Rob Gronkowski's Delayed Return to Patriots Should Be Embraced by Teammates

Matt Fitzgerald@@MattFitz_geraldCorrespondent IIIOctober 15, 2013

FOXBORO, MA - DECEMBER 30: Rob Gronkowski #87 of the New England Patriots warms up prior to the game against the Miami Dolphins during the game at Gillette Stadium on December 30, 2012 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)
Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

Any New England Patriots criticizing superstar tight end Rob Gronkowski for not playing in a game yet this season should bite their collective tongues.

While Gronkowski has indeed been practicing since the start of the year, per Michael Whitmer of the Boston Globe, it's worth waiting for the 24-year-old dynamic pass-catcher for as long as he needs to recover.

The Boston Globe's Ben Volin reports that it's Gronkowski's forearm, not his back, keeping him from gracing the gridiron.

A fully healthy Gronkowski will cure most if not all the ills and stagnancy New England's high-powered offense has suffered in 2013, though. He will open up the offense for the young, inexperienced supporting cast flanking—and often flabbergasting—legendary quarterback Tom Brady.

The surprises aren't always good, either. Second-round draft pick Aaron Dobson still seems lost in translation at times within the Pats' complex offense.

Perhaps that's to blame at least in part for his occasional stone hands.

Dobson had two drops in Week 6, adding to the growing pains he's gone through in adjusting to playing with a hyperactive competitor in Brady and in acclimating to the NFL in general. However, the Marshall product did lead the team with six receptions for 63 yards.

FOXBORO, MA - SEPTEMBER 12:  Aaron Dobson #17 of the New England Patriots celebrates his touchdown with Kenbrell Thompkins #85 of the New England Patriots in the first quarter against the New York Jets at Gillette Stadium on September 12, 2013 in Foxboro,
Jim Rogash/Getty Images

Undrafted fellow first-year wideout Kenbrell Thompkins has been the most successful of the pair in establishing rapport with Brady.

Thompkins caught the game-winning touchdown with mere seconds remaining in Sunday's 30-27 comeback victory over the New Orleans Saints, who were handed their first loss of the year.

But make no mistake, this is all still a work-in-progress project.

That's why it's silly for anyone in the locker room to try to make this Gronkowski issue an issue, yet ESPN's Ed Werder reports there is "resentment" building toward Gronkowski for not having played yet.

Before the Saints game, Adam Schefter reported that Gronkowski had not been cleared by doctors to play:

So how is Gronkowski at fault? He has proven to be rather injury-prone, and football is a pretty darn physical game to be overzealous in returning to compete at the highest level.

Why are players digging into Gronkowski through the media to implore him to return?

Between all the concerns about player safety that are often voiced by the players themselves, this seems like a case of conflicting ideologies.

For most franchises, this might be a down year. Losing a receiver in Wes Welker who caught 118 passes in 2012 and not having the touchdown machine that is Gronkowski for six games would cripple just about anyone else.

That's not even to delve into the unceremonious expunging of Aaron Hernandez, which we will do only in passing here.

For Brady, head coach Bill Belichick and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, though, it's business as usual: The Patriots are 5-1.

Some credit has to go to the defense for that, but throws like this from Brady are part of the magic he's mustered all season long with many raw, unproven commodities at his disposal:

Imagine what will happen once Gronkowski does come back.

In fact, now that New England has started out of the gates, winning five of six contests, Gronkowski's absence can be viewed as a total blessing in disguise.

Were he around for the entirety of the season, Brady would have been liable to lock onto him and may not have gotten receivers like Dobson and Thompkins nearly as up to speed as he has to date.

One policy of the Patriot Way philosophy preached by Belichick urges his players to not speak out to the media on anything that could generate controversy.

New England endured the ultimate controversy with the Hernandez saga, and there's no reason to start more commotion in-house—much less project it to the media—involving its remaining standout tight end.

Belichick and Brady's bunch should instead bask in the glory of sweet victory and welcome Gronkowski back with open arms. The winning consistency of the Patriots is something so rare that players should not take for granted or sabotage, even if it is inadvertent.

Whenever he does return, Gronkowski will make everyone's job easier.

Since he could very well be the piece of the puzzle to push the Patriots to a fourth Super Bowl in the Brady-Belichick era, Gronkowski's outspoken teammates should realize that and respect his recovery timetable.