Rob Gronkowski announced his retirement on Tuesday, walking away from the NFL for the second time in his career. One of the greatest tight ends of all time and a surefire Hall of Famer, Gronk previously hung up his cleats after the 2018 season and spent a year out of the league before joining Tom Brady and the Buccaneers in 2020-21.
Still one of the best TEs in the game, Gronk was widely expected to choose between retirement or re-signing with Tampa, as it didn’t appear he was seriously considering other teams. The Bucs will have to recalibrate their offense without Gronkowski, but there’s always the chance he decides to come out of retirement again and chase another Super Bowl ring.
Rob Gronkowski retires, leaving a hole on the Buccaneers’ roster
If this is truly it for Gronkowski, he’ll be leaving the NFL on a high note. While he appeared in only 12 games a season ago, Gronk still ranked seventh among tight ends with 802 yards receiving. Among TEs with at least 50 targets, he finished third with 14.6 yards per reception.
He wasn’t vintage Gronkowski, but he was still a highly-effective offensive weapon. As well as Brady has messed with the Buccaneers’ other pass catchers, none have the long-standing relationship with the GOAT that Gronk does.
Gronkowski, 33, is the second tight end to depart Tampa this offseason. Former first-round pick O.J. Howard signed a one-year deal with the Bills in March, leaving Cameron Brate as the lone experienced TE on the Buccaneers’ roster.
Brate is no spring chicken, either, as he’ll turn 31 in July. His last season as a full-time starter came in 2016 when he posted 57 receptions, 660 yards, and eight touchdowns. He hasn’t topped 50 receptions or 600 yards since, as he was regularly blocked by Gronkowski and Howard.
Tampa used two 2022 draft picks on tight ends, adding Washington’s Cade Otton in the fourth round and Minnesota’s Ko Kieft in the sixth. Given the difficulty of adapting to the tight end position at the NFL level, it’s probably not fair to count on those rookies for any substantial contributions during their rookie seasons. The only other TE on the Bucs’ roster is former UDFA Codey McElroy, who has played all of 19 NFL snaps.
General manager Jason Licht may look to the free agent market, but the list of available TEs is pretty slim. Jared Cook is the best option who remains unsigned. At 35, he’s even older than Gronk, but he still managed to put up a 48-564-4 line with the Chargers last season. Other FA tight ends include Jimmy Graham, Eric Ebron, Jesse James, and Chris Herndon.
If the free agent tight ends don’t appeal to Licht, he could look to trade for a Gronk replacement. Going back to the New England well could prove fruitful, as recent draft picks Devin Asiasi and Dalton Keene could be available after the Patriots added Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith last offseason. Dan Arnold (Jaguars), Foster Moreau (Raiders), and Trevon Wesco (Jets) also make sense as potential trade candidates.
Chris Godwin is likely to begin the 2022 season on the physically unable to perform list, depriving Tampa Bay of its best over-the-middle threat. Brate, receiver Russell Gage, and running backs Leonard Fournette and Rachaad White will pick up some of those opportunities. However, the need is there for another tight end.
Could Gronk un-retire again?
Instead of adding a new TE, the Bucs could simply cross their fingers and hope Gronkowski comes out of retirement. He’s done it before, and maybe Tampa assumes Gronk doesn’t want the grind of a full NFL season. Gronk’s agent, Drew Rosenhaus, even admitted as much to Adam Schefter of ESPN.
“It would not surprise me if Tom Brady calls him during the season to come back and Rob answers the call,” Rosenhaus said. “This is just my opinion but I wouldn’t be surprised if Rob comes back during the season or next season.”
The meat of Tampa Bay’s schedule comes at the outset. They have games against the Cowboys, Packers, and Chiefs in the first four weeks. Unless Gronk pulls an abrupt about-face, he won’t be available for those contests.
But could he come back after the Buccaneers’ bye in Week 11? He’d have seven regular-season games to both help Tampa secure playoff positioning and ramp up his body for the tournament. Gronk could also conceivably wait until the postseason begins before coming back for a chance at a fifth Lombardi trophy.