The New England Patriots, of late, haven’t been the impenetrable fortress of silence we’ve come to know since Bill Belichick turned the franchise into the NFL’s premier powerhouse.

The latest example of this are the rumors surrounding Rob Gronkowski‘s future with the team. A recent report said Belichick pushed to trade him but was ultimately overruled by owner Robert Kraft after a Tom Brady intervention.

Gronkowski called the speculation “fake news;” however, while such a scenario sounds unthinkable for such a famously well-run organization, the Jimmy Garoppolo trade – the apparent spark that divided the Patriots – proves New England isn’t immune to power struggles and player discontent.

So, let’s explore the reasons why Gronkowski’s name is even being thrown around in trade talks, and if there are any realistic offers that could end his time in New England:

Why would the Pats consider trading Gronk?

Antonio Gates and Tony Gonzalez are widely regarded as the best two tight ends of their generation. In their combined 33 NFL seasons, they had six 1,000-yard seasons, seven campaigns with 10-plus touchdowns, and averaged over 13 yards per catch 13 times. Gronkowski alone has four 1,000-yard seasons, five years with 10 or more scores, and has never averaged less than 13 yards per catch in a single season (in fact, his career average is a mind-boggling 15.1).

Travis Kelce was the only other tight end to break the 1,000-yard mark in 2017, and did so on 14 more catches. Gronkowski didn’t just dominate other tight ends, either; he made all pass-catchers look ineffective in comparison due to his otherworldly first-down catch percentage of 82.6 percent (fourth-best among players with 10-plus catches).

Gronkowski, simply, is a man among boys. From a purely on-field perspective, there’s clearly no logical reason for the Patriots to part ways with their most important non-Brady player. Things in the NFL, however, are never so simple.

First and foremost, are the injury concerns. Gronkowski has only suited up for a full 16-game regular season twice in his career, and they were his first two years in the league. His long list of injuries – which includes everything from lung bruises to back fractures – is a painful read, and as his 30th birthday approaches, it’s fair to question how much longer his body can hold together.

The Patriots, of course, are almost entirely devoid of sentiment when it comes to players who are nearing the end of their primes, just ask Richard Seymour or Mike Vrabel. They follow the mantra that it’s better to get rid of a player a year too early than a year too late, and Gronkowski is close to, or perhaps even at, that crossroads.

Related: Gronkowski should know there’s no beating Belichick in a game of chicken

Worsening matters further is Gronkowski’s seemingly deteriorating relationship with Belichick. The head coach reportedly questioned whether Gronkowski was “all-in” amid frictions stemming from his flirtation with retirement and the tight end’s concerns about continuing to carry such a heavy workload. Gronkowski committed to returning for the 2018 season following a meeting with Belichick, but that didn’t stick for long, as he followed Brady’s lead and stayed away from the team’s voluntary sessions. He’s made it clear he wants a new deal, with only two years and a total of $17 million in base salary remaining on his current contract.

Lastly, is the apparent Brady-Belichick divide. Belichick reportedly chastised Gronkowski in front of teammates last season for training at TB12 with Brady’s personal trainer, Alex Guerrero, who had his access to Patriots players restricted by Belichick. Aside from his contract issues, Gronkowski’s absence from OTAs is seemingly rooted in his desire to train on his own terms, which likely doesn’t sit well with Belichick and the Patriot way. Gronkowski is also reportedly part of a group, which also includes Brady, still upset at Belichick benching Malcolm Butler in the Super Bowl and the subsequent lack of explanation.

Maybe Belichick could be motivated to regain full control of his locker room?

What would a Gronk trade look like?

When a player of Gronkowski’s caliber is mentioned in trade talks, it’s assumed any realistic move would need to involve a first-round pick. However, while he is one of the true game-changers in the NFL, the factors explored above – especially the injury history and need for a huge new contract – makes it unlikely any team would give up such a premium asset.

Deals involving first-rounders for non-quarterbacks do happen – Brandin Cooks was moved for one in each of the last two offseasons, in fact – but while the Patriots could demand such a deal for Gronkowski and hope a win-now team goes all-in, it’s much more likely they’d have to settle for a lower pick.

A second-round pick for Gronkowski might be too rich for some, but a bidding war likely ensures New England would be able to get it, and perhaps further lower-round picks. For comparison, the far more durable Gonzalez, at age 33, was traded to the Atlanta Falcons in 2013 for a second-rounder, so there’s precedent for a move of roughly this value.

The San Francisco 49ers and Tennessee Titans were apparently the two teams who had offers on the table for Gronkowski and both have connections to the Patriots – New England has already traded Garoppolo to John Lynch and the 49ers and Titans general manager Jon Robinson used to work for the Patriots and was part of the staff that drafted the tight end in 2010. Here are two possible trade scenarios for each team:

Patriots receive 49ers receive
Conditional 2019 3rd-round pick Gronkowski
Patriots receive 49ers receive
2019 4th-round pick Gronkowski
DL Arik Armstead
Patriots receive Titans receive
2019 2nd-round pick Gronkowski
2019 6th-round pick
Patriots receive Titans receive
TE Delanie Walker Gronkowski
2019 3rd-round pick 2019 7th-round pick

By virtue of playing in the NFC, the 49ers would likely be able to get more favorable deals than the Titans. None of these trades would make the Patriots better right now, however, and that’s the major sticking point for any Gronkowski-based trade: His value to New England won’t be matched in any possible returns.

However, if Belichick intends to stay on past Brady’s eventual retirement, he could be tempted by offers that could help retool the Patriots for another run of dominance. In all likelihood, though, Gronkowski will be on the Patriots’ sideline come Week 1. But, with trades all the rage in the NFL at the moment, it’s going to be an uncomfortably long wait until the season-opener for Patriots Nation.

(Photos courtesy: Getty Images)

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