The New England Patriots will be a contender this year, whether or not star tight end Rob Gronkowski misses significant time as a result of his injured back or hurt arm. Any team that has Tom Brady at quarterback and Bill Belichick at coach is going to do just fine, regardless of who is playing around them.
Rob Gronkowski has emerged as the premiere tight end in the NFL in just three seasons in the league. However he has looked brittle of late, suffering a broken arm last season and now reportedly needing back surgery to repair a slipped disc. The news comes as no surprise to the Patriots, who have known since an MRI about a month ago that the injury was serious. This will mark the fifth time in a year that Gronkowski has gone under the knife, the previous four were to repair his broken forearm.
Injury prone players aren’t typically left without a backup plan. The Patriots have planned accordingly for when their All-Star tight end goes down. Fellow third year tight end Aaron Hernandez has performed at at elite level in his own right to this point in his career, he has just lived in Gronkowski’s shadow and not earned the publicity he perhaps deserves. New England has also brought in another tight end recently, Jake Ballard, from the New York Giants waiver wire. This move looks brilliant considering the situation with Gronkowski.
Bringing in another starting caliber tight end to compliment Aaron Hernandez should Gronkowski’s injury require a significant recovery period, the pressure won’t be on him to get back out on the field before he is ready. The injury is supposed to keep him out from the start of training camp, but being a back injury has the potential to linger far longer than that.
Gronkowski’s injury doesn’t hurt the Patriots nearly as much as many will think, Tom Brady spreads the ball around as well if not better than anyone else in football today. He will still be able to find the open spots in the defense without his two favorite targets from last season should Gronkowski miss significant time. His other favorite target, Wes Welker, left to join Peyton Manning in Denver during free agency.
The additions of Ballard and Danny Amendola will prove able to adequately fill their All-Star predecessor’s shoes. Amendola is a poor man’s Welker, playing a very similar style in St. Louis last season. He is a smaller receiver, similar to Welker, and plays primarily out of the slot position. He is great underneath and will prove to be the safety valve for Brady much the same that Welker had been during his time in New England. Look for Amendola to catch 100+ passes in his filling in for the departed Welker. Ballard on the other hand will likely step into a number two tight end role, but has shown in the past that he can get in sync with a quarterback and make a big impact in a game, he did this in 2011 with Eli Manning and the Giants. In 2011 Ballard posted totals of 38 catches for 604 yards and 4 touchdowns. Look for both men to post career highs across the board should Gronkowski miss significant time.
The Patriots have always been fantastic under Belichick at simply plugging in the next guy when someone gets hurt. Avoiding the drop off that comes with being dependent on the stars in your system is his specialty, and this case will prove to be no different. The New England Patriots will still be a top contender in the AFC and possess one of the league’s premiere offenses.
Vote in the poll below, am I crazy for thinking they will produce without Gronkowski?
Follow me on Twitter @CharlieGille
The Guardian Express