The Buccaneers lost another key member of the offense this week when Rob Gronkowski announced his retirement from the NFL. Is this really the end for the legendary tight end, and what does it mean for Tampa Bay?
Gronkowski had been going back and forth on playing vs. retiring this offseason and even went so far as to tell the folks in a barbershop in South Tampa that he was leaning toward coming back for another season.
With a statement on Instagram, Gronkowski wrote “I will now be going back into my retirement home, walking away from football again with my head held high, knowing I gave it everything I had, good or bad, every time I stepped out on the field.”
Gronkowski retires at 33 as one of the best tight ends to play the game, and with a few good years of football left in him. He is sure to be a first-ballot Hall of Famer.
Gronkowski suffered through an injury-plagued season in 2021, missing four games, but still managed 55 catches for 802 yards and six touchdowns.
In his two years in Tampa, Gronkowski caught 100 passes for 1,425 yards and 13 touchdowns.
What the Bucs will miss the most about Gronkowski is his ability to deliver devasting blocks. It is rare to find a tight end that is a great pass catcher and is just as good as a blocker. That’s what made Gronkowski so special.
The Dynamic Duo
Gronkowski and Brady formed a lethal combination throughout their career, beginning in 2010 when Gronkowski joined the Patriots.
The Brady-Gronk duo will also be in the record books as the best QB-TE combination in NFL history. The Brady-Gronkowski duo accounted for 620 catches for 9,275 yards and 93 touchdowns in 141 games.
As the news of Gronkowski’s retirement began making its way around NFL circles, Gronk’s agent Drew Rosenhaus seemed to throw a bit of cold water on Gronkowski’s retirement announcement.
“It would not surprise me if Tom Brady calls him during the season to come back and Rob answers the call,” Rosenhaus said to ESPN’s Adam Schefter. “This is just my opinion, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Rob comes back during the season or next season.”
Remembering A Legend
Jason Licht talked about the championship culture that Gronkowski helped create in his two years in Tampa:
“Rob is a true professional who left it all on the field for us the past two seasons and helped establish a championship culture in our building. He played a crucial part in our Super Bowl LV championship season in 2020 and battled through several injuries last year while on the way to one of the most productive receiving yardage seasons in his 11-year career. I feel gratitude and respect for one of the greatest tight ends who ever played the game. While his on-field accomplishments will surely earn him a gold jacket and a place in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, it is his humble attitude and team-first approach to the game that truly defined his career.”
Tom Brady talked about Gronkowski’s accomplishments in his statement about Gronkowski’s retirement. Calling Gronk a teammate, brother, and friend, Brady wrote on social media:
“Nobody has ever embodied the idea of ‘leaving it all out on the field’ like Rob has throughout his entire career. Every single snap, I knew that no matter how many people you put in front of him, he was going to get to his spot.”
“Focused when he had to be and fun the rest of the time. Having Gronk in your locker room was every NFL player’s dream. I’m proud of all that we’ve accomplished together and even more excited for all you have ahead of you. Congrats Gronk, you deserve it.”
With the retirement of Gronkowski, the Buc’s tight end room will look much different next season.
Cameron Brate will assume the starting role. He has been a reliable target for Tom Brady and caught 30 passes for 245 yards and four touchdowns in 2021.
The Bucs also have veteran Codey McElroy on the roster, but he has only one catch in his NFL career.
The Bucs were preparing for this news as they drafted two tight ends in the 2022 NFL draft. Cade Otten out of Washington was selected in the fourth round, and Ko Kieft from Minnesota was taken in the sixth round.
I would not be surprised if the Bucs sign a veteran tight end or two with the news of Gronkowski’s retirement. Kyle Rudolph, Jared Cook, Eric Ebron, and Jimmy Graham are the top veteran free agents that are still available.
With the release of punter Bradley Pinion, the Bucs’ roster stands at 89, leaving room to add a veteran tight end before training camp opens on July 27th.