According to ESPN NFL insider Adam Schefter, the Patriots and Gronkowski's inner circle are at odds over when the two-time Pro Bowler should return to the field. Gronkowski, who is out for Sunday's game against the Atlanta Falcons, has been dominating in practice over the past few weeks, according to Schefter's sources. But he isn't quite ready to make his 2013 debut after undergoing nearly half a dozen surgeries on his forearm and back over the past year.
While quarterback Tom Brady and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels would absolutely love to have Gronk back in the lineup, there isn't a pressing need for him to return.
Unlike the Washington Redskins, Pittsburgh Steelers and Minnesota Vikings, the Patriots are 3-0 heading into Week 4's showdown with the Falcons and are coming off a 20-point win in which rookie wide receivers Aaron Dobson and Kenbrell Thompkins made huge strides.
Neither Dobson nor Thompkins can present the sort of matchup nightmare that Gronkowski can, but the experience and confidence gained by those two playmakers in Gronk's absence will only make the Pats' passing attack that much more dangerous late in the year.
Besides the fact that New England is winning games without Gronkowski, there's the fact that he's only 24 years old and coming off multiple surgeries. Remember, Gronkowski has only been around for three seasons and therefore is far too valuable to New England to be rushed back for a regular-season game in September.
With a proven winner in Bill Belichick calling the shots, a top-10 defense and a future Hall of Famer in Tom Brady leading the way, the Patriots are without a doubt one of the most dangerous teams in the league again in 2013.
Consequently, the Pats need Gronkowski around and at 100 percent in January and February.
Patriots president Jonathan Kraft said it best when talking about the importance of having players like Gronkowski around and playing at a high level for a long time, per Schefter: "At the end of the day, we care about the players' long-term health and in the case of guys like Danny and Rob who are signed to this team for a long time, it's not about this week and next week, it's about the next 4-5 years and we collectively want to make the right decision."
It's easy to understand the Patriots' frustration. After all, they are paying Gronkowski a lot of money to produce in games, not on the practice field. But impatience is what doomed the Pats last season, when Gronkowski returned from forearm surgery only to break his arm again in the AFC Divisional playoffs.
Sure, things can change awfully quick in the NFL. New England could be sitting at 3-4 this time next month. But for now, that appears highly unlikely, as the Patriots are unbeaten and steadily improving on both sides of the ball.
Understanding the current state of affairs in Foxborough and knowing that he has plenty of regular-season games in front of him, Gronkowski is wise to exercise patience this fall and delay his return until he's completely recovered and confident in his health.
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