Nov 18, 2012; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski (87) celebrates a touchdown against the Indianapolis Colts during the first quarter at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

New England Patriots Opinion: Gronkowski Set For Back Surgery. Should He Be On Injured Reserve List?

The reality is still sinking in. New England Patriots Rob Gronkowski will need back surgery sometime mid-June according to a source as reported by NFL Albert Breer yesterday. The procedure (microdiscectomy, the same he had in 2009) will remove part of the disk that has caused Gronk great back pain throughout the 2012 season and Dr. Robert Watkins, who operate Gronk in 2009, will once again perform the surgery.

While the Patriots and Gronkowski had a high expectation that a back surgery was imminent, now this is it (it’s as real as it gets) and game-plan, or better yet, season-plan must unfold accordingly. The big question is figuring out when Gronk will be part of the game plan. Earlier stipulations were that Gronk could be back at some point in training camp. But the more the situation is analyzed, Gronk could return as late as end-of-September.

Although the surgery appears to be “simple” and it’s labeled as “routine” (it can take one to two hours, but it could take longer as the surgery goes on depending on each person’s case), Gronk could be out of the hospital on the same day. The Boston Globe Ben Volin wrote this amazing piece based on his interview with Dr. Stephen Parazin, chief of spinal surgery at New England Baptist Hospital. Although he doesn’t know Gronk’s exact situation, but based on this particular procedure, Dr. Parazin emphasized that rehab is similar for world-class athletes and regular people, which takes twelve weeks. The first six weeks to heal scar and muscles and the second six weeks to regain the strength and conditioning.

Now that Gronk’s back surgery is in the realm of reality, the Patriots must adopt every caution necessary to protect the state of the franchise and Gronk’s health. As the Patriots signed Gronk to a six-year, $55 million contract extension in 2012 with more than $18 million in guaranteed money, if six surgeries in the past 16 months wasn’t much of a concern, it certainly should be now. What value does $55 million have if there is no return on investment.

In my previous piece, Less Gronkowski Means More Gronkowski, I emphasized the importance of allowing time for Gronk to heal and to not overuse him (get the starters out of the field) when the game is mathematically won (like having a lead of 35 points, should ring a bell). But now as information is coming in and the reality of Gronk’s back surgery is hitting harder than a crash landing, I’m thinking what about taking a more conservative approach.

If Gronk had the same procedure done back in 2009, and as simple and routine as most people and experts are saying it is, but it took him an entire 2009 college season out of the field in order to rehab, what does history tell us?

If Gronk falls into the category of “injury prone” as Christopher Price points out during an interview with sports injury expert Will Carroll, and if,

“these guys that are going to get smashed by other big guys, you have to take a little extra time. The last thing you want is for him to be out of shape and then get injured somewhere else,”

said Dr. Parazin via an interview with Ben Volin; then the odds are, based on history and the consideration the Patriots must evaluate this entire situation based on the present and future that will fit in the best interest of the team, I would consider placing Gronk on injured reserved.

I might be going a little too conservative, but Gronk did miss his entire 2009 season due to the same procedure. Perhaps he was ready at some point, but perhaps not and that’s something we probably will not know for sure. One thing is worth speculating as he must have assured his health was top priority. It was either getting 100% healthy or no NFL career. Sure it caused his draft value to drop, but not his chance to succeed in the NFL. Ironically, this situation is hunting him again in his NFL career. From what looks like, it is either getting 100% healthy again or we might not be seeing Gronk spiking as long and as much as we want to.

When a player has had six surgeries in a span of 16 months, that is something to be alarmed and based on Gronk’s big contract and the vital game-changer he brings to the team, he must have time to recover, gain strength, and be strong again in order to minimize any future injuries due to a weak body throughout the length of his contract. Looking back, Gronk really lacked the time to adapt and change his rehab routine like Adrian Petterson and Darrelle Revis were able to. It was surgery, recovery, some strengthening/conditioning, and back to the field.

Should Gronk remain on the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list after training camp, he will miss the first six games of the season. From that point the Patriots have a three week window to allow Gronk to return to practice and an additional three weeks from the date of his first practice to activate him to the 53-man roster. Knowing Bill Belichick’s trends when it comes to players’ injuries, I would not be surprised to see Gronk back by Week 9 against the Pittsburgh Steelers, or to make his comeback on Week 12 against the Denver Broncos.

Whatever the decision will be, it puts the championship on the line. If Gronk goes back too soon, he might re-injury or injury something else risking not making through the rest of the season, playoffs, or even the Super Bowl. Sit him out for the entire season and the Pats will be without their game-changer. It’s really a time that challenges the Patriots to step up as whole in this on-going evolutionary game. But at the end of the day, we have an extraordinary player and a $55 million investment that we are yet to see or fully enjoy the return on investment.

