The fact that Tom Brady hasn’t specifically said that he’ll play this year (unless he has) likely isn’t a big deal. The fact that Rob Gronkowski hasn’t is more significant. In the end, however, a source with knowledge of the situation tells PFT that the Patriots expect both players to suit up and play in 2018.
That doesn’t mean all is well. Gronkowski has taken his trademark individuality to the extreme this offseason, declining to declare that he’ll play and, most recently, arguably trolling coach Bill Belichick over Gronkowski’s obvious intention to treat voluntary workouts as just that.
It’s possible Gronkowski simply wants more money, and that if the team wants to address a contract that will pay Gronk $8 million this year, maybe Gronk will have more enthusiasm about April, May, and June non-mandatory practices.
As to Gronkowski’s pay for 2018, the $8 million he’ll make matches the $8 million per year that former Eagles third-string tight end Trey Burton will earn in Chicago this year, and it’s $2 million less than the $10 million per year that Jimmy Graham will make in Green Bay. Clearly, Gronkowski is underpaid.
Apart from Gronkowski’s satisfaction or lack thereof with his pay, there’s also a belief that Gronkowski, Brady, and other Patriots continue to be salty about the inexplicable — and still unexplained — benching of cornerback Malcolm Butler in the Super Bowl. A full eleven weeks later, coach Bill Belichick still hasn’t shed any light on the decision to use Butler for only one special-teams play and to keep him on the bench even after the Philly offense shredded the New England defense enough to force a change to the dime package during a 30-minute halftime.
None of the theories that have made the rounds fully hold water, and as one coach with another team previously pointed out to PFT, the fact that Butler took practice reps during the week before the Super Bowl strongly suggests that the move was disciplinary. Some have suggested that Butler may have had an unauthorized visitor in his room during the week before the game, but security at the J.W. Marriott at the Mall of America was too high to allow players to sneak someone in.
The fact that the Titans quickly pounced on Butler in free agency serves only to deepen the mystery. Given the ties that Tennessee G.M. Jon Robinson and coach Mike Vrabel have to the Patriots, the thinking is that there’s no way the Titans would have committed $30 million in guaranteed money to Butler if there was a major problem with the player’s ability or his attitude.
The questions will linger until an explanation for Butler’s benching is provided. But that may not end the debate, especially if the explanation doesn’t fully explain something that perhaps can’t be.