Published On: Sun, Apr 22nd, 2018

Gronkowski should know there's no beating Belichick in a game of chicken

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Rob Gronkowski has always been the exception to the rule when it comes to The Patriot Way.

New England head coach Bill Belichick is infamous for his rigid and impersonal approach to his players and for crafting a locker room that is predicated on putting the team above all, suffocating individuality at the expense of unprecedented success.

But Gronk has always been allowed to be Gronk, an overgrown man-child whose personality is diametrically opposed to the philosophies of the only NFL franchise he’s ever known.

Belichick has never tried to tame Gronkowski, though, apparently comfortable with his college-style partying and love of the spotlight. And why wouldn’t he be? While Belichick rules with an iron fist, the reason he’s arguably the GOAT is that he makes concessions for elite talents.

For eight seasons, Belichick and the future Hall of Fame tight end have reaped the rewards of their most unlikely of partnerships. But the cracks are beginning to show.

First was Gronkowski’s unwillingness to commit to playing in 2018 in the immediate aftermath of the Patriots’ Super Bowl loss. Then, rumors about a potential future in Hollywood or the WWE gained momentum as Gronk allowed retirement rumblings to continue.

Next, reported frictions between Belichick and Gronkowski came to light, with the head coach apparently questioning whether the pass-catcher is “all in” with the team and chastising him in front of teammates for performing poorly in last year’s training camp.

Most recently, Gronkowski failed to report for the start of the team’s voluntary offseason program. He then subsequently staged a promotional event for Monster Energy AMA Supercross at Gillette Stadium on Saturday, joking about missing the workouts and continuing to tease the media about his future – all while down the hall from the team’s locker room.

“No,” Gronkowski said when asked if he would be joining his teammates for optional activities, according to the Boston Herald’s Ross Gienieczko. “I’ve got dirt-biking skills to work on.”

Pressed on his NFL future, Gronkowski said Patriots fans should expect a “freak-a-leek” when he returned, but then backtracked and joked his future depends on “how my racing skills go today,”

This could just be Gronk being Gronk. It could also be seen as an act of defiance.

(Photo courtesy: Getty Images)

Maybe Gronkowski wants to get paid. He does have just two years remaining on a contract that has averaged $9 million per season, and has arguably never been paid his true worth as one of the NFL’s premier weapons.

Or maybe he’s simply tired of the Belichick way. It’s not unthinkable. Once seen as unbreakable, the Patriots dynasty has appeared vulnerable of late, with reports of discord between the two pillars of the franchise – Tom Brady and Belichick (the quarterback is also absent from offseason workouts – for charitable reasons – and is reportedly seeking a new contract ahead of next season). Those tensions have extended to Gronkowski, whose retirement ponderings reportedly stem in part from the large physical and mental toll that comes with being the Patriots’ go-to weapon.

Regardless of the reasoning, Gronkowski is foolish to get into a staring contest with Belichick, who has never been afraid to cement his authority by proving his Patriot machine can keep on rolling even if its seemingly most vital cogs are removed.

Just ask Randy Moss, Richard Seymour, Jamie Collins, Chandler Jones, or any of the numerous stars Belichick has sent packing because of unrealistic financial desires, declining play, or an inability to keep to the Patriot way (or all of the above).

If Gronkowski wants to star on the silver screen or spend his days throwing Roman Reigns through tables, that’s his prerogative. If he wants one last big payday before his body finally gives out, that’s more than understandable considering all he’s achieved on the football field.

But playing for Belichick requires a high level of dedication, and Gronkowski is in danger of pushing his boss to his limits.

“You’ve got to make a conscious decision to be all-in before a season with Bill Belichick, because it’s hard,” said former Patriots linebacker Tedy Bruschi said on ESPN. “It’s hard to be a player under coach Belichick with the way he coaches. He will ride you every single day because he wants … to get every single ounce of greatness out of his players.”

Belichick certainly hasn’t wrung Gronkowski dry yet; he’s still the game’s best tight end and maybe most dominant offensive player when healthy. The Patriots are undoubtedly a better team with Gronkowski, but Belichick always adapts, always find a new fuel for his offense’s fire. No one is irreplaceable.

Gronkowski won’t be released or traded due to Saturday’s bizarre press conference, but his aloofness toward his future likely won’t sit well with not only the ever-serious Belichick but also the legions of Patriots fans who want to know whether their star player will return for 2018.

It’s been all fun and games for Gronkowski so far in the NFL, but testing Belichick has, historically, been a surefire way to bring an abrupt end to the good times in New England.

Gronkowski needs to end the sideshow – or risk finally finding out that every exception to the rule has an expiry date.

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