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Another ‘Summer of Gronk’ is the last thing Rob Gronkowski needs

02.10.17 at 1:07 pm ET
Gronkowski caught a career-low 25 catches this season. (Greg M. Cooper/USA Today Sports)

Rob Gronkowski caught a career-low 25 passes this season. (Greg M. Cooper/USA Today Sports)

It looks like another “Summer of Gronk” is on the way. But this one may not be as well-received as its previous renditions.

Despite only playing in eight games this season, Rob Gronkowski was the star of the Patriots’ championship festivities this week. He went psychotic during the parade Tuesday, guzzling down Bud Lights and taking off his shirt to party with fans in frigid temperatures. At night, he brought down the house at Foxwoods, and even managed to outlast Rick Ross.

It was an uneventful Super Bowl for Gronkowski, who was sidelined with a back injury. The all-time Patriots touchdown leader underwent another back operation in December, the third of his career. At 27 years old, Gronkowski has experienced at least nine surgeries since 2009.

Entering the playoffs sans Gronk is familiar ground for the Patriots. They’ve been forced to play with him in a limited capacity or without him entirely in five of the last seven years –– perhaps costing them multiple championships. But they were able to pull off a historic comeback Sunday, which could put a damper on Gronkowski’s plans for a five-month stretch of debauchery. For the first time in his career, he appears to be expendable.

Make no mistake: Gronkowski remains the best tight end in football. But he was close to a non-factor this season. Twenty-one of his 25 receptions came within a four-week stretch, and he only caught one pass in two contests without Tom Brady. After Gronkowski was placed on IR Dec. 3, the Patriots went 8-0 with an average margin of victory of 17.25 points. They played their best football when he wasn’t on the field.

Over the last couple of years, it seems as if Gronkowski has operated under a different set of rules than many of his teammates. After suffering a knee injury during the 2015 campaign, the Patriots filed a joint statement with Gronkowski’s family about his status. Hours later, Gronkowski published a video on Bleacher Report, in which he said he wouldn’t return until he’s 100 percent. Bill Belichick goes to great lengths to hide injury information, but with Gronkowski, the Patriots are an open book.

Ever since Gronkowski returned prematurely from a forearm injury in 2012 –– leading to four additional operations, three forearm and one back, that offseason –– there’s been an apparent mistrust between his family and the team. The tension bubbled over in the first half of the 2013 season, when Gronkowski returned roughly one month after the club had thought he would. The Patriots expected Gronk to come back in mid-September, but he didn’t take the field until late October. There were questions about how seriously Gronkowski took his rehab, considering he was spotted wrestling in a Las Vegas nightclub with a broken forearm that offseason.

During Gronkowski’s absence, ESPN reported there was a growing “resentment towards him” in the locker room. It seemed as if the team was engaging in a public relations campaign against its star tight end. Gronk didn’t come back until a third party physician, Dr. James Andrews, cleared him to do so.

From injuries to contracts, Gronkowski often breaks Patriots protocol. He hinted last year he was unsatisfied with his deal, which mandated he take a nominal pay cut in 2016. It’s unlikely he’ll repeat those actions this offseason, even though he’s only the fifth highest-paid tight end in the league on an annual basis.

Since Gronkowski still represents good value, it would be foolish for the Patriots to cut bait with him this year. But this incredible Super Bowl run showed they can win when he isn’t on the field.

Outside of his prolonged recovery in 2013, there’s little evidence to suggest Gronk’s summer-long benders have any impact on his performance on the field. It does look a little tone-deaf, though, for Gronkowski to parade around celebrating a Super Bowl win he had almost nothing to do with.

If Gronkowski gets off to another slow start or misses time next season, it may not be so easily excused –– especially since he’s due for big pay increases, base salaries of $8 million and $9 million, respectively, over the final two years of his contract. Another “Summer of Gronk” will only invite more scrutiny.

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