While the New England Patriots could potentially be without star tight end Rob Gronkowski when they open the season on Sept. 8 against the Buffalo Bills, they are banking on him coming back relatively soon.
According to ESPN's Adam Schefter, New England decided to place him on the active roster rather than the physically unable to perform list Saturday:
UPDATE: Sunday, Sept. 1, at 2:48 p.m. EST
From Jeff Howe of the Boston Herald:
---End of update---
Gronkowski has dealt with various injury issues for the past couple of seasons, but this offseason has been particularly trying for him. He fractured his forearm twice last season, including in the Patriots' first playoff game against the Houston Texans.
That prompted offseason forearm surgery, and he also needed surgery on his back, so it isn't surprising that it has taken him so long to return to full health.
Schefter was the first one to report that Gronk playing in Week 1 would be "a huge stretch," but Gronkowski has shown enough improvement over the past several weeks that the organization is comfortable giving him a roster spot to start the season.
Placing him on the PUP list would have allowed the Patriots to add another player to the roster, but it also would have disqualified Gronkowski from playing until Week 7 of the regular season against the New York Jets.
It was an interesting decision on New England's part since it is still unclear when Gronkowski might be ready to return to action. If it takes more than six weeks, then the Patriots will have wasted an opportunity to keep an extra player on the roster.
After racking up 1,327 yards and 17 touchdowns in 2011, Gronk was on pace for a monster 2012 campaign as well (790 yards, 11 scores) before the aforementioned forearm injury kept him out for the final five games of the regular season.
On Monday, Alex Marvez of Fox reported that Gronkowski was going through individual drills and looked good, so there was already an inkling that Gronk might be able to avoid the PUP list.
While the Patriots always seem to overcome whatever adversity they face, quarterback Tom Brady has his work cut out for him even when Gronkowski returns to the lineup. Wes Welker is now with the Denver Broncos, and both Brandon Lloyd and Aaron Hernandez were released, so there is a serious lack of weapons on the current roster.
New acquisition Danny Amendola should be able to thrive out of the slot, but there are plenty of question marks elsewhere. Second-round pick Aaron Dobson and undrafted free agent Kenbrell Thompkins will vie for the No. 2 receiver spot, while the combination of Michael Hoomanawanui and Zach Sudfeld is likely to form New England's new tight end tandem if Gronkowski is unable to play Week 1.
The Patriots still have to be considered the favorites to win the weak AFC East, and Gronkowski avoiding the PUP list certainly inspires confidence. Even though Gronk is eligible to play Week 1, the Patriots shouldn't push him to get on the field. Gronkowski is so important to the team that he needs to heal at his own pace.
New England is certainly hopeful that he is healed enough to play at some point over the season's first six weeks.
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