Rob Gronkowski May Undergo Back Surgery, Will Not Jepordize Week 1

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Who said the NFL has an off-season? After talking all week about Rob Gronkowski needing a fourth surgery for his embattled forearm, news leaked today that he will potentially undergo surgery on his low back for a disc issue. According to Mike Garafolo of USA Today, Gronkowski will see spine specialist Robert Watkins following the scheduled procedure on his forearm to determine if surgery will be necessary for his ailing back.

Gronkowski reportedly had an MRI on his lumbar spine recently to keep tabs on a back issue he had dealt with last season. If you recall, Gronk missed his entire final season in college at Arizona due to surgery to “shave” down a herniated disc. A source close to Gronkowski said this recent disc pathology is different than the one from 2009 and that a decision on whether surgery is indicated or not hasn’t been made.

Back in 2009, when the Patriots stole Gronkowski in the 2nd round, his stock had dropped tremendously because of said back injury. Scouts and teams were scared off by reports that stated Gronkowski had “spinal stenosis”, which is a narrowing of the spinal canal that impinges on either the spinal cord itself (central stenosis) or the nerve roots that exit to supply innervation to the legs (lateral stenosis). Those reports were denies by Gronk’s agent, but did just enough to allow him to fall to the second round.

This back surgery should NOT change the timeline for Gronkowski’s return to the field, as the idea is that he will have more than enough time to rehab both the forearm and the back together and still be ready for the start of the season. It’s a bit concerning due to the fact that two rehabs at once isn’t an ideal proposition, taking maximum focus away from both of them. Also, with Gronk’s history of back issues, this is just another ding on his already spotty injury history.

All reports that have surfaced have been very vague in terms of Gronkowski’s exact pathology, the surgery they are anticipating will be done (possibly microdiscectomy to get rid of the disc bulge, but that’s speculation), and his symptoms in general (any radicular symptoms down the legs or muscle weakness/sensation deficits), so it’s impossible to say how much time he’ll miss or whether this is a problem he could be dealing with for the rest of his career. My initial thought is that he shouldn’t be limited the short term and that most of his issues will come later in his career and post-retirement, as this should significantly speed up the degenerative aging process. But in terms of his 2013 value, this doesn’t do much to change my opinion as I still think he’ll be a dominant fantasy force this season.

What does this do for his draft stock? Last season, he was consistently going in the early to mid second round in most standard and PPR leagues, fighting with Jimmy Graham to be the first tight end off the board. With a tumultuous past seven months, I have a hard time believing he will be a 2nd round pick this year. With Aaron Hernandez (who’s dealing with his own shoulder issue) scheduled to hold down the fort until Gronk is ready, I have a hard time justifying using your second pick on a guy that we don’t know enough about yet. I can realistically see him dropping to the mid 3rd round with this news, where his value will be directly tied to how many (if any) games he’s projected to miss and the probability of any in-season setbacks. I don’t anticipate a high likelihood of recurrence during the season if his rehab is taken care of and not rushed, but the possibility is always there.

Much more information still to come, so don’t make any rash decisions now. But when your draft rolls around this year, you may be tempted to take Gronk sometime in the early 3rd round, and to be quite honest at this juncture, I still would. One guy to consider in the later rounds as a semi-handcuff if you draft Gronk is Jake Ballard. He was fantastic for the Giants during their Super Bowl run two seasons ago and appears to be healthy after missing all of last season with a torn ACL. All signs point to him being healthy and he could possibly contribute if Gronk isn’t ready in the Patriots’ two-tight end heavy attack.