New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski is no stranger to success. In his time with the Patriots, he has earned five Pro Bowl selections and five All-Pro selections. He is a two-time Super Bowl Champion and was a starter in the Patriots’ Super Bowl XLIX victory. He has legions of adoring fans in New England. His cross-over appeal has successfully translated into mainstream entertainment (more on that in a moment).
It might be safe to say that life is good for Rob Gronkowski.
Unfortunately, Gronkowski is also no stranger to injury. Since his days at the University of Arizona, he has fought the injury bug time and time again. As an Arizona Wildcat, he missed his entire junior year at Arizona (2009) following surgery for a bulging disk in his back. According to his book “It’s Good to be Gronk,” an MRI revealed that Gronkowski had a badly ruptured disk that was damaging nerves in his spinal cord. It seems to be the consensus that this caused his draft stock to drop. The Patriots drafted Gronkowski in the second round of the 2010 NFL Draft with the 42nd pick.
Throughout his professional career, he has had major and multiple surgeries on his forearm, back and knee. As a result of injuries, he has missed 22 regular-season games (excluding playoffs) over the past five seasons. In 2016, Gronkowski underwent his third major back surgery. He missed the remainder of the regular season and playoffs, including the Patriots championship victory over the Atlanta Falcons in Super Bowl LI.
A New Day
For all the praise he has earned based on his talent, there have always been underlying issues regarding his health. Its almost seemed that a “what-if” aura surrounded the supremely-talented tight end. Though his injuries were of little-to-no fault of his own, it was the unspoken sentiment of the fans, and media alike, that Gronkowski’s injury fate would be more favorable if he took better care of himself.
To Gronkowski’s credit, he did just that starting in the Spring of 2017.
Following his latest back surgery, Gronkowski decided to take action to prioritize his health. He made significant changes in his diet, training regimen and lifestyle. In March 2017, he started working out at the TB12 Center with trainer Alex Guerrero. Guerrero also happens to be the trainer/lifestyle guru for quarterback Tom Brady.
Under Guerrero’s tutelage, Gronkowski made a concerted effort to embrace a natural and holistic workout routine, recovery and diet. As a result, Gronkowski enjoyed a much healthier season than in past years. In accordance with the goals of the TB12 method, Gronkowski has been leaner and more pliable. With the exception of a minor mid-season leg contusion and a postseason concussion, Gronkowski was predominately healthy in 2017.
The difference in Gronkowski was palpable. In fact, the Providence Journal’s Mark Daniels approached Gronkowski during the season about his decision to embrace the TB12 method and its positive effect on him. Although Daniels has stated that the Patriots tried to stop him from writing about the TB12 method [per Daniels, the team had told him that it was against team policy to discuss a player’s training and conditioning methods], Gronkowski did not remain silent. The tight end was so proud of his progress that he provided Daniels with the details anyway.
By season’s end, Gronkowski had caught 69 passes for 1,084 yards and eight touchdowns. He earned First Team All-Pro status for the fourth time of his certain-to-be Hall of Fame career. He also caught 11 passes in Super Bowl LII for 116 yards and two touchdowns.
Quid Pro Quo
Despite having an outstanding season, a report surfaced on Tuesday that Gronkowski had seriously considered retirement as early as 2017 training camp. On Super Bowl Sunday, Pro Football Talk had speculated that Gronkowski might retire after the game. Gronkowski was asked about that possibility after the Patriots lost to the Eagles, and he said he’d take some time to think about his future.
However, according to NBC Sports Boston’s Tom E. Curran, Gronkowski did not enjoy himself during the season and was growing increasingly frustrated. Throughout the season, he had supposedly been seeking treatment and conditioning advice from Guerrero instead of the team’s training staff. This apparently caused some tension between Gronkowski and the Patriots wellness staff.
“(Gronkowski) did not have a good time despite the fact his body was in a better situation than it’s been in a long time — ever maybe. Despite the fact that he’s one of the most dominant players at any skill position, it’s starting to wear on him physically, mentally, the atmosphere in New England.”
Gronkowski’s newfound wellness approach has likely caused him to evaluate his long-term health. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that someone with his injury history has at least considered the possibility of retirement. When taking into account any additional frustrations with the team, choosing to retire almost seems like a foregone conclusion.
However, it should be duly noted that Gronkowski likely would not have taken these steps if he was not serious about extending his playing career. He has certainly seen the positive impact Guerrero’s methods have had on Brady. Gronkowski decided he wanted to be more like his quarterback, and the decision is paying healthy dividends (pun intended.)
The irony here is that Gronkowski’s decision to improve his health is one that benefits the team, as well as himself. Regardless of the methods he chooses, Gronkowski is making decisions that will extend his playing career, as well as the Patriots window for championship contention. When healthy, there is no more dynamic nor dominant force on a football field than Rob Gronkowski. Anyone that watches the man play cannot deny his significance to the Patriots’ title chances. It is true that they won a Super Bowl despite his absence. However, a strong argument can be made that they would not have made the trip to Minnesota this year had it not been for Gronkowski.
Return of the Gronk?
After taking several weeks to ponder retirement (and/or consider a career in professional wrestling or acting,) Rob Gronkowski has apparently decided to play football again. On Wednesday, NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport reported that Gronkowski will indeed return to the field for the 2018 season. ESPN’s Adam Schefter echoed the report later in the day, as well.
Officially, no formal statement has been issued. His agents, Drew and Jason Rosenhaus declined to comment on his situation, stating: “We’re not going to talk about that. That’s personal.” Even Gronkowski himself took to Twitter on Wednesday, posting a vague tweet that read “#Clueless”.
Despite the cryptic nature of these reports, all signs seem to point in the direction of Gronkowski’s return to Foxboro for 2018. Whether there is, indeed, a divide between the team and Gronkowski when it comes to training and conditioning is still a matter of debate. Only time will tell if this will help or hinder possible negotiations for a contract extension, or even his playing status.
However, one thing is certain. Rob Gronkowski has made positive changes off the field that have led to positive results on the field. He has seen the benefits, as have the New England Patriots. If he truly is returning to action this season, perhaps all parties involved would be best served by remembering that a healthy Gronk is the best Gronk.
It’s what is best for the team.
Where have we heard that before?
Oh yeah….it can be heard any given Sunday in Foxboro.
–Mike D’Abate is a Managing Editor and National Columnist for Full Press Coverage Sports Media. He covers the New England Patriots and the AFC East. Follow him on Twitter @mdabateFPC