Rob Gronkowski is probably the toughest projection in the 2022 free agency period. The question isn’t whether teams would want to sign Gronk to a new contract. Plenty would. The question is whether the four-time first-team All-Pro even wants to keep playing, or whether he will follow his friend Tom Brady into retirement.
Rob Gronkowski: Free Agency Overview
Gronk has already proven that if a situation isn’t right, he’s fine hanging it up. He took off the 2019 season rather than continue playing for Bill Belichick. Gronkowski came out of retirement to join Brady in Tampa Bay the last two seasons. But unless Brady comes back again (San Francisco, anyone?), it’s tough to guess where he would fit in 2022.
Still, Gronkowski has plenty of game left, which is why he’s ranked 34th on PFN’s list of best available free agents, including fourth among tight ends.
Recapping Gronkowski’s 2021 season
Even at 32 years old, Gronk still ranked seventh among all tight ends in receiving yards (802) and touchdown catches (6) last fall. And he did that in just 12 games, the result of a gnarly rib injury that punctured his lung. In games in which Gronkowski played, he was on the field for 76% of the Buccaneers’ offensive snaps. If this is a player in decline, that decline is slight.
Gronkowski’s contract estimate and salary cap implications
Gronkowski, even if he returns, will be a year-to-year player. So expect any contract he signs to be similar to the one-year, $8 million deal he agreed to prior to the 2021 season. Spotrac agrees, estimating his market value to be $8.3 million, which would rank eighth among NFL tight ends. The Buccaneers, as of February 23, have $6.9 million in available cap space.
Possible landing spots for Gronkowski
Gronk seems to have enjoyed his time in Tampa, so the Buccaneers should be on the list of any teams in the mix. However, much of his decision depends on their quarterback situation.
If he decides to play elsewhere in 2022, the fit will have to be perfect. He’s not going to join a bad team. And he’s not going to play for a coach like Belichick. The Cardinals make a lot of sense for the former Arizona Wildcat. The Chargers, Titans, and Chiefs do too.
What they’re saying
“If they’re like, ‘Rob, you’ve got to decide right now, right this second if you’re playing next year,’ I would say no right now. It’s two days after the season,” Gronk said. “I would be like, ‘No, I’m not playing.’ … You’ve got to give it some time. You’ve got to rest. I would say to see how everything goes, how everything plays out.” — Rob Gronkowski to TMZ, January 2022.
“I certainly hope [he plays]. I mean, I’ve watched him basically practice and play since he started in the NFL. He can certainly do it. It’s a big commitment for all of us. It’s a big commitment to keep playing. And I know when he’s willing to make that commitment, he’s unstoppable out there as a player. … Gronk is someone that I love. He’s an inspirational person for me, an inspirational friend, teammate. And I think football’s a lot better when he’s in it.” — Tom Brady on his Sirius XM podcast.