Rob Gronkowski Injury: Potential Back Surgery Casts Further Doubt on TE's Future

Matt Fitzgerald@@MattFitz_geraldCorrespondent IIIMay 17, 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

New England Patriots superstar tight end Rob Gronkowski has battled through injuries that may have ultimately cost his team two Super Bowl trophies.

Now that he may be undergoing back surgery to repair a disc problem, the 24-year-old's NFL future seems as fragile as ever. Mike Garafolo of the USA Today reported on Friday that Gronkowski underwent an MRI to check on a disc issue in his back stemming from last season.

Back in 2009, Gronkowski had to get a different disc shaved down and missed his senior year at Arizona. That dropped him to the second round of the NFL draft where the Pats gladly took him and watched him blossom into a dynamic playmaker.

This latest revelation showed a different damaged disc, but Garafolo reports that the hope is, if surgery is necessary, the recovery period will be within the same time frame as next week's forearm procedure. If it is necessary to operate, Gronkowski will have both.

ESPN's Adam Schefter was told by a source that the back issue is considered to be minor, and someone else close to Gronkowski said it shouldn't affect him long-term:

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The most concerning part about that last quote is the implication that Gronkowski himself isn't worried about the short-term.

Maybe he should be.

Far be it from me to criticize how to manage oneself in the glaring limelight of being a marquee NFL player and the scrutiny that comes with it. Gronkowski is free to do what he wants away from the field, but he's been forthcoming about his tendency to party hard.

One example of this occurred on a visit to Kansas State University in late April.

Gronkowski was there to watch his brother, Glenn, in the Wildcats' spring football game, but this image, among others, surfaced from

These are the kind of short-term decisions that Gronkowski has been making headlines with lately. Whether it's fair or not is an entirely different matter, but, again, it comes with the territory of being so willingly in the public eye.

In instances where Gronkowski's wild antics outside the white lines aren't the center of the discussion, it's his recurring pattern of physical ailments that come up. Regardless of what is causing Gronkowski to struggle staying on the field, the two can't be mutually exclusive any longer.

To be clear, Gronkowski is among the most exciting players in the league today. In fact, his honesty and transparency totally shatters the mold of the "Patriot Way" preached by New England head coach Bill Belichick.

It's refreshing to see Gronkowski show his lighter side, but that willing vulnerability off the field may be what's affecting his durability on it.

Another reason to be concerned short-term: Chances to capture the Lombardi Trophy aren't guaranteed. Who knows how much longer legendary quarterback Tom Brady will be slinging spirals Gronkowski's way?

Plus, the Miami Dolphins' revamped roster presents the Patriots with a legitimate challenge in the AFC East division.

NFL Network's Albert Breer provided his take, alluding to the six-year, $54 million contract Gronkowski signed last offseason, which is looking to be a wiser decision by the day:

Perhaps Gronkowski is right though—perhaps he shouldn't worry. There is plenty of time to recover, and based on the work he put in to build the massive, 6'6", 265-pound frame he sports, it would appear he has the chops and work ethic to get back to full strength.

Should he continue being sidelined, though, and if this second back disc problem is more serious than initially thought, concerns will linger about Gronkowski's immediate and long-term NFL future.

Here's to hoping Gronkowski does what he needs to do to get his health right. Seeing a Gronk Spike again would be a pleasant sight.

It's a celebration that perfectly encapsulates everything about him. It captures the traditional, relative non-flash of the Patriots, the immense strength Gronkowski himself possesses and the passion and unbridled enthusiasm he appears to bring to every aspect of his life.

If Gronkowski can bring that attitude to his rehabilitation with the detailed focus he practices as a member of the Patriots, his extremely promising career has a far better chance to get back on track.