There is a universal truth in professional sports; the player and the team always end up divorced. The rare exception holds when that athlete plays his entire career with one team, knows when the treads are completely off his tires, and voluntarily hangs us his cleats, sneakers, or skates with a heartfelt thank you to the fans at a designated tribute celebration the following season. Tom Brady will most likely end his career as one of the few who bow out gracefully and forever be ensconced in the Mount Olympus of New England sports along with Bobby Orr, Ted Williams, and Bill Russell. Yet, framing it as New England sports is deceiving because it implies the quartet had no peers amongst those who played most, if not all, of their careers in Boston when, in fact, their greatness in their respective sports knows no such geographical bounds.
However, this is not Tom Brady’s professional funeral pyre but rather the first shovel of dirt on the grave of Rob Gronkowski’s tenure as a New England Patriot and perhaps his football career. The end is nigh for Gronk, and for several reasons. First and foremost, his injuries continue to mount but unlike in years past, Gronk is no longer able to bounce back and perform at an elite level. He is slower this season and less explosive. When he is absent from the Patriots’ lineup the NFL odds boards take note and New England is affected by a half point or more at the betting windows. He is also knocking at the door of 30-years-old, an age where pro football players (quarterbacks excluded) witness their elite abilities waning while their recovery period lengthens.
In short, Gronkowski is due $12 million next season, the final year of his contract. Bill Belichick is about as sentimental as a goldfish and will undoubtedly view that as a mismanagement of financial resources in a sport where contracts are not guaranteed. Football players don’t get paid for what they’ve done, only what they are poised to do and right now Gronk appears more destined for the trainer’s table than the gridiron.
Yet, there is hope that this impending divorce will be amicable and not turn acrimonious. Gronkowski whispered the word retirement in the offseason and when a player says it aloud, you can be sure that the wheels are already in motion. Gronk has also stated he wants no one other than Tom Brady throwing him passes and if he’s true to his word, then the Rob Gronkowski Appreciation Day may be coming sooner than later.
Oddsmakers Still Bullish on Patriots
When the season began the NFL odds boards at the best online sportsbooks, featured all in one place at Sportsbook Review, revealed that the New England Patriots were once again favored to win the AFC. Despite a stunning 34-10 loss to the Tennessee Titans before their bye week, the Pats are still among the frontrunners to win the conference at +240, trailing only the Chiefs (+200), and are prohibitive favorites to win their 10th consecutive AFC East crown. One would never guess that those who make a book for a living and must calibrate public perception have a very different view than many Pats’ fans who believe the sky is falling, Brady is done, and New England’s decades of domination is now in the rearview mirror.
If we can look at this objectively, the Pats are 7-3 and will have had two weeks to prepare for an underwhelming Jets’ squad in Week 12. In addition to that game in New York, New England will have the luxury of games against the Dolphins, Bills, and another against the Jets in four of their last six games of the season. Although nothing is guaranteed, those four games are as good as wins unless the sky is indeed truly falling. The two true tests will be the Vikings at home and the Steelers on the road. Assuming New England wins one of those two then they will be sitting pretty at 12-4 and that record should get them the No. 2 seed in the AFC behind Kansas City.
All is not lost Patriots’ fans so let’s not deviate from “In Bill We Trust” as we look forward to another championship run in Title Town.