It is the middle of the last week in May, but today's injury news reads a lot like a Monday after a full slate of regular season games.
First, Houston head coach Gary Kubiak told reporters that Arian Foster suffered a "pretty good" calf strain during OTAs this week and isn't expected to return until training camp. Shortly after, multiple sources reported that Rob Gronkowski would undergo back surgery in mid-June and may not be ready for the start of the regular season.
The immediate reaction on Twitter -- and probably throughout the football blogosphere by the time you read this -- was a mix of ho-hum dismissal and outright panic that both players will never be the same. As always, the truth will lie somewhere in the middle.
Foster calf strain likely to limit him in camp
Kubiak tried to remain optimistic, but the fact that Foster will need the eight weeks between late May and the start of training camp in July to recover suggest a mid-grade injury (or worse). The eight weeks should be enough for Foster to make a full recovery, but there are still reasons for concern. The weeks leading up to camp are an important conditioning period for NFL players and the risk of re-injury or a compensatory injury will be high in Foster's first weeks back. It's very likely we'll see the Texans bring Foster along extremely slowly in camp. Don't be alarmed if Foster isn't cleared to practice on consecutive days in early August and doesn't see preseason game action until the third or fourth week.
What that will mean for Foster's 2013 production is tough to predict. Foster missed time with a hamstring injury in 2011 and put up nearly 1850 total yards on over 325 touches through 13 games. Still, it's hard to overlook the 1100+ touches over the past three years and the variety of soft tissue injuries Foster has had in his career. The third week of training camp will be critical here. If Foster is able to practice fully and participate without restriction by the third preseason game, the Texans will be comfortable relying on him early in the season.
Gronkowski's back surgery not surprising, still concerning
Given how local beat writers framed their reports earlier this month, it is no surprise that Gronkowski will have back surgery next month. The delay, as I speculated in an earlier article and Mike Reiss confirms today, is to ensure that there are no lingering signs of the infection that complicated Gronkowski's recovery from his broken arm.
Those early reports suggested that Gronkowski's surgery would be minor and include only the removal of a small part of a disc in his lower back. Were that the case, it seemed reasonable that Gronkowski could rehab from back surgery within the same time he rehabbed from his latest arm surgery. But the reports over the past week may not be as rosy.
The Boston Herald's Karen Guregian reported last week that there was concern that Gronkowski could be out until late September if he needed the back surgery. Will Carroll tweeted today that a source told him the surgery was "not minor." And the Boston Globe's Ben Volin spoke with a back surgeon who speculated that Gronkowski could be out a "minimum of 12 weeks" after surgery.
Those reports do not mesh with the earlier reports of a microdiscectomy, a procedure that may only require a 4-6 week rehab if things progress well. It's hard not to wonder whether his surgeons could be considering a more extensive procedure given Gronkowski's history of back issues. The details of his surgery in June will help define expectations.
Gronkowski will enter camp on the PUP list. We're now just over 14 weeks from the start of the regular season. Gronkowski has a number of hurdles to clear to be deemed ready for contact by September 8. I think the Patriots will err on the side of keeping Gronkowski on the 53-man roster in September rather than take the mandatory six weeks he would be forced to miss if he started the season on the PUP list.
It's too early to speculate on either player with any degree of accuracy. Settle in for a long offseason. Both stories will play themselves out in the coming weeks. Read Sigmund Bloom's thoughts on how to approach the fantasy situations for both Foster and Gronkowski here. For now, I'd drop both players to the bottom of their respective tiers and I'd be less inclined to target Gronkowski (in both redraft and dynasty situations) than Foster until his surgical outcomes are clearer.
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