The Five Biggest Takeaways From Gronk’s Shock Return

Wed 22nd April 2020

In one of the less surprising comebacks we’ve seen in recent years Rob Gronkowski announced today that he would be returning from retirement and teaming up with old friend Tom Brady in Tampa Bay.

Here are our five biggest takeaways from a move which may end up having a massive impact on the 2020 NFL season.

1. Why is anyone surprised?

While Brady’s decision to leave New England – for the Buccaneers no less – after six Super Bowls was shocking in the extreme, Gronk returning to football at the tender age of 31 is anything but.

The renowned party-boy spent most of his 18 months out of the game hinting incessantly about a potential return, and was being asked about it on TV as recently as Monday night. Yes, Gronk spent some time in the WWE, sold some pretty whacky products and attempted to make a name for himself on the small screen, but the rumblings about his desire to play football again at some point in the near future never dissipated.

It’s also always been a fait accompli that should Gronk’s career continue, it would be in the same location as the quarterback who turned him in to one of the greatest tight ends the game as ever seen. Gronk infamously turned down an offer to join the Lions two years ago – essentially retiring instead – and as soon as Brady officially joined the Buccaneers they immediately became Gronk’s likeliest destination.

2. Weirdly, there are no losers out of this arrangement…

Gronk is technically still under contract with the Patriots, which means the Buccaneers were forced to part with a fourth round pick in order to pry him away from New England (along with a seventh round pick in return).

On paper, whilst it’s not quite nothing, it’s next to it for one of the greatest tight ends of all time, particularly when you’re pairing that tight end with the greatest quarterback of all time, who helped to make Gronk in to one of the greatest tight ends of all time. Brady had his issues last season and Gronk has been plagued by injury throughout his career, but when you’re getting one of the greatest passing/receiving tandems in the history of football effectively in exchange for a fourth round pick, you take it every day and twice on Sundays.

On the other end of the deal, the Patriots will be far from unhappy as well. Technically they traded Gronk, but in reality he was never returning to play in New England. Which means, in effect, they’ve been given a fourth round pick for absolutely nothing. This trade was the definition of found money, particularly with Bill Belichick’s uncanny knack for finding late-round talent.

Winners all round, right? Wrong.

3. Except for Bill Belichick

Gronk could’ve chosen any time and any place in the last 18 months to make his grand return, and he specifically chose right now. Why is that a big deal? Because the Patriots easily could’ve pushed for a Super Bowl last season if Brady had some decent receiving targets around him, but Gronk chose to sit at home.

Gronk choosing to play with Brady, after Brady chose to move to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers would suggest a) he’s close with Brady; and b) both of them have some problem with the Patriots organization. The greatest quarterback of all time and one of the greatest tight ends of all time both chose not to play under Belichick anymore.

Either – or both – could’ve decided to play their football in New England until retirement. Both decided their careers would finish elsewhere. Are you connecting the dots? You should be. This is a slap in the face for the Patriots, but particularly for Belichick.

Something smells fishy in the state of Massachusetts. 

4. The Bucs just threw everything on the table…

The Tampa Tom experiment is a strange one on a number of levels – not the least of all being that the Bucs had a semi-competent quarterback last season in Jameis Winston – but it seems they’re going all-in, and fair credit to them.

The Tampa Bay franchise hasn’t made the playoffs in 13 years (longest drought in the NFC, second-longest in the NFL) and there’s a very good chance they stop that streak this season. There’s no way Gronk puts up his fifth 1,000-yard season – in fact it’d be a success for all involved if he does better than his 2018 campaign (47 catches, 682 yards) – but his chemistry with Brady will be invaluable for a talented, yet at-times-frustrating Tampa receiving corps.

If Gronk can impart even half of his Brady wisdom on to Mike Evans or Chris Godwin, look out. This is going to be one of the more fun passing offenses we’ve seen in recent years. 

5. But there’s still work to be done

The Gronk / Brady tandem – for obvious reasons – papers over a lot of cracks, but this Bucs roster is far from complete. There are glaring holes at running back and right tackle, and while Gronk is probably the best blocking tight end of all time he can’t do it all, and shouldn’t be expected to.

Tampa Bay’s odds of success in 2020 have improved significantly (as expected) since the Brady/Gronk arrivals, but 14-1 to win the Super Bowl and 7-1 to win the NFC feels way too favorable to a team that went 7-9 in a weak NFC South in 2019, despite owning a quarterback who led the league in yards (5,109) and threw for 33 touchdowns. 

Yes, Brady won’t even go close to making half of the number of mistakes Winston did (30 INTs and 5 lost fumbles), but the tradeoff is that Godwin and Evans no longer have one fo the more powerful arms in the NFL throwing their way. Say what you want about Winston’s decision-making, but he can throw a deep ball with the best of them.

It would be folly for Tampa Bay to sit on their hands from here and act like they’ve completed their roster. The needs are obvious, and must be addressed in the upcoming draft otherwise their one chance for a championship may slip through Bruce Arians’ fingertips.

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