The replacing, recovery and retention of Gronk

The replacing, recovery and retention of Gronk
December 9, 2013, 12:30 pm
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To the surprise of no one, the outcome of T.J. Ward’s hit on Rob Gronkowski is a torn ACL, a source confirmed. He’s also got a torn MCL.
Now, how do the Patriots respond for the short, middle and long term?
The team is in the process of re-signing D.J. Williams, the tight end who made a cameo on their roster November 26 through December 4. Williams, 25, is 6-foot-2, 245 pounds and has passed through the Jaguars and Packers organizations. He had 54 catches for 627 yards and four touchdowns in 2010, his senior season at Arkansas. He’s depth. Michael Hoomanawanui is a pedestrian tight end, as is Matt Mulligan. Production from the position for as long as the Patriots season continues will be found money. Production lost because of Gronkowski’s departure will never be replaced but -- as we saw Sunday -- the workload for Shane Vereen (17 targets vs. Cleveland) will grow.
It’s a six-to-nine month rehab from an ACL/MCL injury. Adrian Peterson’s recovery from his 2011 injury to challenge for the single-season rushing record in 2012 still defies logic. Wes Welker made a fast return from his blown ACL -- six months from injury to working out on it -- and his 2010 season was the least effective of his past seven as he had his lowest Patriots output in catches and highest number of drops. Tom Brady made it back from his ACL/MCL injuries in time for training camp even though he had infection complications that set his recovery back. He wasn’t back to his old self, though, until the following year. Gronkowski is now in line for his sixth surgery in 13 months. His body has had to deal with the healing process and infections. The mental aspect of Gronkowski’s rehab is going to be arduous as well. He’s a 24-year-old who is must be facing his athletic mortality after so many varied injuries since January 2012 -- ankle in the AFC Championship game, broken arms, back surgery and now his ACL and MCL. When will the string of injuries end? Is it misfortune or does he need to change his style of play? This latest injury was going to happen regardless once T.J. Ward’s trajectory brought him to Gronk’s knee, but the avalanche of health issues has to weigh on his mind.
In June, 2012, Gronk signed an eight-year, $55.23 million contract. His base salaries in 2012, 2013 and 2014 are all guaranteed. He’ll make $3.75 million in salary in 2014. His 2015 salary is $4.75 million and, after that season (February 28, 2016), there will be a $10 million option bonus due. Forecasting, Gronkowski will likely be physically compromised somewhat next season. The 2015 season, when he’s 26, will be a big one for him as the option bonus comes due just before free agency normally begins. So how Gronkowski makes it through the next two seasons will likely dictate how the Patriots regard him going forward into the latter portion of his deal.