Rob Gronkowski: How Concerned Should Fantasy Owners Be?

Buy, sell or sit tight? Gronkowski's injury leaves owners with more questions than answers.

Reports that Rob Gronkowski may need a fourth (and possibly fifth) surgery before his left forearm fully heals haven't significantly affected his fantasy ranking. He's still the consensus No. 2 overall tight end -- redraft and dynasty -- at Footballguys and carries a 2.3 average ranking among 34 experts currently tracked at FantasyPros.
 
But there's a palpable nervousness about Gronkowski in the fantasy community as owners wait for the next shoe to drop.
 
The Boston Herald first reported an infection in Gronkowski's twice-broken arm in mid-March. Initially, Gronkowski seemed optimistic that the infection was a minor issue and wouldn't significantly delay his rehab. That optimism quickly waned, however, with reports that multiple courses of antibiotics haven't been successful and that Gronkowski is likely to need additional surgeries.
 
If it seems like Gronkowski's doctors are delaying the surgery as long as they possibly can, they are. They're in a very tough spot. An infection near surgical hardware is very difficult to clear -- the bacteria adhere tightly to the plate and antibiotics can't get from the blood vessels in the surrounding tissues to the metal. Removing the plate would clear the infection more quickly, but the broken bone would heal much more slowly without the plate stabilizing it. To make matters worse, if the bone itself becomes infected, it won't heal well whether the plate is there or not.
 
It's that last scenario that Gronkowski's medical team currently fears. If they find that the surrounding tissue is infected during his next procedure, they won't be able to re-plate his injured bone right away. It's a near certainty that the new plate would become infected. So they're continuing to give antibiotics in the hopes that they can limit the infection to the current plate, remove it, then re-plate his bone and immediately start a rehab process. If Gronkowski's infection isn't limited to the plate, he'll need another four to six weeks of antibiotics to clear the bone/tissue infection before a new plate can be placed.
 
The latest reports suggest that Gronkowski's surgeons will make a final call in the next two weeks. It's absolutely no coincidence that we've reached this particular drop dead date.
 
Barring any other complications, the current worst case scenario implies a 14-18 week (4-6 weeks of antibiotics, followed by 10-12 weeks of rehab after the plate is replaced) period before Gronkowski could be cleared to play. Sixteen weeks from May 24th is -- no surprise here -- Week 1 of the NFL regular season.
 
What's an astute fantasy owner to do?
 
I think it's too early to panic. It's possible Gronkowski's bone and soft tissue could take longer than four to six weeks to heal from the infection after the plate is removed or that he'll have the bad luck of another infection after the new plate is placed. But there's a very good chance that he will be ready for Week 1 and enter the regular season nearly at full strength.
 
If you own Gronkowski in a dynasty league, don't sell him for 80 cents on the dollar. If you're not a Gronkowski owner, it's reasonably safe to try to acquire him from a skittish owner right now, especially if you can get him at a discount. Redraft owners will get the benefit of another couple of months of observation before being forced to decide where to slot him on draft boards.
 
I'll have more on the fantasy implications of Gronkowski's injury here at Footballguys throughout the summer.
 
Questions, comments, and suggestions are always welcome by email at bramel@footballguys.com. Follow and ask questions on Twitter @JeneBramel. You can read more of my thoughts on player injuries on my blog, bramelsecondopinion.com.

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Gameday Injury Expectations: Week 6 - October 12
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Inside the Injury Report: Week 6 - October 8