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Uncertainty surrounds Rob Gronkowski's 2016 debut

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The Patriots will already be without Tom Brady Week 1 against the Cardinals on Sunday Night Football.

Will they be without Rob Gronkowski as well?

The league's best tight end expressed his uncertainty on Sunday -- as much as Gronkowski expresses anything -- when asked by reporters if a hamstring injury would sideline him against one of the league's premier defenses.

"I want to be out there so badly to help my team," Gronkowski said, via NFL Network's Courtney Fallon. The tight end was limited Thursday at practice.

As NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport noted, Sunday is certainly not a guarantee. Gronkowski injured his hamstring a little more than two weeks ago during a joint practice with the Bears, causing the Pro Bowler to yank himself from practice. Obviously, the team was overly cautious with their top offensive weapon and kept him from practice. There's a chance they will continue to take the safe route with Brady waiting out his suspension, especially given that Gronkowski is publicly admitting he’s not 100 percent.

The Patriots have to play the long game here. If they plan on returning to the conference championship or Super Bowl, it would be extremely difficult to do so without Gronkowski slicing the middle of defenses wide open. A player averaging 77 catches, 1,150 yards and 12 touchdowns per season over the last two years isn't simply replaced in the lineup, even if the team took the liberty of signing Martellus Bennett in the offseason.

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