When Rob Gronkowski announced his retirement from the NFL in March, the New England Patriots lost their most talented offensive skill position player — a future Hall of Famer, capable of being a difference maker both as a pass catcher and as a blocker. For the Patriots, Gronkowski’s decision to call it a career means that they will need to do what they always do when a starting-caliber player leaves the organization: adjust.
One of Gronkowski’s former teammates in New England, running back Shane Vereen, feels confident about New England’s ability to do just that. “It’s an offense that shifts and morphs to the talent of its players,” Vereen, who has been a free agent since the New Orleans Saints released him early during the 2018 season, told ESPN Boston’s Mike Reiss. “Josh McDaniels is not stuck in his ways of how he’s going to play this game, or call each game.”
“Every game, every week is different. They have different matchups. Different schemes per defense, for each week,” continued the 30-year-old. Between his arrival in New England in the second round of the 2011 draft and his departure to the New York Giants via free agency four years later, the running back experienced this offensive approach firsthand: as the Patriots’ top receiving back, Vereen appeared in a combined 49 games for the team.
During his time with the club, Vereen naturally acquired a vast amount of knowledge of the Patriots’ offensive system and of how it is used on a week-to-week basis. And while Vereen acknowledged that this presents a challenge to the players, he also pointed out the benefits: “That makes the offense difficult to learn, but very difficult to stop because you never really know how they’re going to attack you each and every week.”
This is also a major reason why New England has been able to adjust to personnel changes on the fly rather easily — especially when compared to other clubs: the system is flexible. And while this flexibility will get tested with Gronkowski no longer a piece to be used within the offense, Vereen feels confident that the Patriots will be fine even without their super star tight end on the roster.
“With Gronk out, they will have guys to come in to fill his spot,” Vereen said about the challenges of filling Gronkowski’s role on the team. “They won’t be Gronk, don’t get me wrong. There is not another Gronk. We won’t see another Gronk for a very, very long time — if we ever see another one. But they have enough talent on that team and they have enough wherewithal to figure it out and still be successful. They’ve done it for years.”
Vereen is right; the Patriots have time and again over the past two decades found a way to overcome challenges. Gronkowski’s retirement is just the latest of them, and given the club’s track record it seems likely that New England will be able to overcome it to continue playing productive offensive football.