Tight end Rob Gronkowski's continued absence from the New England Patriots' lineup has escalated tension among teammates who have begun questioning him about why he's not playing and left some wondering if he intends to play at all this season, according to multiple sources.
"There's curiosity and resentment, and he's creating it by going out and kicking ass during the week and then he doesn't show up on game day and help the team win," one source said.
Gronkowski missed his sixth game Sunday because of multiple offseason surgeries on his fractured left forearm. He has not been cleared by third-party physician Dr. James Andrews, whose involvement suggests trust issues exist between the team and player over his medical condition and readiness to play.
Patriots team president Jonathan Kraft was asked about Andrews providing medical advice to Gronkowski on Sunday in an interview with 98.5 The Sports Hub.
"He should be totally comfortable getting medical advice outside of the club's medical advice. I don't even know there is a dispute. To my knowledge, if there is one, I'm not aware of it," he said.
Kraft was then asked if there is a fractured relationship with Gronkowski and the team.
"Not from the level with anybody named Kraft," he responded. "I'm not aware of it with anybody anywhere else. ... Rob is going to know when he wants to play and Rob loves the game of football. When Rob wants to play, when Rob can play, he'll play. No one here questions Rob's desire about the game, about his passion for the game, and wanting to play the game of football."
Gronkowski first had surgery last season, returned with a metal plate in his arm and fractured the same forearm in the playoffs, then required two more surgeries while enduring an infection that complicated the healing process.
He might be concerned that another similar injury could threaten his NFL career.
Teammates, coaches and other members of the organization have watched Gronkowski practice fully for weeks -- this week he was described as dominant while playing the role as New Orleans Saints tight end Jimmy Graham while taking 50 reps a day on the scout team -- and yet he has not been available on a game day.
Teammates and coaches have seen him run patterns, catch passes, use his arm to pass protect, run block and to separate from defenders at the line of scrimmage, and they doubt a doctor would allow so much contact if there remained serious concern about the health of his forearm.
They are having difficulty reconciling seeing Gronkowski perform like that and then not take the field with them for the games.
"If he's not playing in games, he damn sure should not be doing what he is in practice," said the same source who mentioned resentment.
Teammates have begun to express their frustration directly to Gronkowski. Sources say the Patriots locker room has become increasingly uncomfortable for the tight end.
Following Sunday's 30-27 victory against the Saints, offensive lineman Logan Mankins appeared on Comcast SportsNet New England and was asked about Gronkowski.
"You know, that was a huge win," Mankins said, according to CSNNE.com. "We uh -- I'd rather talk about the guys that frickin' put it on the line tonight and played their butts off and how about K.T. [Kenbrell Thompkins] making a huge catch, [Tom] Brady throwing a perfect ball, the defense stepping it up, [Stephen] Gostkowski making big field goals; let's talk about those guys."
Pressed further on if the topic was a distraction, Mankins added: "Not to us. We come in, game plan, work hard at practice. The guys that are there, they're there; the guys that aren't, they're not."
Patriots owner Robert Kraft said Sunday in a radio interview that Gronkowski is the only person who can decide when he's ready to play.
"Look, he's a young man that has had a number of different operations and I just want to make clear, cause I know the media has a job to do," said Kraft, speaking during an interview with Mike Lupica on ESPN New York radio. "Our first concern is his health and safety and doing what's in his best interest long-term. And he's the only one who can decide when he's ready to play and we're completely behind whatever his decision is."
But there are other people in the organization who question whether Gronkowski intends to ever play this season.
"Whatever is holding him back now isn't going to be healed in two weeks, because there's nothing wrong with the arm," said the source who was among those questioning the tight end's playing status.
The Patriots opted to keep Gronkowski on their 53-man roster rather than place him on the physically-unable-to-perform list so he could play before Week 7.
Now that won't happen, meaning coach Bill Belichick failed to get full value out of Gronkowski's roster spot, although the player has been eligible to practice -- and his performance while doing so has questions swirling in the Patriots' locker room.
"Obviously all of us would like him to come as soon as possible," Kraft said. "But we're not going to let our short-term desire impede what's right for the long-term."
ESPNBoston.com's Mike Reiss and Field Yates contributed to this report.