After a brief lull, the Rob Gronkowski trade rumors have returned.

The New England Patriots reportedly explored trading their All-Pro tight end before the 2018 NFL Draft. The team reportedly was on the verge of trading Gronkowski during minicamp in June, although the credibility of those reports is fair to question, and team owner Robert Kraft called the rumors “hogwash.”

However, reported contract negotiations between Gronkowski and the Patriots have yet to yield a new or restructured deal. As a result, NFL teams still believe the Patriots might be open to dealing the 29-year-old, the Boston Sports Journal’s Greg Bedard reported Monday.

“‘Where’s the restructure of his contract?'” one AFC personnel executive told Bedard. “Until that’s done, I think he’s still available. I wouldn’t be surprised if (Bill) Belichick is going to test Gronk’s buy-in with the contract.’ ”

Gronkowski, as you might recall, teased retirement following the Patriots’ loss to the Philadelphia Eagles in Super Bowl 52, and waited until late April to confirm he intends to play next season. Many viewed Gronkowski’s retirement talk as a contract ploy, albeit it one that ironically made the Patriots wary of committing long-term to the star tight end.

As a result, executives around the NFL believe Gronkowski and Belichick essentially are caught in a game of chicken, one that could come to a head before or during the regular season.

“Three of the five personnel executives I spoke with feel that Belichick is just testing Gronkowski’s mettle and the tight end will eventually have his contract tweaked at some point and he’ll finish out this season with the Patriots,” Bedard wrote.

“The other two execs said they think the Patriots make Gronkowski play under his current contract. They feel Gronkowski put himself in this situation with his talk about retirement, and then his decision to stay away from the voluntary workouts. ‘I would be surprised if Belichick gave in on that,’ said one exec.”

So, what to make of all this?

As Bedard notes, the longer Gronkowski’s contract situation goes unresolved, the more likely he becomes upset and forces Belichick to react — one way or another. There’s also the possibility this is much ado about nothing, and that Gronowski, Belichick and Tom Brady have moved on from last season’s turmoil and once again are prepared to steamroll the AFC.

Given the current state of affairs at Gillette Stadium, however, it’s fair to wonder whether the cracks in New England’s once impenetrable foundation are beyond repair.

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Thumbnail photo via Brian Fluharty/USA TODAY Sports Images