The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have their third high-profile retirement of the 2022 offseason, as legendary tight end Rob Gronkowski announced Tuesday that he’s hanging up his cleats for the second time, after two seasons with the team.
While Tom Brady returned from his “retirement” after just 41 days (while Ali Marpet did not), and it’s still technically possible that Gronk could pull the same about-face at some point before the seasons starts, the Bucs are currently looking at replacing an important part of their dynamic offense.
While Gronkowski might not be the same player he was in his prime, he’s still been a unicorn of a mismatch for the Bucs over the last two seasons, creating constant problems for opposing defenses with his rare skill set. He’s a red-zone nightmare in coverage, and obviously has a unique connection with Brady that the passing game will sorely miss. He was also an elite blocker who basically gave the Bucs another offensive lineman when he wasn’t running routes.
(Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
Replacing that impact will be much easier said than done, even though the Bucs did just spend two picks in the 2022 NFL draft on tight ends.
Cade Otton, a fourth-round pick out of Washington has the kind of well-rounded skill set that makes him the potential long-term replacement for what Gronkowski brought to the offense. That said, he’s a rookie who is still recovering from ankle surgery.
Ko Kieft, a sixth-round pick out of Minnesota, is a blocking specialist who could help alleviate the loss of Gronkowski in the trenches, should he make the final 53-man active roster.
(Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images)
The Bucs do have a reliable veteran still on the roster in Cameron Brate, so Brady will at least have one player at the position with whom he already has some familiarity and chemistry. Brate doesn’t have Gronkowski’s size, athleticism or blocking prowess, but he’s still a trustworthy target Brady knows he can rely on. That will certainly count for something, especially early in the season, while the rookies are still adjusting to the offense and the speed of the NFL game.
It’s possible the Bucs could also look for help from the outside, seeking a veteran addition that might come cheap at this point in the free agency cycle. We’ve outlined some potential fits here, including a wild-card trade target that might be of interest.
Outside of the tight end spot, Gronkowski’s departure could force Brady to rely on his other established playmakers to pick up the slack.
Mike Evans is likely to see an increase in targets, particularly in clutch situations like third downs and in the red zone, while Chris Godwin should once again see the lion’s share of the overall targets after he’s returned to full strength from last year’s season-ending knee injury. Newcomer Russell Gage is sure to have a significant role, while the rest of the depth chart will be filled with returning players with whom Brady already has some kind of rapport from the last two seasons.
Gronk is a one-of-a-kind player who can never truly be replaced, and while Tampa Bay’s offense still has plenty of firepower, it won’t be the same without him. His presence will be missed on the sideline and in the locker room, just as it will on the field.