New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick recently declared that star tight end Rob Gronkowski had been medically cleared following January surgery to repair a torn ACL. It was music to the ears of Patriots fans (and probably quarterback Tom Brady, too), and a nightmarish reality for defensive coordinators on the Patriots' 2014 schedule.
Belichick didn't state that Gronk would play in Week 1, but all signs point in that direction. And while the burly tight end has been limited by injuries in recent seasons, at least right now it appears he will be virtually 100 percent healthy by the season's outset.
Of all the developments for the Patriots this offseason -- including signing cornerback Darrelle Revis, extending nose tackle Vince Wilfork's deal and the return of several other key starters from injury -- the Gronk news is the most critical. When healthy, there's no skill player (we're excluding quarterbacks) who creates a bigger mismatch on his own than Gronkowski.
He makes such a difference that if he is on the field for all 16 games this season, the Patriots will challenge the Broncos for the best offense in the NFL. Here's why.