According to NFL.com's Albert Breer, the Pats have opted against placing Gronk on the physically unable to perform list at the start of training camp:
Belichick just said that Gronkowski has been cleared, and won't be on PUP.— Albert Breer (@AlbertBreer) July 23, 2014
The Patriots' official Twitter account confirmed the news and deemed Gronkowski cleared to compete:
Bill Belichick says Rob Gronkowski has been cleared to play. #PatsCamp— New England Patriots (@Patriots) July 23, 2014
ESPN.com's Mike Reiss explains that the news puts Gronkowski "in position to be ready for the regular-season opener Sept. 7 at Miami."
Injury expert Jene Bramel highlights what's next:
Next 2-3 weeks vital for Gronkowski. If he gets through transition to football conditioning in pads w/o any soft tissue injuries, look out.— Jene Bramel (@JeneBramel) July 23, 2014
Gronkowski had surgery to repair a torn ACL in January, so it is safe to say that he is currently well ahead of schedule in his recovery. This is huge for Gronkowski and the Patriots, considering he missed the start of the season last year after undergoing multiple surgeries on his forearm and back.
Will Rob Gronkowski play Week 1?
Some might have considered it a long shot initially, but Gronkowski's hope all along has been to be healthy for the start of the season. Per Reiss, Gronk intends to play his first full season since 2011.
"I'm planning on playing the whole season this year," Gronkowski said. "I'm always antsy to get back on the field, no matter when it is. I just want to play football. I love playing the game."
The fact that Gronkowski has been cleared doesn't necessarily guarantee that he will be on the field for the Patriots when they face the Miami Dolphins in Week 1, but Breer believes it is a significant step in the right direction:
Reported in June that the goal for Gronkowski/Patriots is to get him on the field for Week 1. So still could be paced. But this news is big.— Albert Breer (@AlbertBreer) July 23, 2014
Although Gronkowski has struggled to avoid injuries in recent seasons, there is no question that he makes a major impact when he plays. Gronk caught 90 passes for over 1,300 yards and 17 touchdowns the last time he completed a full 16-game slate.
Patriots guard Logan Mankins is excited to have Gronkowski back, according to Shalise Manza Young of The Boston Globe, and it's easy to see why:
Mankins on Gronk: it's a positive; we were all hoping he'd have a good recovery; so far he has. great to have him out there. dynamic blocker— shalise manza young (@shalisemyoung) July 23, 2014
Defensive end Rob Ninkovich also chimed in, per Reiss:
"I'm happy to see his progress and see him coming into this season and staying healthy; obviously, that's what everyone is talking about. I don't want to speak on his behalf, but he's one of the hardest working guys I've ever seen as well."
The Pats may be the class of the AFC East with or without Gronkowski, but they probably aren't legitimate Super Bowl contenders unless he is able to stay on the field. He adds a dimension that few other teams have and is the ultimate security blanket for quarterback Tom Brady.
New England has to take a somewhat cautious approach to ensure that he doesn't rush back into heavy activity too quickly, but the Patriots probably don't want a repeat of last year's will-he-or-won't-he scenario, either.
Despite that, Gronk being cleared for football activities is great news for New England, and it certainly gives Patriots fans hope that the superstar tight end will be ready come Sept. 7.
Follow @MikeChiari on Twitter