By Eric Schmidt

In 2011, the future looked bright for the New England Patriots offense. The franchise had two of the most dynamic tight ends in the NFL. Head coach Bill Belichick had molded an offense which feature two highly athletic players which were redefining the position. Rob Gronkowski posted a record setting 17 touchdowns and 1,327 yards while Aaron Hernandez recorded 7 scores and 910 receiving yards. Fast forward to 2013.

Aaron Hernandez has subsequently been released and sits in jail awaiting trial on murder charges. Rob Gronkowski is now injured once again. Although it has not yet been officially reported by the team, it’s believed the tight end suffered an ACL injury on Sunday against the Cleveland Browns. Perhaps in the offseason, the Patriots should start planning for life without Gronkowski and draft another tight end.

Gronkowski suffered his injury after taking a hit from Browns safety T.J. Ward. Ironically, he appeared on Mike and Mike on December 3 and was asked about illegal hits and how defensive players might be targeting offensive players knees. Around the 4:10 mark, Mike Golic asked Gronkowski about defensive players getting flagged for hitting receivers in the head. Gronkowski responded that he is 6-foot-6-inches tall and is bigger than all the defensive backs so he was never hit in the head, he was used to players going low on him.

The Patriots have a lot of money invested in Gronkowski. The franchise handed him a $55 million dollar, eight-year contract in June of 2012. If Gronkowski is going to require knee surgery, he will have undergone at least six operations since that date.

There is no questioning how dynamic Gronkowski is. The Patriots offense is another beast with him on the field, but one has to start wondering if he will ever play another complete season again in his career. On June 8, 2012, the Patriots handed Gronkowski $13 in guaranteed money, all three seasons from 2012 through 2014 are guaranteed, he is scheduled to make $3.75 million in 2014. Since signing the contract extension, he has appeared in just 18 games.

It’s likely that he will recover fully from yet another injury, but long term, can he be counted on to be a consistent contributor to the New England offense, or will a rash of injuries rob him of what once looked to be a very promising career?

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