A clip is making the rounds in the aftermath of last night’s ESPYs that, even without context, will do nothing to kill the growing belief that retired Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski is destined to emerge from retirement this year.
Talking with Saints quarterback Drew Brees on the red carpet, Gronk at one point says, “Yeah, I’m coming back.” He laughs (more like squeals) after saying it, and so beyond not being able to tell what he’s referring to, it’s also impossible to tell whether he’s simply being sarcastic.
Amid plenty of hints and clues regarding the possibility that Gronkowski could return, the strongest came (in my view) when Gronk said this to Rich Eisen last week: “I mean I can’t really say how I’m going to feel about it when the games start rolling around and everything.”
It reminded me of Brett Favre’s April 2008 visit to David Letterman, when the then-retired-for-the-first-time Favre blurted out the clearest indication of the annual unretirements to come: “I think when training camp gets close, I will — something’s bound to happen.”
It feels even more inevitable that something’s bound to happen with Gronk. One key question that remains unanswered in all of this is whether, if/when something does happen, Patriots coach Bill Belichick will welcome Gronkowski back with open arms.
Eleven years ago, the Packers didn’t want Favre back. In March, Belichick declined to comment on “hypotheticals” related to Gronkowski. There’s a chance Belichick, as a matter of principle, won’t slay the fatted calf for a prodigal son who simply wanted to avoid the offseason program, training camp, and/or the first half of the regular season.
That hurdle won’t become relevant, however, until Gronkowski decides how he’s going to feel when the games start rolling around and everything. But if Gronk wants to play and Belichick isn’t willing to disrupt the existing team vibe and/or to set a potentially bad precedent by accommodating him, maybe Gronk will end up catching passes from someone else.
Maybe even the guy he was talking to on the red carpet last night.