When Rob Gronkowski is healthy, he might be the best tight end in the NFL. He makes Tom Brady and the New England Patriots very difficult to beat, but it looks like that scenario is becoming something of a fantasy one, as Gronkowski might be heading towards a back surgery, in addition to his fourth operation on his broken arm, making him damaged goods before he enters his fourth NFL season.

Unlike running backs, tight ends usually have a longer shelf life. But Gronkowski lives wildly and plays the same way; this reckless abandonment on the field that makes his quite the special receiver, but also someone who takes a huge physical beating every time he’s out there. The kind of physical beating his body, it seems, might not be up to.

Rob Gronkowski

Gronkowski was selected in the second round of the NFL draft in 2010 because of his back problems, but he played in 32 games during his first two seasons in the NFL, including catching for 1327 yards and 17 touchdowns in 2011, making the first All-Pro team. Last season he missed five games due to his broken arm, but things haven’t being going according to plan when it comes to his rehabilitation.

His back problem isn’t considered serious, but the situation with his arm – operation after operation, inserting metal plates and then taking them out because of infections and tissue not healing right has been going on for quite some time. The next operation he’s about to undergo, his 4th on his arm and sixth overall (also had something done on his ankle), will take him out for 10 weeks, which means he’ll be back around mid-August, not exactly perfect for the New England Patriots.

Can the Patriots rely on Gronkowski being a productive tight end for the foreseeable future? Hard to tell. No one can promise them he’ll be recovering in time from yet another surgery on his left arm, hoping this time it heals the right way. The Patriots have a lot riding on him, despite their HC’s tendency to improvise and find solutions on the fly. Few players are as adept and hard to stop in the end zone as Gronkowski, and another set back in his recovery, with more long-term implications this time, suggests that the Patriots will have the usual set backs on their way to that unreachable fourth Super Bowl ring.

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