New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski reportedly plans to "take his time" returning from knee surgery.  The Pro Bowler isn't willing to risk reinjuring himself and could sit out even longer than he did last season, Mike Freeman of Bleacher Report writes.  There also could be another factor to making a slow return: Money.

Gronkowski tore both his ACL and MCL in his knee on December 8 against the Cleveland Browns.  It was just his seventh game back after missing the first six games of the season while recovering from back surgery. 

His six-game absence last season drew criticism from some anonymous teammates, and he may draw criticism again for his reported plan to make an even slower return.

"It was reported this week that New England tight end Rob Gronkowski is moving along just fine in his recovery from a torn ACL and MCL.  That's all well and good, but a source close to him told me that the star player will 'take his time and then take more time,'" Freeman wrote on Wednesday.  "... I'm told he might even take more time, and be more patient, than ever before."

Being cautious with his return makes sense for the longevity of his career, and nobody can fault him for it.  But another factor in Gronkowski taking his time returning could be money.

Returning too soon and suffering another major injury that carries over into the offseason could cost Gronkowski, whose contract becomes unguaranteed at that point.

"The key is 2015.  Gronkowski's $4.75 million base salary is fully guaranteed, but only if he's on the team on the fifth day of the 2015 league year (sometime in mid-March)," Ben Volin of the Boston Globe wrote on Oct. 14.  "If he's not an effective player anymore, the Patriots can cut him and save $5.35 million in cap space for the 2015 season."

Gronkowski, 24, has already had six surgeries -- one on his knee, one on his back and four on his left forearm -- in less than two years.