Try to remember the time when the only red flag attached to a budding, piss-and-vinegar fueled tight end out of the University of Arizona was a back issue that derailed his senior season with the Wildcats. It was such a legitimate concern that it caused his draft stock to fall way, way down ... all the way to the second round. It wasn't such a precipitous fall, but it was one that the Patriots should be commended for as they cashed in on tremendous value on a surefire first-round talent.
Fast forward a small handful of years later, and the Patriots would probably prefer to deal with that particular area of the body instead--after all, RT Sebastian Vollmer has dealt with it his entire professional career. The team has discovered that happy medium in closely monitoring the lingering effects of the injury while also getting a maximum return on elite production on the field.
Unfortunately, there's not a whole lot you can do about a forearm that doesn't seem to want to heal. It's also downright scary that the who's who of medical professionals tending to a football team's multi-million dollar investments even find themselves having trouble solving it.
This week represents the six-week mark following a third procedure in February when doctors cleaned out Gronkowski's arm; six weeks of antibiotics, and everything should be good to go. In something of a worst-case scenario reports have surfaced claiming the infection still hasn't cleared, all but mandating at least a fourth (and maybe a fifth) surgery to once again address the ailing forearm. In an invasive procedure such as this, another surgery simply resets the recovery period, putting Rob Gronkowski back at square one and staring down the barrel of another 10-week healing process that puts his early season availability in serious danger.
The Patriots are filled to the brim with tight ends, but if the finales of the previous two seasons are any indication, a talent like Gronkowski is just about impossible to replace. There is simply no option on the team that can replicate his steamroller-esque blocking combined with a receiving flair for the acrobatic. Gronkowski is an undoubtedly key piece to the Patriots' offensive puzzle, and one that New England would seem to want to rely on now that one veritable safety blanket is catching passes from Peyton.
The media, predictably, has crafted storylines rooted in both extremes. The Boston Herald possibly doubled the amount of patients being admitted into Mass. General when they published this article interviewing a doctor who said that Rob Gronkowski's career could be over:
"If he has a wound that is chronically infected — they cannot get rid of the infection — it could stop them from having the definite operation to completely repair his arm, which means he probably would not play football," Wedro said. "That is the worst-case scenario. I’m not saying that is going to happen, but that is the worst-case scenario.
Rob Gronkowski's agent Drew Rosenhaus had a somewhat different take, preferring to take a more conservative approach and avoid mass hysteria:
On report that Gronk could miss start of season, Rosenhaus said "that type of speculation is way off. No determinations have been made"— Ben Volin (@BenVolinPBP) April 8, 2013
It's hard to tell exactly how dire the situation is until doctors officially deliver a prognosis, but you can't help but feel for someone with an entire fruitful career in front of him suddenly rendered helpless by something beyond his control. After all the bone-crunching, back-breaking hits Gronkowski has simply shrugged off throughout his time with the Patriots, it's frustrating that one freak injury is the one that continues to rear its ugly head.