“Rob Gronkowski has now been cleared by all his doctors to play Sunday in the Jets game,” agent Drew Rosenhaus said in a text to multiple media outlets.
Patriots coach Bill Belichick wouldn’t confirm Gronkowski’s status Friday morning, saying only that the team’s injuries would be included on the injury report released later in the day.
Gronkowski has missed the first six games of the season recovering from multiple surgeries on his forearm and a back procedure. The determination on when he would be cleared was to be decided by the team, the player, Dr. Jesse Jupiter and Dr. James Andrews, the renowned orthopedic surgeon who was independently consulting with Gronkowski. Jupiter performed the last of the four surgeries on his forearm.
Although Gronkowski has yet to play in a game, he has taken part in every Patriots practice during the regular season, each time on a limited basis.
Gronkowski’s timetable has been the subject of controversy over the past few weeks. Members of the tight end’s inner circle have wanted to ensure that he is fully healthy before returning, while some of those who have watched him in recent practices — during which Gronkowski has even been tackled — don’t understand why he has yet to play in a game, sources previously told ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter.
Gronkowski’s continued absence from the Patriots’ lineup has also escalated tension among teammates who have begun questioning him about why he’s not playing, even raising “curiosity and resentment,” multiple sources told ESPN’s Ed Werder last weekend.
Asked Thursday if he has anything new to add about his status, Gronkowski said, “No, nothing.”
“I’m just improving every week, that’s all, really,” he said. “I mean, like I said, nothing’s changed, man, and nothing has changed the whole time. And just the one thing that has changed actually is that I’m improving every week and it’s going good.”
The team’s top tight end is eagerly anticipating his season debut.
“It’s going to be a great feeling, obviously,” Gronkowski said recently of his eventual return. “[I’ve] just been working hard towards that goal and working hard every day to achieve that. It’s going to be exciting, and when it happens, it’s going to be awesome.”
On Wednesday, Patriots quarterback Tom Brady said that he’s not riding the emotional roller coaster attached to speculating on Gronkowski’s return date.
“We’ve kind of talked about it a lot the last five weeks,” Brady said. “If he’s there, he’s there. If he’s not, he’s not. We’re going to try to go win anyway.”
Even if Gronkowski is limited in his return, and one figures he won’t play every snap as he normally would when healthy, he could certainly be on the field for every red-zone snap. It’s an area where the Patriots have traditionally been strong, but 2013 has been a struggle.
In 22 trips inside the opponent’s 20-yard line, the Patriots have converted just nine touchdowns. In terms of touchdown percentage, it ranks them 30th in the NFL.
In 2012, the Patriots ranked first in the NFL in touchdown percentage inside the red zone — 49 touchdowns in 70 trips — thanks in large part to Gronkowski, who has 28 touchdown receptions over the past two seasons.
Talib jogged with his teammates in the limited time media members were present, with players in shorts and light shoulder pads, and didn’t seem fully comfortable. While it would be a surprise if he plays Sunday against the Jets, his presence adds a level of clarification to the time frame of his return.
Elsewhere, starting defensive tackle Tommy Kelly (right knee), receiver Danny Amendola (concussion) and running back Leon Washington (ankle) were not spotted at Friday’s practice, making it unlikely they play Sunday.
Information from ESPNBoston.com’s Mike Reiss and ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter was used in this report.