The New England Patriots have entered previous bye weeks under better circumstances.
The Patriots were dump-trucked Sunday by the Tennessee Titans, snapping a run of eight consecutive wins from the Patriots in games before their bye weeks.
This is unfamiliar territory for New England, and given the high standard to which the Patriots are held by inhabitants of the six New England states, the next two weeks will be filled with noise.
And while it’s likely there will be some talk about a potential dropoff for quarterback Tom Brady, any real concern about the long-term future prospects of a core Patriots player should center around tight end Rob Gronkowski.
The Patriots tight end missed his second consecutive game and third in the last four weeks with nagging back and ankle injuries. He has just three catches in the last month, and he hasn’t scored a touchdown since Week 1.
It certainly feels as if the oft-injured yet generational talent of a tight end has reached a crossroads, and it’s looking like the end is near for Gronkowski, either as a Patriot or as an NFL player in general.
Gronkowski flirted with retirement after last season. He was the subject of trade rumors and even was on the verge of being shipped out before he threatened to walk away. So, the Patriots kept him and reworked his contract with incentives.
“I think if the Patriots had won the Super Bowl he would have retired,” Pro Football Talk’s Mike Florio said Sunday on WEEI. “And I think after this season, which has been very disappointing for him and it is his second straight year with a significant incentive package that we?re probably close to saying he?s not going to hit any of the four markers which each make him $1.1 million and he can make a maximum of $3.3 million that way. He?s way behind in catches, yards and touchdowns. He needs to participate in 80 percent of the offensive snaps, he would have played in 70 percent of the games if he misses (Sunday), so he has an uphill climb to hit those numbers. Last year he hit all of them.”
Florio added: “I think that will be a factor in his ultimate decision and the fact he had a chance to play somewhere else and didn?t want to, I think there?s a good chance he just walks away after this year unless the Patriots are willing to rip up the last year of that contract and give him some form of security that is not tied to being healthy and producing on the field.?
NBC Sports Boston’s Tom E. Curran, who has been very much dialed into the Patriots’ drama of the last year, had a similar thought Sunday in his own appearance on local sports radio.
?I am not saying he?s done at his own volition, I am saying this is his final period of time as a Patriot. He?s on the books for $11.7 million. They tried to get out from under it last year, weren?t able to do it with that $11.7 million. To no fault of Gronk?s, his body, his ankle/back, he hasn?t been able to bring them the reward. They are not going to be interested in, after not getting $11.7 in cap hit out of him, going up to $12 million in cap hit next year for the final season of his contract,” Curran said on WEEI.
The hope, however, is the Patriots — specifically Gronkowski — come out of the bye healthy. NFL Media’s Ian Rapoport sounded optimistic one more week to rest could help Gronkowski gear up for the stretch run.
Perhaps that will be the case, but when you consider the growing amount of evidence and pair it with common sense, it’s becoming pretty obvious Gronkowski is nearing the end of the line in Foxboro.