B/R's Mike Freeman: Sources Believe Rob Gronkowski Will Rejoin Patriots

Timothy Rapp@@TRappaRTFeatured ColumnistJune 5, 2019

FILE - In this Feb. 3, 2019, file photo, New England Patriots' Rob Gronkowski (87) runs against Los Angeles Rams' Nickell Robey-Coleman (23) during the first half of the NFL Super Bowl 53 football game in Atlanta. Gronkowski says he is retiring from the NFL after nine seasons. Gronkowski announced his decision via a post on Instagram Sunday, March 24, 2019, saying that a few months shy of this 30th birthday “its time to move forward and move forward with a big smile.” (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson, File)
Jeff Roberson/Associated Press

Rob Gronkowski may have retired this offseason, but there's still a chance he could return to the football field in 2019 with the New England Patriots.

In fact, according to B/R's Mike Freeman, it's a strong likelihood:

"Former Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski made a public appearance recently and said he was done with football. What I can tell you is few people, including sources on the Patriots, believe that. The belief is that once the season gets going, and Gronkowski starts missing football, he will rejoin the team. It's not just a hunch, sources say; you can count on it."

Gronkowski, 30, announced his retirement in March, and it didn't come as a major surprise given the wear and tear he had accumulated during his career due to a litany of injuries. In the process, however, he was a five-time Pro Bowler, four-time first-team All Pro selection and three-time champion. 

He finished his career with 521 receptions for 7,861 yards and 79 touchdowns in 115 games and is a no-doubt Hall of Famer. It appeared Gronkowski was satisfied with his accomplishments and time with the Patriots, as he wrote in part in his retirement announcement on Instagram:

"It was truly an incredible honor to play for such a great established organization and able to come in to continue and contribute to keep building success. To all my current and past teammates, thank you for making each team every year special to be apart of. I will truly miss you guys. Cheers to all who have been part of this journey, cheers to the past for the incredible memories, and a huge cheers to the uncertainty of what's next."

Mike Reiss @MikeReiss

Video: A smiling Rob Gronkowski answers questions from reporters, saying there will always be a family feel at Gillette Stadium, while touching on his connection with the New England community, how he plans to do more events like this, and how life is good in retirement. https://t.co/74zFGXH1Kk

If Gronkowski does decide to return to the Patriots, however, they'll likely greet him with open arms. Benjamin Watson currently sits atop the depth chart after Austin Seferian-Jenkins was released on Tuesday:

Ian Rapoport @RapSheet

The #Patriots are cutting TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins, source said. He’s taking a step away for a month for personal issues and the team will release him as he does that. We’ll see if he comes back to New England or anywhere.

In other words, the Patriots don't have a great replacement for Gronkowski on the roster. The team isn't devoid of offensive weapons, from running backs Sony Michel, James White and rookie Damien Harris to wideouts like Julian Edelman and rookie N'Keal Harry. But Gronkowski was a matchup nightmare for teams, proving too athletic for most linebackers to cover down the field and too big and strong for most defensive backs to handle. 

His ability to work over the middle and also pose a major threat in the red zone gave quarterback Tom Brady the ultimate safety valve, even if Gronkowski clearly lost a step later in his career. His production was always going to be difficult to replace, and the team's current crop of tight ends isn't going to match it. 

That doesn't mean Gronk will come back. But the Patriots have to be thrilled that it appears to at least be a possibility.