It’s the question that just won’t go away for the New England Patriots. And it might hang over the team well into the regular season. Will Rob Gronkowski end his retirement and suit up for the Patriots again?
Speaking to reporters recently, Gronkowski, 30, tried to shut down rumors of a comeback. But the Patriots haven’t found a replacement for their star tight end and depth at the position is getting thinner by the day.
That leads many observers (including NFL Network’s Michael Robinson) and fans to believe that the best replacement for Gronkowski is Rob Gronkowski himself. Apparently, Patriots coaches and executives are among those believers. According to Bleacher Report’s Mike Freeman, very few people associated with the team feel that Gronkowski will stay retired.
Austin Seferian-Jenkins was released on the first day of minicamp, after asking for a one-month personal leave. (Although the Boston Globe‘s Nora Princiotti says the door isn’t closed if Seferian-Jenkins wants to return in July.) Ben Watson will serve a four-game PED suspension at the beginning of the season after testing positive for testosterone. Those two were expected to take the majority of snaps at tight end.
Reporters covering the Patriots minicamp have noted that Matt Lacosse stood out on the first day of practices and appears to be the leader for a starting position. Last year with the Denver Broncos, Lacosse caught 24 passes for 250 yards. Stephen Anderson, who spent last season on the practice squad, is viewed as a potentially strong receiving threat. In 2017 with the Houston Texas, he notched 25 catches for 342 yards.
Last season, Gronkowski caught 47 passes for 682 yards and three touchdowns. But he appeared in only 13 games (starting 11) due to back and ankle injuries. In 2017, Gronkowski only missed one game and compiled 69 catches for 1,094 yards and eight touchdowns. Obviously, when he’s healthy, he’s very productive. The five-time Pro Bowler hasn’t played in all 16 regular season games since his first two years in the NFL.
Yet Freeman’s sources close to the Patriots tell him that the prevailing opinion is that Gronkowski will miss football and his teammates once regular season games are being played. That will be enough to lure him back to the team. And it’s more than a hunch throughout the Patriots headquarters. The feeling is that Gronkowski coming back is inevitable.
Until then — or unless the Patriots trade for a top-tier tight end like the Minnesota Vikings’ Kyle Rudolph — the rumblings will continue. And if one of the in-house options doesn’t step up and produce, the questions won’t stop being asked.