When it comes to NFL superstars, they don’t come much bigger or bolder than Rob Gronkowski. The future Hall of Famer retired from the New England Patriots after winning his third Super Bowl ring just two years ago. But with Tom Brady finally free of Bill Belichick, that opened the door for the dynamic tight end to come out of retirement. And on Tuesday, he did just that.
Of course, Gronkowski had no intention of catching passes from Jarrett Stidham. And he certainly didn’t sign up for another year of Belichick’s ruthlessly tough program. However, in what seemed like a matter of minutes, the Patriots agreed to trade their legendary tight end to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. But fear not, Patriot Nation. While it’ll be a strange sight to see the Brady-Gronk duo in Bucs colors, trading Rob Gronkowski was exactly the right move for a Patriots team desperate for draft capital and a new direction.
Rob Gronkowski was a Patriots legend
Ask any Patriots fan who their favorite player was from the last decade and Rob Gronkowski would be near or at the top of that list. The 2010 second-round pick entered the league with questions about his balky back. And while he endured a laundry list of injuries, the 6-foot-6 manchild dominated on the field to a degree never seen before.
As a rookie, Gronkowski caught 42 passes for 546 yards and 10 touchdowns. By his second season, he made his first of four first-team All-Pro selections thanks to a league-leading 17 receiving touchdowns. Though the Patriots fell to Eli Manning and the Giants in the Super Bowl, it was clear that Gronk had become the league’s preeminent matchup nightmare.
Overcoming multiple forearm surgeries, a torn ACL, recurring back issues and concussions, Gronkowski still became arguably the greatest tight end in NFL history. He posted four 1,000-yard campaigns and caught 79 touchdowns in just 115 regular-season games. Of course, he saved his best for last in Super Bowl LIII by setting up the game’s only touchdown in signature Gronk style.
Abrupt retirement exposed a flawed Patriots roster
Following that Super Bowl victory, Gronkowski kept Patriots fans on edge waiting to hear if he was coming back for another season. Unfortunately, he broke many hearts in Patriot Nation by announcing his retirement about a month before the 2019 NFL draft. From a football perspective, it decimated New England’s tight end position and exposed a flawed roster that lacked legitimate receiving options.
Without his favorite weapon (sorry, Julian Edelman), Tom Brady struggled mightily in 2019. Despite fielding the league’s best defense, the Patriots bowed out of the first round of the playoffs due in large part to their offensive ineptitude. Some of that can be blamed on Bill Belichick, who failed to adequately address the tight end spot after Gronk’s somewhat surprising retirement. New England essentially punted on the position and wasted time and money on the unreliable Antonio Brown. The lack of proven weapons resulted in an expensive trade for Mohamed Sanu that didn’t pan out.
Ultimately, Brady’s pitiful supporting cast resulted in an inefficient, ineffective offense. Trading Gronk for a fourth-round pick should give Belichick another asset to try and rebuild an offense that’s best receiver will be 34 years old this season.
Rob Gronkowski trade gives Belichick more draft capital
New England fans who subscribe to the “In Bill We Trust” mantra understand the value of building a team. And looking at the team’s current cap space and draft capital, there are serious issues. According to Over The Cap, only the Chiefs and Rams have less cap space than the Patriots’ $1,229,895 figure. That doesn’t even give them enough money to sign their upcoming 2020 draft class.
While trading Rob Gronkowski didn’t give the Patriots any more cap space, not trading him would have resulted in some serious financial issues once he unretired. The team would have had to release him, which would have been a major asset waste. Otherwise, there would have been no way for New England to afford to keep him considering he carries a huge cap hit.
On the other hand, by reuniting Gronk with Brady, the Patriots picked up a fourth-round pick in this week’s draft. New England could utilize that asset to draft his replacement, or even use that pick in a package to move up to draft a quarterback. Don’t forget the Patriots also lost key defensive starters in Kyle Van Noy, Jamie Collins and Danny Shelton. Adding another draft pick to the war chest can help address those personnel losses.
The fourth-round return may seem cheap, but the Patriots have struck gold in the past. Belichick has unearthed hidden gems like Trey Flowers, Shaq Mason, James White and Asante Samuel utilizing fourth-round picks.
A new direction in New England
Trading Rob Gronkowski may seem sacrilegious to some Patriots fans, but it was absolutely the right move for a team clearly heading in a new direction without Tom Brady behind center. New England needs to infuse its aging roster with young talent, and moving Gronk represented the end of the last remnant of the Brady era.
Yes, it will hurt to watch him running wild in Tampa. At the same time, it brings about exciting possibilities of a new future with Stidham at the helm. The Patriots will now build around an offense featuring first-round picks Sony Michel, N’Keal Harry and Isaiah Wynn. They’ll be armed with the No. 23 overall pick and can add another premier playmaker on either side of the ball. And with the extra fourth-round pick from the Gronk trade, perhaps Bill Belichick will pull off the ultimate coup and trade up for Tua Tagovaoila or another blue-chip prospect.
At the end of the day, the Patriots never planned on Rob Gronkowski playing for them again. The trade may sting from an emotional aspect, but it’s absolutely the right move that they needed to catapult themselves into the next phase of life after Tom Brady.