With the glow of Super Bowl LI finally beginning to fade -- a little -- it's time to start looking ahead to 2017. Over the next few days, we'll look at the Patriots' to-do list: Things they need to care of as the offseason begins. We start today with Rob Gronkowski, and the need for him to becone more durable.
Conventional wisdom for the past few years has held that, without a full-go Gronk, the Patriots wouldn’t win a Super Bowl.
The 2011, 2012, 2013 and -- especially -- the 2014 seasons were seen as proof of that maxim.
PATRIOTS TO-DO LIST:
- Don't over-extend for Bennett
- To tag, or not to tag Hightower?
- Franchise tag window open until March 1
- Phil Perry's final 2016 report card
Well, they just won a Super Bowl without him. But the team’s relationship with Gronk going forward shouldn’t be impacted by the fact they reeled off 31 unanswered points and won, any more than if Atlanta’s Robert Alford had sealed a Falcons win by intercepting Tom Brady on the deflected pass Julian Edelman hauled in.
Gronk stands apart. But his availability and health will impact the team’s decisions. Speaking to those close to the tight end, I got indications the surgery was a full-on success and not terribly invasive. As I reported in early January, he’ll be ready to go for offseason workouts. The question is how committed he’s going to be to embracing a different way of training. A tight end needs some meat on his bones and muscle mass to do his job effectively, especially in the running game. But, at 27, Gronk is a rocked-up, beefcake poster trending towards lumbering. He’s spent his athletic life training for strength. His training camp and early season were ruined by a hamstring pull.
If he wants to avoid those soft-tissue injuries and add years to his career and give himself a shot at walking without a limp in his 40s, he has to commit to the pliability, resistance band, hydration, rest and diet training that Alex Guerrero espouses. It doesn’t just work for Tom Brady. It’s what helped Julian Edelman go from being an oft-injured wideout to one who survives some of the most punishing hits of any wideout in the league. It’s what helped Willie McGinest go from tearing a muscle a week to being able to play most effectively at the end of his career.
Brady, speaking this week to MMQB poobah Peter King, was speaking generally about health but his words apply very easily to Gronk.
“If you’re a receiver, and you have a great game, say you have eight catches,” Brady explained. “And you play eight games a season and you're hurt the other eight. Eight catches times eight games is 64. That's a below-average season for any receiver. If you play 16 games with an average of eight catches you're an All-Pro.
"The difference is durability. How do you work on durability? That’s what I’ve figured out. I know how to be durable. It’s hard for me to get hurt, knock on wood. Anything can happen in football. But I want to put myself in a position to be able to withstand the car crash before I get in the car crash. I don't want to go in there and say, ‘Oh, God, I know this muscle is really tight and ready to go, let’s see if it can hold up to someone falling on me who is 300 pounds.’ Then someone lands on you, and a rotator cuff tears. I could have told you that was probably going to happen. It’s going to be really hard for me to have a muscle injury, based off the health of my muscle tissue and the way that I try to take care of it. Your muscle and your body allow you to play this great sport.”
The disposition of Gronk affects other decisions. Martellus Bennett’s made it clear that the warm fuzzies of playing for the Patriots haven’t dulled his desire to get maximum return in free agency. Michael Floyd says he wants to be back and Gronk ripples may extend to those conversations. And there are draft considerations to take into account as well.
And then there’s the money aspect. Gronk’s agent, Drew Rosenhaus, was trying to get Gronk’s deal redone last summer. He’s signed through 2019 and the salaries are below-market for a tight end of Gronk’s ability but they are very reasonable given the questions of availability. For Gronk to get a bump, he needs to show his durability issues are being addressed. And even then, the Patriots may need to see it for a full season, not just a few months in the summer. How will this fly with Team Gronk? Probably not well. But it is, as they say, what it is.