Are the Patriots entering the era of LAG?
*That's Life After Gronk. *
Wait a sec - haven't we just recently considered LAB (Life After Brady), and concluded that while the light at the end of the tunnel isn't exactly a runaway freight train barreling down the tracks straight for us, that configuring the New England Patriots' future with someone other than Tom Brady under center might soon be in the best overall interest of the franchise?
And now, on top of that one, we need to deal with life as we know it after Rob Gronkowski too?
The two players are inexorably tied together in Patriot and NFL history. One is widely considered the greatest to have played his position, the other is certainly well on his way to achieving similar status. While TB12 has given every indication of continuing his playing career for now (1 year, 2 years?) - especially since he's entered his new age demographic - we haven't been forced to consider any LAG-time until recently.
Gronkowski was non-committal in the aftermath of the Super Bowl defeat to Philadelphia. Fine. We all needed a moment to decompress after an emotional game, right? The guys who played in it deserve nothing less.
But then these rumors started flying about - r-r-r-retirement? Moving on to a career in wrestling, or the movies? Or more simply, being FREE and HAPPY - as he implied and described in a well-traveled Instagram post to former teammate Danny Amendola.
Well then. New England, we have a problem.
Rob Gronkowski isn't happy with the status quo. Competing for championships, winning, and being paid well to play a game may now not be enough for him. You can certainly argue the merits of whether he's being paid as he should be, but you can now also ask the question - is he presently engaged enough in his current profession/position to warrant such consideration?
In other words, is he committed to playing football, or does he really want to do the other stuff? Or, perhaps he's unhappy with his status quo in New England? You may have heard stories to the effect that Bill Belichick is also considering these same things.
If so, he wouldn't be wrong to do that.
And with the physical and mental wear and tear over his pro career, perhaps Gronk is also not wrong to consider his life after football? Every athlete moves on from playing his or her sport at some point. A career in pro football is every bit the grind as it is a privilege. And not every athlete knows the exact moment in which to say 'enough.'
But how much is enough - as opposed to his possibly having had 'enough of New England' in this instance? Have we reached a point of diminishing return here, and it's time to move on from the status quo on both sides?
Perhaps. An ESPN report over the past weekend indicated, if accurate, that Gronkowski is more likely to return next season than he is to retire and become a wrestler or movie star. Only if Tom Brady remains with the team, however.
But the longer this soap opera plays out in public without an "all-in" commitment from the uber-TE, the chance of a t-t-t-trade could also loom as a real possibility, as reported by the Boston Sports Journal.
Is 'Gronk being Gronk' - kind of goofy in a semi-serious manner - a way of forcing the Patriots' hand here?
Step back from the ledge. It may simply be prudent to pencil him in for a sit-down with the powers-that-be before moving forward from this point, just as it was for the Kraft-Belichick-Brady triumvirate to do likewise after last season's off-the-field angst. You know, just to clear the air?
He's still under contract to the Patriots, for this year and next.
But as we move closer to the release of the schedule and the NFL Draft and rookie camp and OTA's and training camp...in other words, closer to moving on to 2018...perhaps considering a little LAG-time, unsettling as it may be...is in the best interests of the organization.
Where have we heard this one before?
Targeting a trouble spot
After the owners decided to adjust the rule for targeting last week, the reaction was immediate, and nearly universal.
"Boy,* is this dumb*."
A player lowering his head to initiate contact should be illegal, of course, until you consider that just about every defensive move a player must make to hit someone leads with the head.
The NFL clearly has a problem with interpreting what was intended to be a rule for the safety of players. They also took out the 'flagrant' part of the rule, which could then leave a potential game-changing ejection up to the interpretation of an official, not to mention lengthen the delay in a game while reviewing any video.
In the aftermath of the rule's emergence, the league says it plans to bring in coaches, players and officials prior to the next round of meetings in May to discuss the actual enforcement of the rule.
It is also worth noting that the NFL passed a rule in 2013 which made it illegal for running backs to initiate contact with their helmets, and there has been little controversy surrounding these plays since.
Again, the rule change is for player safety in the sport, which we all know football needs for football to continue to have a plausible future. The NFL says it will have officials instruct teams on the new interpretation while training this summer, and it will be up to the coaches to teach it to the players.
But ex-NFL officials' VP Mike Pereira told Sirius/XM Radio "I think it will be impossible to officiate. Along with the new catch rule, the officials are going to struggle making the helmet call, and they may struggle for years."
Boy, did the league owners fumble away the opportunity for any clarity here. Which leads me (and many others) to wonder if what was already a problem - just became a bit more problematic.
And the answer is...
"Would we have won if I played? Probably. Maybe. I'm not sure."
That was the answer from ex-Patriot cornerback Malcolm Butler to a question posed in a Sports Illustrated story last week, after he mentioned there were "a couple of plays" in the Super Bowl against Philadelphia he could have made, and what if he had been on the field to make them?
It's revisionist history, of course, and an easy answer. There are always (at least) two sides to every story and every detail. But even with one of the most controversial coaching/playing decisions ever made in Patriots' history sticking out like a sore thumb for eternity, we'll most likely never get into the team or coaching side of this story.
You know why this is, of course. Don't give up all hope for discovering the entire truth, however. It will probably be a big selling point for someone's tell-all book someday.
As for Butler, since signed by Tennessee but who will always be remembered for his SB LI game-saving, legacy-enhancing interception against Seattle, the decision to keep him on the sidelines except for one special teams play boiled down to this:
"This is how we're going to end this?" Butler recalled to SI. "I grew up in the Patriots system, and I'm a well-mannered guy. I respect my authority."
"I just couldn't ask them for something they didn't want to do," he added. "I just was doing my job. I was close to going up there and saying what I wanted to say to Matt (Patricia) or Belichick, but I just stayed in my lane and just did my job, man. I really wanted to go ask them, but I didn't."
Feel any better about the probable end to this tale?
Didn't think so. Me either. Probably. Maybe.
John Rooke is an author and award-winning broadcaster, and has completed 25 seasons as the Patriots' stadium voice. Currently serving in several media capacities - which include hosting "Patriots Playbook" on Patriots.com Radio - Rooke has broadcast college football and basketball locally and nationally for 30 seasons and is a member of the Rhode Island Radio Hall of Fame and RI's Words Unlimited Hall of Fame.