The NFL got a lot less fun last week when Buccaneers tight end Rob Gronkowski retired for a second time. Granted, it’s fair to question just how final a decision that was, considering Gronkowski’s own agent basically called B.S. on the retirement announcement.
“In my opinion, he isn’t done,” Drew Rosenhaus told Pro Football Talk. ”I would not be surprised to see him come back down the road.”
Rosenhaus went a step farther in his comments to ESPN: “It would not surprise me if Tom Brady calls him during the season to come back and Rob answers the call. This is just my opinion, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Rob comes back during the season or next season.”
So money is certainly at play here. Gronkowski was underpaid last year at just $8 million in base salary. So unless the Buccaneers pony up – and there are no signs at this time that they will – he’s more than willing to bow out, either temporarily or for good.
In this week’s PFN Roundtable discussion, we take a look at Gronkowski’s impact on the Buccaneers, their skill players, their opponents, and potentially even the 2023 NFL Draft.
How Rob Gronkowski’s retirement will impact Tom Brady and the Buccaneers’ offense
Brady-to-Gronk has been the greatest quarterback-to-tight end connection in NFL history.
Their 90 regular-season touchdowns together are No. 2 all-time (behind only the Peyton Manning-Marvin Harrison tandem) and one more than Philip Rivers threw to Antonio Gates during their 15 seasons together.
What’s even more impressive: Gronk and Brady got to No. 1 on the QB-TE TD list in just 11 seasons together. Even at age 32, Gronkowski was still the Buccaneers’ third-most targeted player in 2021 – despite missing five games due to injury.
There simply is no one that Brady trusts more, particularly in the red zone. Tampa Bay’s remaining tight ends – Ben Beise, Cameron Brate, J.J. Howland, Ko Kieft, Codey McElroy, and Cade Otton – have 33 career touchdowns combined. And Brate has all 33.
The Buccaneers haven’t selected a tight end in the first two days since 2017. That neglect is finally catching up to them – and Brady might be the one who will suffer the most. — Adam H. Beasley, PFN NFL Director
How Gronkowski’s decision will impact fantasy football.
Gronkowski’s retirement has ramifications across Tampa Bay’s receiving group. There is now an open spot for the TE1 position with a handful of opportunities. Brate’s knowledge and experience in the offense and with Brady should give him the inside track. However, Otton is a talented player who the Buccaneers got at a discount due to his injury situation. With Otton unable to practice during the early part of the offseason, he will need to make huge strides in training camp and the preseason to take the role from Brate in Week 1.
Therefore, the expectation is that Brate will open the season as the TE1 for the Buccaneers but could lose the role to Otton during the season as the rookie continues to grow within the offense. When Brate was the Buccaneers’ TE1 back in 2016 and 2017, he was a top-10 option at the position.
If he and Brady can form a solid connection, he certainly has the potential to be a regular starting option. Yet, Otton’s presence could prove to be a stumbling block in terms of Brate’s value across the entire season. Brate does have value at a current ADP of 227 in non-PPR Sleeper formats (241 in PPR). However, drafting him too high is risky, considering he could lose his role later in the year.
Elsewhere, the news has an impact on both the WRs. Mike Evans was a better fantasy producer when Gronkowski was absent. He averaged 4 more fantasy points per game when Gronk was out. Unfortunately, Chris Godwin saw the opposite effect, seeing a slight decline in fantasy production without Gronkowski. It is a small sample size but worth considering, especially with Godwin’s current injury uncertainty.
The big winner among the receivers could be Russell Gage. Gage is set to potentially take on the role of Antonio Brown. When Gronkowski was absent last year, Brown saw four more targets and averaged more than 20 fantasy points per. Gage is not on the same level as Brown, but this opens an opportunity for him to see a bump in target share and, therefore, a potential fantasy production improvement. — Ben Rolfe, Director of Fantasy and Betting
How losing Gronkowski impacts Buccaneers’ betting odds
The news of Gronkowski’s retirement had little impact on the Buccaneers’ betting odds. They remain with a projected win total of 11.5, and while their Super Bowl odds (+750) moved out a touch with some books, they remain second favorites overall and the NFC leaders. There are two reasons for the lack of change. Firstly, non-QB roster moves rarely force major line changes. Secondly, Gronkowski was not on the Buccaneers’ roster for the 2022 season prior to his retirement, so the odds were always slightly hedged that he would make this decision.
