Rob Gronkowski apparently needs some of us to do off the field what few have been able to on the field during his record-setting career: defend him.
Because he departed early from Sunday’s win over the Jets with a vague back injury, far from the first injury of his career although one that will keep him out the rest of the regular season, it’s become trendy for the likes of CBS’s Bart Scott and the usual assortment of local caterwaulers to speculate whether the 27-year-old all-galaxy tight end’s time in New England is nearing its expiration date.
He’s injury-prone, they say, ignoring that he’s played as many games (38) as theoretical (and older) replacement Martellus Bennett the last three years … or that he played in the Jets game two weeks after perforating a lung in a game that he nearly caught the winning touchdown … or that his injuries have been INJURIES, from a busted (and re-busted) forearm to a blown-out knee to a severe ankle injury that turned him into one-legged decoy in Super Bowl XLIV … and a perforated lung, which kept him out one whole week and may or may not be related to the back injury. He may not be durable; then again those who are durable in the NFL are nothing but the blessed and random few. But don’t you ever question his toughness or dedication.
This is all a twisted variation of a Showcase Showdown, trying to come closest to predicting when Gronk’s time with the Patriots will end, one perpetrated on Damon Amendolara’s CBS Radio program by Scott, who has made a post-Jets living off one interesting sound-bite and is increasingly desperate for a second. And it’s been ploddingly carried forward locally by the usual suspects, the most vocal of which so far as I can tell has pivoted to this stupid topic after his last stupid topic ended with him getting dunked on via Twitter by the sister of a Celtics player who had the audacity to miss a game for the birth of his child.
Scott’s stance is understandable. He’s jealous. The local approach is more shameful. There’s a certain gleefulness to it, as if those spewing forth the idea that it could happen sooner rather than later cannot wait for the day until you no longer get to watch one of the most dominating players and guilelessly fun personalities ever to play for the franchise.
The bummer is, they are going to be right someday. Not a day anytime soon, mind you. Gronk has had a weird season – eight games, 25 catches, just three touchdowns, but an utterly insane 21.6 yards per catch average – but he remains as dynamic a weapon as there is in the NFL. Perhaps more important, he’s signed for three more years at a total of $30 million dollars. That’s a bigger bargain than you’ll ever find on Black Friday, and Bill Belichick doesn’t trade quality players signed at reasonable rates. Gronk’s skills could erode to Other Gronkowski Brother levels and he’ll still have been a steal.
Sure, perhaps in a year in the not too distant future, I could see Gronk, on the wrong side of the 30, a hitch in his gait, and some of his skills bludgeoned out of him, playing out the string elsewhere like Ben Coates with the Ravens or Mark Bavaro with the Eagles.
Personally, I’d rather see him burn out here than ever be traded away, but you know how the circle of NFL life goes for those who want to remain a part of it as long as they can: Skills fade, player gets traded, falls out of the league, and then shows up in photo gallery years later in a uniform few remembered you wearing. (See: Franco Harris, Seahawk).
Maybe Gronk will surprise me, but he seems to cherish football so much that it seems there’s a better chance he goes out as an aging, aching Raider or Cowboy than there is of him retiring before his body betrays him. It would be sad to see him elsewhere, but it’s his career and his prerogative. And that time and that elsewhere isn’t worth considering now.
When that day comes, if it comes, then the jackals can take their victory lap. But in the here and now – and I hope this comes through as clearly as I intend it – the suggestion that Belichick will move on from Gronk anytime soon is a patently absurd idea that should embarrass any Patriots observer, at least among those still capable of embarrassment.
Rather than allowing fans to enjoy the good things they have, they’d prefer to tell us that it’s not going to last forever. No kidding, chief. But who wants to ponder a day without Gronk? Only those who envy your satisfaction as a Boston sports fan or profit from your misery. What a lousy way to sell some dark roast.
Follow Chad Finn on Twitter at @GlobeChadFinn.