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Sunday NFL Thoughts: List of Rob Gronkowski surgeries, and future tight end prospects

Gronkowski has averaged one surgery per season since 2009.

1. Here is the laundry list of surgeries for New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski:

2009: Back surgery. Gronkowski suffered a back injury while lifting weights prior to his junior year at the University of Arizona. He had surgery performed and entered the draft.

2012: Ankle surgery. Gronkowski suffered an ankle injury in the 2011 AFC Championship Game and played in the Super Bowl while extremely limited. Gronkowski underwent ankle surgery after the season.

2012: Arm surgery. Gronkowski broke his forearm while on the field goal blocking unit in week 11 against the Colts and required surgery.

2012: Arm surgery. Gronkowski re-injured his forearm in the divisional round of the playoffs after rushing back from the previous injury. He required another surgery.

2013: Arm surgery. Gronkowski had an infection in his forearm that required a third surgery to clear the infection.

2013: Arm surgery. Gronkowski needed a fourth surgery to replace the rod in his forearm.

2013: Back surgery. Gronkowski underwent back surgery for a herniated disk in his back.

2013: Knee surgery. Gronkowski suffered a season-ending knee injury after he tore his ACL and MCL after a brutal hit from Browns S T.J. Ward.

2016: Back surgery. Gronkowski landed awkwardly in week 12 against the Jets and hurt his back.

This list doesn’t include the “minor” injuries, including a knee injury against the Broncos in 2015, a pectoral injury this past May, a hamstring injury at the start of this season, and the chest injury he suffered against the Seahawks in week 10.

One knee surgery. Three back surgeries. Four arm surgeries. Average of one per season. “Surgery” doesn’t look like a word after writing it so many times.

2. The 2012, 2013, and now the 2016 seasons have been the years most affected by the Gronkowski injuries. I wouldn’t classify 2011 and 2015 because while the ultimate outcome of the season was directly related to the availability of Gronkowski (2011 Super Bowl, 2015 homefield advantage), those were one game injuries at really inopportune times.

When Gronkowski is healthy, the Patriots are unstoppable. In his four full games in 2016 (with Tom Brady, not limited), he recorded 21 receptions for 473 yards and 3 touchdowns. That’s absolutely incredible and it’s reason enough for the Patriots to retain Gronkowski and see if he can recover for 2017, when his salary is extremely reasonable. Trading him does nothing, especially since his value is at its lowest point.

Gronkowski should be able to be healthy for the start of 2017 camps. The Patriots still should have contingency plans in place (looking at you, Martellus Bennett).

3. All that said, Gronkowski now has no leverage at the negotiation in asking for a bigger contract. There was some scuttle that Gronkowski was unhappy about his contract, which averages $8 million per season over the next three years, or $10 million per year if you include the pro rata portion of the option bonus that was picked up prior to the 2016 season.

The $8 million per year ranks 6th for tight ends. The $10 million per year is tied for first with Seahawks tight end Jimmy Graham. Gronkowski is clearly the best tight end in the league when healthy, but there is a clear discount because he hasn’t been able to stay healthy.

Gronkowski signed his original 6-year, $54 million contract as injury protection. That seemed prudent during his injury-filled 2012 and 2013 seasons. He made it through 2014 and 2015 most unscathed and that’s why talk of contracts came back. This injury in 2016 just highlights the contract has served its purpose for both sides. Gronkowski gets his money upfront in case of injury. Patriots pay below market value in case of injury.

4. Fortunately, the 2017 NFL Draft should feature the best tight end talent since the 2013 NFL Draft with Tyler Eifert, Zach Ertz, Travis Kelce, and Jordan Reed.

Alabama tight end O.J. Howard is a first round prospect that seems destined to be atop the Patriots wish list. Head coach Bill Belichick will get the inside scoop from old friend Nick Saban, but Howard is an athletic player with great body control who has worked on generating some very impressive blocking angles over his senior year.

Michigan tight end Jake Butt is another option in the first round that has seen more use in the Wolverine offense than Howard has at Alabama, offers a little more “fresh out of the box” ability, but is a less fluid athlete in the open field. Also, just think of the joy a player named “Butt” would bring Gronkowski at tight end meetings.

And if Howard and Butt are the Eifter and Kelce of the class, then Virginia Tech’s Bucky Hodges and Clemson’s Jordan Leggett are the Ertz and Reed as more split-tight ends, instead of inline options, so they wouldn’t provide as much insurance for Gronkowski, but they are also worth considering in the first two rounds.

5. Here’s Vince Wilfork being amazing:

Vince is amazing. That is all.