Should Gronk sit out for the entire season to properly heal, our new weapons of wide receivers and our current tight ends step-up above and beyond, and somehow still make and win the Super Bowl, then the whole myth that the Pats can’t win without Gronk will throw a whole new dimension in today’s game play. But if not, then it’s an entire new story.

What’s your opinion?

Follow Celia Westbrook on Twitter @celiawestbrook


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Tags: New England Patriots Rob Gronkowski

  • Joe Soriano

    Can I be completely honest with you, Celia? I couldn’t disagree more. It makes no sense to throw a key player on the IR because he’ll end up missing six weeks, if he even does get put on the PUP. People continue to freak out too much over Gronk, and there is no sense in using the “designated for assignment” tag on a guy who most likely won’t miss half the season. I see the points you are making here, but I think it is far too drastic to put Gronk on the IR.

    • Celia Westbrook

      Joe, thank you for your thoughts!
      Looking from a highly optimistic perspective it might not make
      sense because his approximate 12 weeks rehab will be right at Week 1 and a doctor’s opinion carries heavy credibility. It also might not make sense from a business and PR standpoint as morale, fans and ticket sales would be impacted without Gronk.
      But will Gronk really be ready to play by then? As of now, not even Gronk knows, much less how can we even assume he’ll be ready? Only Gronk will know when the 12 weeks comes to completion. But at what level will he be able to play? If he gets put on the PUP list, exhaust the procedures and he still is not ready at that the point, then he could miss the entire season. It’s really uncertain if Gronk will be ready and IR is a possibility to consider and to plan accordingly should the worst happen that he might need extra time just as he missed the entire 2009 season due to the same surgery.
      I don’t think that it’s typical for a 24 year-old player to be having six surgeries under a 16 months span. Yes, he’s only 24 years-old and it’s
      possible to recover faster than a 30 year-old player, but right now he has a big label as “injury-prone” player. Let’s not make a mistake to compare an ankle surgery or a forearm surgery with a back surgery. When we’re talking about neck, back, spine surgeries it’s an entire new approach, just ask Peyton Manning. Yeah the guy had 4 neck surgeries, but the fact that the situation deals with spinal cord, it required him to take an entire year off; and even when he returned, there was no telling how he would perform in the game as any hit can
      be a disaster. Sure it’s a different position, but when it comes to football injury-risk, it doesn’t matter which position you’re playing.
      Ultimately, I think it will be all up to Gronk. It doesn’t matter if the doctors say; yes you can plan after 12 weeks, if he doesn’t feel
      100% healthy and confident on the field. And even if he says he can play, but the tape says otherwise. But as a player, I would think very deeply about the ramifications of not giving extra time for recovery. Players know NFL is all about business and the door will be open from the moment a career-injury is set in place. Will Gronk evaluate the situation from this season’s perspective or from his long-term career goal? It’s a situation that Gronk needs to look on what’s in his best interest. Is it better to bank just $18 million guaranteed or most of the $55 million, plus the guaranteed, staying healthy and Super Bowl rings along the way?
      Football is somewhat planned on a moment-by-moment basis; one game-at-time, one season-at-time. It’s about wining now. But at what point should we look at the long-term instead of just now? In my opinion it becomes an issue when an injury might cause a career-ending and if now means rest for the season and increase durability for many seasons to come, that might be worth considering. I love the
      Patriots and care about players’ health because they bring so much joy to me and to millions of fans. And heck, I want another championship!
      Am I freaking out? Maybe or maybe not, but I sure hope I am because I really want to see Gronk back on the field and healthy. And perhaps limiting his playtime and utilizing him on the games that really count, might do the trick.
      However, only time will tell and only Gronk can answer when he steps back into the field. It would be naïve to rule out the possibility that Gronk might miss the entire season based on the evidence and history of undergoing the same type of back surgery in 2009 which caused him to miss the entire 2009 season. That’s a fact and it’s logical that possibility exists based on what happened before. I think it’s pretty clear that rushing injuries recovery to only have the player aggravating
      the injury doesn’t work and it falls into doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results.
      Get healthy Gronk!

      • Paul V. Suffriti

        On a more realistic note, Gronk will probably be ready to play at the start of the season…..but with his poor history of healing properly, I would gradually work him into the lineup in week four.

        • tommy gunn

          Realism is based on reality my friend. History has shown that from a physical recovery standpoint, Gronk may “REALISTICALLY” not be ready. We can’t let optimism blind us from the “REALITY” of Gronk’s history. Before this article I had no idea of the specifics of his poor injury prone history, but now it makes sense. He’s had a history of injuries! I’m a PATS fan for life! I bleed Boston! I, more than anyone, hope that Gronk is back by week four, but now knowing this, I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s not. That’s all I’m saying

          • Paul V. Suffriti

            Really?…..get a grip. I am saying that he will probably be cleared MEDICALLY to play at the start of the season but it would be prudent to slowly work him into the lineup in week four.