Why Rob Gronkowski must come to decision by early December if he wants to return to Patriots

Patriots future Hall of Fame tight end Rob Gronkowski has left open the possibility of a return at some point, while owner Robert Kraft seemed to court it earlier this week, but the timing could be tough for any return this season.

Per NFL contract rules, Gronkowski, who just began a role as an analyst for Fox last week, would have to apply for reinstatement by Dec. 7 to be eligible to play at all in the 2019 regular season or postseason. Gronkowski is currently on the league's reserve/retired list, and there are specific regulations that apply to his situation, since he was placed on that roster designation prior to the start of training camp.

In that situation, according to a league source, a player on the reserve/retired list who requested reinstatement prior to the trade deadline (Oct. 29 this season) would have to be granted that opportunity (not that New England would even consider not granting it). If a player on the reserve/retired list requested reinstatement after the deadline but up until the last business day prior to the club's 13th game, the team would have the option of accepting or declining the request (again, the Patriots would welcome back Gronk at any point).

A player on the reserve/retired list cannot request reinstatement after the club's 13th game. New England's 13th game comes in Week 14 against the Chiefs on Dec. 8. So the last business day before that game is Friday Dec. 6, and the waiver deadline for roster transactions comes at 4 p.m. ET that day. For all intents and purposes that is the last opportunity for Gronkowski to have a change of heart and opt to play this season.

The Patriots retain Gronkowski's rights. While Kraft made a statement last week during the telecast of his team's Thursday night game that Gronkowski had not yet signed his retirement papers, both league and union sources said that was essentially irrelevant. By declaring his retirement and announcing it in an official manner, the Patriots were granted the right to move the tight end from the active roster to the reserve/retirement list, the sources said, which acts the same as signing the paperwork.

Gronkowski signing any formal retirement papers would not apply to this situation, but could have ramifications as to when and how he collects post-playing benefits. But as it pertains to his ability to return this season, it is a moot point.

Gronkowski has battled injuries throughout his career and his retirement was largely expected by his teammates following a Super Bowl win, given the physical pain and anguish he has been in. He used the offseason to recover and live a "civilian" life, and has also been a proponent of the pain-healing ability of cannabis, even investing in a CBD company.

The Patriots have been riddled by injuries to their offense since Gronkowski's retirement, specifically hitting areas where Gronkowski makes his biggest impact. They have a huge void at tight end, are short at receiver and have suffered major injuries at fullback and also along the offensive line. Gronkowski was Tom Brady's favorite target and also one of the most powerful run blockers in the game.

It would seem unlikely that he would opt to return to football less than two months after launching his burgeoning media career, but the Patriots -- Kraft, Bill Belichick and Brady -- have also proven to be very persuasive over the years. A return for 2020 would seem to be a more likely possibility. Gronkowski, who turns 31 in May, was set to make $9 million this season and has said that he has spent very little through his playing career, saving millions along the way.

CBS Sports Insider

Before joining CBS Sports, Jason La Canfora was the Washington Redskins beat writer for The Washington Post for six years and served as NFL Network's insider. The Baltimore native can be seen every Sunday... Full Bio

Our Latest Stories