Earlier today Adam Schefter of ESPN.com reported that the New England Patriots are in the process of deciding on whether to put all-pro tight end Rob Gronkowski on the physically unable to perform list (which would mean he can't return until week seven of the regular season) or to keep him on active 53-man roster until he is ready to return to action.
The Boston Herald's Karen Guregian reported later this evening that there is a strong possibility that Rob Gronkowski could return week three against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. She says that Gronk is doing well in his recovery, but must get in "football shape" in order to return.
The Blitz with Jeff Howe & Karen Guregian | Boston Herald
According to a source, Gronk is doing very well in his rehabilliation from back and forearm surgeries performed in May and June. He's "right on schedule" for a mid-September return. In fact, he's healed and advanced to the point where he would be close to playing Week 1 in Buffalo, the source said.
However, the more realistic time frame for him to be ready and in "football shape" would be shortly after, right around Game 3 against Tampa Bay assuming there are no setbacks. Now, if that's the case, it would seem unlikely the Pats would keep the tight end on the physically unable to perform list, which is currently where he resides. Having him stay on PUP would guarantee he misses the first six games. Given the timetable laid out, unless the Pats go the overly-cautious route, it would appear they'd take him off the PUP list, with thoughts of having him as early as Game 3, or perhaps Game 4 in Atlanta.
Looking at the Patriots' schedule to start the season, it's probably in their best interest to not place Rob Gronkowski on the PUP, even if there is a slight possibility that he can't return until week seven anyway.
Starting in week four the Patriots are on the road for two weeks in a row against the Atlanta Falcons and Cincinnati Bengals, all before returning home to face Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints in week six. All three of those games should be competitive, so it would obviously be beneficial to have Gronkowski active for those games -- even if it means compromising a roster spot to start the season.
As Guregian reports, a return against Tampa Bay makes even more sense. He would be able to ease back into game shape before going full throttle against Atlanta - which happens to be on Sunday Night Football.
Personally, I have been on board with this plan for weeks, so reading Guregian's report was a joy to me. I don't want to see him back unless he's in game shape, and if that means week one, great. If it means week seven it's not ideal, but if it means having him during the playoff run then it's all worth it.