In terms of the Buccaneers’ chances to win games, the conference, and the Super Bowl, this certainly hurts a bit. They remain clear favorites to win the division, and given the uncertainty in the rest of the NFC South, it would be hard to go against them at -330 with Caesers. The market currently has the Bucs as a favorite in 16 of their 17 games, so taking the over on their win total might be the smart move. Tampa Bay remains +340 to win the NFC, but the loss of Gronkowski hurts their depth in terms of passing-catching options.
The addition of Gage and the presence of Brate dampen the blow. Brate is not as efficient on a per-catch basis as Gronkowski was during his career. Brate averages 10.6 yards per reception compared to Gronkowski’s 14.3 during his time in Tampa Bay. Betting on the Bucs to win the conference or the Super Bowl is a relatively low upside proposition right now. We saw last year how crazy playoff games can be, and in a one-off contest, anything can happen.
Betting the over on 11.5 wins is the lean right now after they won 13 games last year. However, the move the safer bet is to go heavily on them to win the division. The Falcons, Saints, and Panthers are all in transition stages. The chances of them winning 10 or more games is relatively remote, and 10 wins should be the floor for the Buccaneers, assuming Brady continues to remain healthy as he hits his age-45 season. — Ben Rolfe, Director of Fantasy and Betting
How Buccaneers’ NFL Draft plans could change
Regardless of whether or not Gronkowski returns from his second retirement, the Buccaneers should have an eye on the tight end position in the coming drafts. It’s not a dire need at the moment with what they have, but despite the presence of both veteran and rookie talent, it may take more to fill the void left by Gronkowski’s departure.
Stabilizing the Buccaneers’ TE room at this time is Brate, who, at his best, has been a steady producer for Tampa Bay. Brate gives the team a dependable threat in the immediate timeline, but he is entering his age-31 season and is a free agent in 2024. He is inching closer to the twilight of his career, but luckily, the Buccaneers have young talent to develop behind him.
In the 2022 NFL Draft, the Buccaneers selected Washington Huskies product Otton in Round 4. Otton was never an elite producer at the collegiate level but was hampered by bad quarterback play at Washington in 2021. He has the desired size at 6’5”, 250 pounds, and is a well-rounded player. He’s a good athlete with enough burst and quickness to separate, has natural catching chops, and is an urgent, high-effort blocker. The kicker with Otton is that he isn’t elite in any area, but a complete skill set can get you far at TE in the NFL.
With Brate and Otton, the Buccaneers have a very serviceable 1-2 punch for the next two seasons. With what they have, they likely won’t be concerned with vying for a first-round TE prospect like Notre Dame’s Michael Mayer in the 2023 NFL Draft cycle. But the Buccaneers, still in possession of seven picks next April, could have eyes on a high-upside TE in the middle rounds to add to the rotation. That way, they have more young talent to bring up through the ranks as Brate plays out his contract.
As of now, the 2023 NFL Draft TE class is far from settled. But there are a few quality names that come to mind. Iowa’s Sam LaPorta would be a great Day 2 addition. Like Otton, he’s well-rounded and a willing blocker, but he may have superior functional athleticism in space. Erick All from Michigan is a dense, tough athlete with legitimate speed in the open field. And Stanford’s Benjamin Yurosek is a high-level receiving threat with excellent body control and coordination. Beyond those, prospects like Cameron Latu, Jahleel Billingsley, Josh Whyle, and Brant Kuithe may factor into the equation. — Ian Cummings, PFN NFL Draft Analyst