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How should Patriots handle Rob Gronkowski's playing time in 2017?

Every Saturday in the offseason, one question from Twitter will be selected and expounded upon based on a hot topic surrounding the New England Patriots:

James, this is similar to a discussion I had with another reporter during one of the Patriots' minicamp practices this week. We were watching tight end Rob Gronkowski on the field, noting how important he is to the offense, when the reporter said, “Why don’t they just save him for the playoffs?”

While the concept is understandable, and most would agree with the idea of managing him carefully so he can stay healthy the entire season, it isn’t realistic for any player to sit all season and then be able to be at his best in the postseason.

While not talking about this situation specifically, coach Bill Belichick has regularly detailed his philosophy that football players must play football during the season. Players need the practice reps to stay sharp and the game reps to be in top condition.

Another layer to consider with this situation is that the club tweaked Gronkowski’s contract to give him the chance to earn more money in 2017 based on either playing time or performance. So by potentially taking the extreme approach of not playing him until the playoffs, the Patriots would also restrict Gronkowski from earning more money.

James, I know you said that you mentioned this thought in joking fashion, but still, the idea of not overexerting Gronkowski has merit. In the end, the answer probably comes down to striking a balance.