Ed Werder | ESPN
Tight end Rob Gronkowski‘s continued absence from the New England Patriots‘ lineup has escalated tension among teammates who have begun questioning him about why he’s not playing and left some wondering if he intends to play at all this season, according to multiple sources.
“There’s curiosity and resentment, and he’s creating it by going out and kicking ass during the week and then he doesn’t show up on game day and help the team win,” one source said.
Gronkowski is expected to miss his sixth game Sunday because of multiple offseason surgeries on his fractured left forearm. He has not been cleared by third-party physician Dr. James Andrews, whose involvement suggests trust issues exist between the team and player over his medical condition and readiness to play.
Gronkowski first had surgery last season, returned with a metal plate in his arm and fractured the same forearm in the playoffs, then required two more surgeries while enduring an infection that complicated the healing process.
He might be concerned that another similar injury could threaten his NFL career.
Teammates, coaches and other members of the organization have watched Gronkowski practice fully for weeks — this week he was described as dominant as New Orleans Saints tight end Jimmy Graham while taking 50 reps a day on the scout team — and yet he has not been available on a game day.
Teammates and coaches have seen him run patterns, catch passes, use his arm to pass protect, run block and to separate from defenders at the line of scrimmage, and they doubt a doctor would allow so much contact if there remained serious concern about the health of his forearm.
They are having difficulty reconciling seeing Gronkowski perform like that and then not take the field with them for the games.
“If he’s not playing in games, he damn sure should not be doing what he is in practice,” said the same source who mentioned resentment.
With the Patriots entering Sunday’s game against the high-scoring Saints off a defeat to the Bengals in which New England scored the fewest points of the Tom Brady Era, teammates have begun to express their frustration directly to Gronkowski. Sources say the Patriots locker room has become increasingly uncomfortable for the tight end.
There are people in the organization who question whether Gronkowski intends to ever play this season.
“Whatever is holding him back now isn’t going to be healed in two weeks, because there’s nothing wrong with the arm,” the source said.
The Patriots opted to keep Gronkowski on their 53-man roster rather than place him on the physically-unable-to-perform list so he could play before Week 7.
Now that apparently won’t happen, meaning coach Bill Belichick failed to get full value out of Gronkowski’s roster spot, although the player has been eligible to practice — and his performance while doing so has questions swirling in the Patriots’ locker room.
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