Analysis: Rob Gronkowski's timetable

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- On today's ESPN "Insiders" show, Adam Schefter said it's not realistic to expect Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski to play in the regular-season opener -- Sept. 8 on the road against the Bills.

That answers one important question.

But another question lingers.

Do the Patriots place Gronkowski on the reserve/physically unable to perform list -- meaning he'd miss at least the first six weeks of the regular season but not count against the roster -- or do they keep him on the 53-man roster in the hopes he can return at some point within the first six weeks of the season?

That decision doesn't have to come until Aug. 31, which is when all NFL teams must trim rosters to 53 players. So we're just less than two weeks away from having more clarity with Gronkowski's standing on the roster.

Two things to keep in mind:

1. After opening the season against the Bills (road), Jets (home) and Buccaneers (home), the Patriots face a tough stretch in Weeks 4-6 against the Falcons (road), Bengals (road) and Saints (home). If the Patriots thought there was a realistic chance Gronkowski could be ready by the Falcons game, it makes sense to think they'd keep him on the 53-man roster.

2. In practices and preseason games, the top tight end pairing has been Jake Ballard (Gronkowski's spot) and rookie Zach Sudfeld (Aaron Hernandez's old spot). Ballard is a strong blocker, but even he acknowledged that he can't match Gronkowski in the passing game. Those two look like they have a strong grip on roster spots, with veterans Daniel Fells and Michael Hoomanawanui possibly battling for a third spot. If Gronkowski is kept on the 53-man roster, it's possible both Fells and Hoomanawanui might be affected, as there might not be room for four tight ends. Economics could also be a factor, as Fells is scheduled to earn a base salary of $1.25 million and Hoomanawanui $1.3 million. The Patriots might find those salaries rich for a No. 3-4 tight end.