Rob Gronkowski retirement: Fantasy impact for Tom Brady, Cameron Brate, and other Buccaneers

Following the news of Rob Gronkowski's retirement, what is the fantasy impact on the likes of Tom Brady, Cameron Brate, and the receivers?

The news that Rob Gronkowski is retiring from the NFL will only come as half a surprise to fantasy football managers. Gronkowski previously stepped away before the 2019 season before returning to join Tom Brady in Tampa Bay. With Gronkowski now heading back into his retirement, what does that mean for the fantasy football options on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers? Is Cameron Brate now a must-roster option, and do Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, or Russell Gage get a boost?

Impact of Rob Gronkowski’s retirement for fantasy football

It is fair to point out that technically Gronkowski’s retirement changes absolutely nothing for the Buccaneers. Gronkowski was a free agent, and so he has nothing to step away from in terms of a roster spot. However, the expectation was that the legendary tight end would sign closer to the season and play alongside his good friend in Tampa Bay.

Now, that could still happen. As we have said Gronkowski retired before only to return. The difference here is that nothing is likely to change from what we know today. Unless this is a leverage play, the NFL will be without the Gronk once again in 2022. Let’s examine what this means for the Buccaneers’ fantasy options.

Tom Brady may not miss his friend as much as he previously might have

Since Tom Brady has been in Tampa Bay, he has seen a marginal decline when his friend was not in the lineup. With Gronkowski on the field, Brady averages just over 300 yards and 2.6 touchdowns per game. That yardage drops to 280 while the touchdowns remain largely static. With that, his fantasy production drops less than two points.

Historically, the impact was bigger. Going back to Gronkowski’s rookie season, the fall-off in fantasy points is around 3.5 points per game with touchdowns dropping by around 0.5. However, in New England, Gronkowski was the weapon, while in Tampa Bay he is one of a number of weapons. Not having Gronkowski on the field may be a slight downgrade for Brady, but in this Tampa Bay offense and with the struggles the tight end has had recently, it is not catastrophic by any means.

Cameron Brate has a chance to be the guy

The opportunity for Brate has never been better. In the last few years, he has had to compete with either Gronkowski or O.J. Howard, or both. Now they are both gone and he has his chance to shine. Brate is a hard guy to trust. He has been outside the top 15 at the position in each of the last four years.

However, roll the clock back to 2016 and 2017, and Brate was a top 10 tight end in both seasons as the primary weapon. Across the two years, he averaged 79 targets, 52.5 receptions, 625.5 yards, and seven touchdowns. He did that with Jameis Winston as his primary QB, so if he can have similar usage with Brady under center, just maybe we could be looking at a top-five tight end finish.

Competition-wise, things are hard to judge. The Buccaneers spent two selections in the 2022 NFL Draft on tight ends in Cade Otton and Ko Kieft. While both are undoubtedly talented, both were also Day 3 picks, so there is no guarantee they see much playing time this year. In deeper dynasty leagues, both are worth a potential stash with a deep bench.

The real prize here could be Brate. His ADP will undoubtedly rise after this news (TE31 according to Fantasy Pros). We will need to see where that settles to determine if Brate offers value. However, there is a legitimate top 10 upside and perhaps even top five if Brady and Brate can work well together in 2022.

What does Gronkowski retiring mean for the receivers?

Alongside Brate’s fantasy value, some of the receivers could also see a slight boost from Gronkowski’s retirement. Mike Evans is averaging 0.5 more touchdowns, one more target, and just under 10 more yards per game with Gronk out. That all equates to just under four more fantasy points per game in PPR formats.

Ironically, Godwin actually suffered for not having Gronkowski on the field in the past two years. The big tight commanded attention across the middle of the field and opened pockets for Godwin to work in. Without him, the shifty slot receiver may find more bracket coverage in the middle of the field, unless Brate breaks out and commands that coverage.

Russell Gage could be another beneficiary. His role in the offense was uncertain if Gronkowski and Brate were both taking snaps. Now, it looks like we could see plenty of one tight end looks with three receivers for Tampa Bay. Antonio Brown flourished with Gronkowski off the field last year, seeing close to four more targets per game in a limited sample size.

If Gage can command all of Brown’s 62 targets and some of Gronkowski’s 89, there is value to be had here. Currently being taken as WR49 and 126th off the board on average on Sleeper, if that ADP does not rise following this news there is an opportunity. Brown averaged over 20 fantasy points per game in the three games he played without Gronk. While that would be lofty expectations for Gage, he could still see a usage bump from this news.

Ben Rolfe is a Senior Managing Editor at Pro Football Network and is also a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association (FSWA). You can find him on Twitter @BenRolfePFN

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