New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski, who underwent season-ending back surgery in December, told ESPN's Cari Champion that he "no doubt" will be ready for the start of the 2017 season.
Gronkowski, whose injury was traced to a big hit he absorbed from Seattle Seahawks safety Earl Thomas on Nov. 13, played only eight games during the 2016 season. He also missed time earlier in the season with a hamstring injury and bruised lung.
The tight end's desire to play remains strong even though he has undergone eight surgeries as an NFL player by age 27.
When asked how long he plans to continue playing, Gronkowski said: "I'm not really sure. I still love playing the game, and as of right now, I want to play as long as I can possibly play. My mindset is to keep on going."
His most recent back surgery was Gronkowski's third. He had two previous surgeries to repair herniated disks in his back -- in 2009, when he was at the University of Arizona and missed the entire season, and in 2013, his fourth season with the Patriots, when he underwent surgery in June and didn't return until Week 7.
Gronkowski finished the 2016 season with 25 catches for 540 yards and three touchdowns, and he watched from the sideline as his teammates rallied past the Atlanta Falcons to win Super Bowl LI and hoist the Lombardi trophy.
"It was great to see him hand over that trophy, for sure," Gronkowski said of NFL commissioner Roger Goodell. "I was super happy for Tom [Brady]."
Asked whether Goodell could return to Foxborough any time soon after the Deflategate fallout, Gronkowski wasn't optimistic.
"To tell you the truth? I really don't think so," Gronkowski said. "The fans are nuts. They are wild. They have the Patriots' back no matter what. They have Tom's back, I'm telling you. [Goodell] won't get through the highway if the fans saw him. I don't even think he can land in the airport in Boston, because Patriots fans are the best fans. They're the most loyal fans.
"I'm telling you, they might just carry out Roger themselves. They couldn't even get to the stadium in Foxborough, if he landed in Boston."