The Patriots version of the two-tight end offense was all the rage in the NFL. Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez formed a duo that was as dangerous as any in the league, and the offense was as productive as any as well.
Then things changed in 2013. Hernandez got arrested and was subsequently released while Gronkowski continued to battle injuries before being felled by a torn ACL in December. That left New England with neither of its multi-faceted options, and the offense suffered accordingly.
Gronkowski will return in 2014 but there's no telling how quickly, nor how effective he'll be. Meanwhile Tony Gonzalez, the future Hall of Fame tight end who just finished another productive season in Atlanta, presumably was headed toward retirement for the second time in as many years. But recently Gonzalez left the door open for another return, saying he'd be willing to come back to play for a contender at some point during the season.
That creates an interesting scenario and one that we'll use for our Samsonite Make Your Case question this week: Should the Patriots sign Tony Gonzalez late in the season?
PFW's Paul Perillo says ...
Ask yourself this question: Where would Gonzalez have ranked among the Patriots receivers in 2013? If your answer is anything but No. 1, you're fooling yourself. Even at his advanced age Gonzalez would be the most gifted receiver the Patriots had (not including the injured Rob Gronkowski), and adding him to the mix only makes sense.
I understand there's an old-school thought process that frowns upon special treatment for players – even ones as talented as Gonzalez – but the fact is Bill Belichick has made exceptions like this many times in the past. Whether it's Willie McGinest sitting out training camp or signing the likes of Rosevelt Colvin and Junior Seau off their couches in the middle of the season, Belichick has proven he'll do whatever it takes to win.
Assuming Gonzalez is in shape and serious about returning, I have no problem with letting him sit around and bringing him in when the time is right for a stretch drive to the playoffs. The Patriots should be in position to win the AFC East without him, and adding a piece like that could put the team over the top heading into the playoffs.
Gonzalez already proved he can be productive without the benefit of training camp – just ask the Patriots secondary that couldn't cover him last year. I see no reason not to bring in a special player under special circumstances and if the feeling is mutual, I say welcome aboard.
PFW's Andy Hart says ...
I understand that Gonzalez is a special Hall of Fame talent. I understand that he'd probably help the offense in New England whenever he showed up. But I'm not really into guys in the NFL playing partial seasons or skipping training camp.
Clearly there are different rules for different players. Tom Brady is not treated the same way that Josh Kline is. That said, I'm old-school in my belief that the bond of a football team, the core of a great team, begins to be built in training camp. Every member of the team goes through the same tough days and physical challenges, becoming a unit.
To look at things even more strategically, it would be better to have Gonzalez early in the year when Rob Gronkowski is either out of action or at the very least still trying to work his way back to full strength. By late in the year, when Gonzalez wants to ride into town on his white horse to collect a Super Bowl ring, Gronk should be close to back to his playmaking self.
The old saying is that if you are thinking about retiring then you are to some degree already retired. Gonzalez is a great talent, but in reality he's already retired. Let him stay that way and build a roster in New England without bandwagon jumpers just looking to take the easy route to Super Bowl glory. Super Bowl rings should be earned by a collective unit, not collected by some Johnny Come Lately mercenary. Bill Belichick and the Patriots are better than that. Unless Gonzalez wants to play a full season with a full training camp, I'm not interested.
Now it's the fans turn to cast their vote in this week's Samsonite Make Your Case poll question.