Alex Bennett and Coach Duggs Make Their Fighting Debuts In Rough N' Rowdy 18 — Friday 8PM ETBUY NOW

The Patriots Top Free Agent Signings are Calling This Year is the Most They've Enjoyed Playing Football

This clip from Episode 8 of "Man in the Arena" is Gronk talking about his first couple of years with the Patriots, when veterans on the team were giving him grief for celebrating touchdowns and whatever. Without naming names. His rookie season was 2010, so I'm going to assume the veteran leaders on that offense would've been older guys like Wes Welker, Deion Branch, Kevin Faulk, Matt Light, Logan Mankins. Guys pushing 30 or older who'd been in the program a long time and had never encountered the likes of him in a Patriots uniform before. 

Obviously that changed over the years. By the time he was leading the league with 17 touchdowns in his second year, he'd firmly established the right to act any damned way he pleases. And the whole team seemed to thrive on it. His shenanigans became part of the franchise's identity.

Yet, by the time 2017 - which is the subject of the episode - came around, he was miserable. Here is just a portion of how he describes that season:

“If I was practicing, I would be practicing three days, full speed. I didn’t need that. I don’t need to be grinding my body into the dirt. … I was so beat down from the season. I was like, ‘I’m good.'"

“It was a tough season. It was a grind season, for sure. Let me tell you, it wasn’t really that fun of a year. It was just a little eerie, the atmosphere with the Patriots.”

“There was a lot of guys, including myself, that just weren’t really having a good time. We would just show up to show up, go out to practice. I mean, we did what we needed to do. We were winning games still. It definitely was taking a toll on me.”

To the point Gronk admits that when he lost a game and a $300,000 game check for drilling Tre'Davious White while he was on the ground, he was happy just to have the week off. 

I bring all this up because the top two tight end signings the Patriots made this past offseason have both been asked this week how they feel about their seasons so far:

And while no one directly asked Kendrick Bourne how he feels about his decision to sign here, I think it's fair to guess he's also part of this happy hive mind:

Let's get one thing straight. None of what I've said so far or intend to go on to say right now is an indictment of Gronk or his unhappiness. 2017 Rob Gronkowski was an extremely grownass man who had earned the right to be in whatever mood he wanted. Happiness was never a requirement of the job. Hard work and professionalism were, and his hit on White aside, he checked those boxes.

Nor am I even saying he's wrong when he kept using the word "eerie" to describe the general atmosphere around that season. Anytime people get together, there's a unique group dynamic that takes over, for good or ill. Everyone's had a lot of jobs, but I think I've had more different careers than anyone I know. And I've worked in places where everyone had good reason to be miserable but had great attitudes, and then other places where the exact opposite was true. Like Belichick himself says every single training camp, every season is different.

Which brings us back to Henry, Judon, Bourne, and others I haven't mentioned. It's been obvious since OTAs that 2021 Patriots are the polar opposite in terms of group personality and team culture to the 2017 squad Gronk found so eerie. Like I said after the first practice, someone who works there pulled me aside to talk about the attitude all the new guys were coming it with. How they were all going out of their way to say they love it here and signing with New England felt like the best decision they'd ever made. And half a calendar year later, they're still saying it. 

All of which would ordinarily mean nothing. Liking your job means nothing if you suck at it. I enjoyed my years working for the state. But I was an unproductive, lazy slob who snuck away every chance he got to write Barstool posts. Think Creed Bratton, having a job where no one's sure what he does, but he always made time to write Creed Thoughts. That 2017 team went to a Super Bowl and damned near won it, despite everything.

But with this franchise, at this particular moment in history, it means a ton. Again I'll remind you, the post-Brady, post-Gronk world was supposed to be a sullen, lifeless dystopia. No one was going to want to play here. It was uncertain who the quarterback was going to be. Belichick was going to have to overpay everyone or accept guys who had no other option, just to fill the factory floor of his Dickensian workhouse. While all the talent in the league took a discount to go play with the champs under sunny Florida skies. 

Instead, the Patriots got their men. Brought back the ones they wanted. Drafted brilliantly. And Belichick succeeded in putting together a winning, playoff season, free from any controversies to speak of. Hunter Henry leads all tight ends in touchdowns. Judon is a having a career year. And the only thing "eerie" about it, is how fast everything has turned around since this time last year. And the changes since that season four years ago look they've been best for everybody. 

P.S. Speaking of having fun, good luck with the Antonio Brown situation, Tampa.