typically takes 8-10 weeks to recover from. That 5-7 weeks of extra recovery should give him plenty of time to get into game shape and be 100% healthy. Barring another injury, a worst case scenario for Gronk is being out until Week 4, and then performing at an All-Pro level for the rest of the season.
Up until a few days ago, Gronk's health was the only main concern for the Patriots' Tight End corps. However, with the news of Aaron Hernandez's alleged connection to the murder of an amateur football player, his status for the season is now in question.
Obviously Roger Goodell is keeping a close eye on the situation, as he is well known around the league to deliver harsh punishment for inappropriate off the field actions. According to ESPN, Hernandez has not been ruled out as a suspect in the murder investigation, and a car registered to him has emerged as a key piece of evidence.
If, god forbid, Hernandez has done something inexplicable and is arrested, it will only raise further questions about his availability for the season. In my opinion, Hernandez is more important to the Patriot offense now than he ever has been before. Now that Wes Welker is in Denver, Hernandez is the middle of the field target that Tom Brady is most familiar with.
I have all the confidence that Brady and Danny Amendola will develop a quick chemistry, and according to most reports that is happening at OTA's. But Hernandez has the unique skill set to line up as a Tight End, or in the slot as a Wide Receiver. His elusiveness in the open field and strong hands are obviously a great asset, and is a huge weapon for the Patriots. He may be the most uniquely skilled players that the Patriots have.
Patriot fans have not been able to see both Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski share the field together very often, and we may again have to wait to see the dynamic duo terrorize defenses until this situation is resolved.