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Rob Gronkowski seems unlikely to play in New England Patriots season opener

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(USA Today Sports Images)

Fantasy owners, beware: Gronk might not be in the Patriots’ lineup for the season opener.

ESPN’s Adam Schefter, citing sources inside the Patriots’ organization, reports that it would be “a huge stretch” for injured tight end Rob Gronkowski to return by the start of the season, when they head to Buffalo to face the Bills on Sept. 8. That reinforces what the Boston Globe said earlier this month, when it said the "most likely" scenario is Gronkowski starting the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list.

Gronkowski is returning from surgeries to his back and forearm this offseason, and the Patriots will have a decision to make if he isn't ready for the opener. Placing Gronkowski on the PUP list would keep him out a minimum of six games, but would save them a roster spot. Or they can keep Gronk on the 53-man roster and hope he can return prior to Week 7.

The Patriots open at Buffalo, and then follow up in Week 2 with the Jets. Division games, sure, but the Patriots’ brass might decide it’s too risky to force Gronkowski back too soon. The next four games on the schedule — Buccaneers (home), Falcons (road), Bengals (road) and Saints (home) — look pretty brutal.

In his place, the Patriots likely would lean on a top duo of veteran Jake Ballard, out all last season with a serious knee injury, and undrafted rookie Zach Sudfeld, who also battled injuries in college. They’ve been atop the pecking order in the preseason, but the team also has journeymen Daniel Fells and Michael Hoomanawanui jostling for roster spots.

Gronk’s injuries and the murder charges to Aaron Hernandez this offseason have taken the teeth out of one of the best tight end duos in recent NFL history.

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