During the 2013 offseason, Gronkowski went under the knife twice, first to clear up an infection with the broken forearm in May and again in June to repair an unspecified back injury. He returned in October, about a quarter of the way into the regular season, and caught four touchdown passes until tearing his ACL in December in a win over Cleveland.
With Gronkowski in the lineup, the Patriots are one of the most feared offensive teams in the NFL. The 6-foot-6, 265-pound Gronkowski set single-season NFL records for touchdowns (17) and receiving yards (1,327) by a tight end in 2011 while teamed with former Patriot Aaron Hernandez. He only played 18 games in the past two seasons due to injury. Without him in the lineup last year, the Patriots’ tight end production dropped considerably. They ranked 28th in the league in touchdowns by tight ends, 29th in receptions and 23rd in receiving yards in the nine games he missed.
With Hernandez out of the picture as he awaits trail on murder charges, the cupboard’s bare once you get past Gronkowski. Five-year vet Michael Hoomanawanui started 10 games last year in Gronkowski’s absence and caught just 12 passes for 136 yards as the Patriots shifted more toward running the football without having a legitimate two-tight end set to utilize.
Hoomanawanui is back in the fold this year, as is former Buccaneer and 49er Nate Byham, four-year vet D.J. Williams and undrafted rookie free agents Asa Watson and Justin Jones. The Patriots did not select a tight in this year’s draft, nor did they pursue any other options on the free-agent market. Their success at that position begins and ends with Gronkowski, who hopes to play a full season for the first time in three years.
Prior to the start of the 2012 season, Gronkowski signed a six-year, $54 million contract extension with the Patriots, which, at the time, was the largest contract ever for a tight end. That’s since been dwarfed by Jimmy Graham’s 4-year, $40 million deal with the Saints, which includes $21 million in guaranteed money. Gronkowski is due a base salary of $3.75 million in 2014, plus a $250,000 workout bonus. His base salary of $4.75 million for 2015 is only guaranteed if he’s on the roster on the fifth day of the league year, which is mid-March.
Support WBOB Sports