The National Football League is the most lucrative professional sports franchise in the United States, and yet it still cannot figure out what its identity is.

A few years ago, the NFL started instituting rules where players could not target opposing players with their helmets. Now, any helmet-to-helmet contact is subject to the review of the league, which in some cases, hands down a hefty fine to offenders.

So, if defensive players are discouraged from hitting the opposing player up high -- naturally, they are going to take out the legs.

Which is what happened to New England Patriots tight-end Rob Gronkowski in Sunday's win over the Cleveland Browns. Cleveland safety T.J. Ward drove his right shoulder into the right knee of Gronkowski as he was trucking upfield after a reception.

Now, how can you fault Ward for the hit he made? With all the rules and possible fines defensive players face, what was he supposed to do? Picture yourself, going head-to-head with a 6-foot-6, 265-pound muscle-head, you, too, would have cut out his legs.

Fans are lighting up social media berating Ward for the hit he made. Head coach Bill Belichick gave Ward a stoic look when he walked by the Patriots sideline. But does Belichick's look ever change? The word on Gronkowski as of Monday morning was that he tore both his MCL and ACL, which renders him on the shelf until the start of next season.

Former Patriots quarterback Scott Zolak stated on his morning radio show, "Gresh and Zo" on 98.5 FM, "I'd rather get my head knocked off than being hit in the knees."

With many former players facing debilitating mental disorders following the conclusion of their careers, the emphasis on protecting the head is paramount. And rightfully so. But knee injuries are just as painful.

The fact of the matter is, football is a contact sport and injuries are going to happen. It's no secret. No one likes to see a player go down in excruciating pain like Gronkowski, but it is just the nature of the business.

Looking at it from a youth and high school perspective, the emphasis lies on coaches to instruct their players to tackle with proper form. In the next five-to-10 years, expect football as we know it to transform into a safer, less barbaric game.

Don't get me wrong, I love a big hit as much as the next guy. The feeling when you stick a running back in the hole, dead on, is like no other. But I also hate to see these young men at 40-years-old ending their careers as hobbled men.

Look at rugby. The equipment in the game is minimal, but the physicality is fierce. Rugby players do it all with no helmets. How is the concussion rate lower in rugby than football? It is simple: Rugby players are taught from an early age not to lead with their heads. If players are taught at an early age how to properly tackle, head injuries might decrease.

Stepping away from the tribulations of defensive players, how about that fourth quarter comeback by the Patriots. Unbelievable.

Tom Brady led the Patriots' offense down the field for two touchdowns in just 1:01. Danny Amendola hauled in the game-winning slant pass from Brady. But if you ask me, neither Amendola nor Brady is the game's hero. It was place-kicker Stephen Gostkowski.

Gostkowski's avalanche-style kick was the first successful onside kick recovered by the Patriots in 19 years. Gostkowski's magical boot helped make the 27-26 win possible.

The Patriots continue to find ways to win, but from this point forward, they're going to have to do it without Gronk. New England, now at 10-3 on the year, has a young, local product in Matthew Mulligan who has quietly emerged as a valuable option for Brady.

Mulligan made a big time reception in the game and showed his athletic ability when he hurdled over a Brown's defender. The Patriots will be okay, fans.

In Belichick and Brady, we trust.