It's hard to find things about New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski that haven't already been said. Best tight end of his generation? Sure. Supreme blend of size, skill and athleticism? Absolutely. Headline machine? Yep. Off the field distraction to his coaches and teammates? Yeah, that too.
Gronkowski and his antics have become notorious to the point where it is difficult not to associate the player, Rob Gronkowski, with his alter ego, Gronk. While he is undoubtedly one of the best players in the NFL, you have to wonder whether his off field issues, most recently culminating in a rather unfortunate series of injuries and surgeries, detrimentally affect the rest of his team.
Luckily for Gronk however, the circus has just come to Foxborough. Last week, the New England Patriots announced that they had signed the enigmatic quarterback Tim Tebow to a two-year contract. The ensuing media frenzy was swift and at times overwhelming. Tebow and head coach Bill Belichick were swarmed with reporters already asking questions like what position Tebow would play and how he would fit into the offense, on only the first day Tebow arrived. What then, does this mean for Gronkowski? That for the first time, he isn't the focal point of media scrutiny in Patriots camp. Rather than focusing on answering tough questions about his injuries and recovery, Gronk can instead focus on getting to play come September.
Before Tebow-mania came to town, much of the talk surrounding the New England Patriots was centered around Gronkowski and his struggles to stay on the field. In his record-setting 2011 season, Gronkowski became the first tight end to lead the NFL in touchdown receptions as well as setting the single-season record for touchdowns by a tight end. And this was only in his second year as a pro. However, in the AFC Championship Game, he suffered a high ankle sprain that limited his mobility and effectiveness in the Super Bowl, which the Patriots would go on to lose.
In 2012, he broke his left forearm against the Indianapolis Colts on November 18th, an injury which forced him to miss the rest of the regular season. Then, when he attempted to return in the playoffs, he only ended up re-breaking the same arm, which at the time was thought to require a second surgery before healing fully.
That brings us to this summer, and the slew of health issues Gronk has endured so far. Gronkowski underwent two more surgeries on his forearm, which became infected. While this issue finally appeared to clear up, Gronkowski then underwent back surgery on June 18th, as reported by ESPN's Adam Schefter. As Schefter goes on to state, since the timetable for recovery is about 12 weeks, it's possible that he will miss some time at the onset of the season. Even if he has a full recovery, several issues are raised about whether or not Gronkowski's level of conditioning will be able to cope with the rigors of an NFL season after missing so much time.
Let's not forget that the Patriots lost receivers Brandon Lloyd and Wes Welker this offseason. Though they signed WR Danny Amendola it still is not clear who will be able to pick up the offensive slack. Especially when you consider Aaron Hernandez's alleged legal troubles, it seemed as if media attention would be placed solely on Gronkowski's ability to recover in time for the season to start. As we saw during the NBA Playoffs, speculation about the return of an injured player (see Derrick Rose), results in nothing but problems for the player, team and fans.
And, just about the time we started to wonder who would be able to replace Gronkowski, the Tim Tebow circus came to town! The topic of conversation switched from whether or not Gronk would be able to return, to things like whether his signing improves the Patriots. Or what role Tebow will play in the new offense. Or even speculation on whether or not Tebow should be used as a tight end.
In the blink of an eye, Gronk went from center stage to sideshow in Tebow's circus. Now, naivety aside, it's obvious that the media will focus some of their attention to Gronkowski, his timetable to return and his impact once he finally returns to the practice field. However, the most compelling storyline engulfing the Patriots has become "Will Tim Tebow Make the Roster?" Unless you don't own a television, if you randomly turned on ESPN in the last year or so, there was probably about a 30 percent chance they were talking about Tebow.
I mean heck, when Tebow-related discussion turns out gems like this, who loses? Certainly not Gronkowski, who now will be able to dodge most of the discussion and recover at his own pace. Rather than face media scrutiny about his return to the field, or really any other issues that could pop up, Gronkowski will be able to recuperate out of the scope of most media attention.
Even while playing with the New York Jets, it took some otherworldly awful play from QB Mark Sanchez to deflect attention for Tebow-mania. Week after week, head coach Rex Ryan was forced to deal with questions about Tebow. This lasted throughout the entire season. Well, no, there was a brief time the media had something else to write about. You know what I'm talking about. The butt fumble.
Tebow coming to town might have made Gronkowski not even the most notable tight end on his own team. And after a couple years of dealing with the glare from the constant media spotlight, for Gronkowski that won't be such a bad thing.