TAMPA, Fla. — While the Tampa Bay Buccaneers held out hope that tight end Rob Gronkowski would return for the 2022 season, the future Hall of Famer decided to call it a career again on Tuesday, two years after quitting. his retirement to join quarterback Tom Brady.
Gronkowski’s agent, Drew Rosenhaus, told Adam Schefter of ESPN that he could see Gronk join the Bucs later this season if his longtime friend Brady asks. For now, the Bucs will carry on without him, without the “tuddies,” as he called the touchdowns — usually accompanied by a mischievous laugh — and with a void that can’t be filled by one person since Gronk has done it all.
With the departure of former first-round pick OJ Howard in free agency, the Bucs have an experienced tight end in Cameron Brate, who plays the “F” role and is mostly a passer. Behind him is Codey McElroy, also an “F” who had a good spring, but he played one regular season game and is learning to use his 6-foot-6, 258-pound frame as a tackle.
The Bucs selected two tight ends in the 2022 NFL Draft — Cade Otton in the fourth round from the University of Washington and Ko Kieft in the sixth round from the University of Iowa. Otton has the potential to play the role of the “Y” as both a line blocker and pass catcher, but he did not attend rookie or mandatory minicamp because he is recovering from surgery at ankle. Kieft, at 6ft 5in and 265lbs, is purely a blocker – and was an excellent one in college – but will be limited as a road runner, as he ran a 4.98 second dash over 40 yards at his pro day.
The Bucs need some help at the position if they hope to maintain Brady’s propensity to throw for tight ends. Over the past two regular seasons, the Bucs have attempted 306 passes to tight ends — the fourth-most in the league. Their 38 tight end attempts in the end zone over the past two seasons were the most in the NFL.
Eric Ebron, Jimmy Graham, Kyle Rudolph and Jared Cook are among the free agent options Tampa Bay could pursue. The Bucs have $10,596,585 in salary cap space, according to Roster Management System. Ebron is 29, Rudolph 32 and Graham and Cook 35.
Cook played in 16 regular-season games last season, amassing 564 receiving yards, four touchdowns and 31 first downs with the Los Angeles Chargers, but he also had five retirements. Rudolph played 15 games and had 257 yards and a touchdown with the New York Giants. Graham had 167 receiving yards in 11 games and scored three touchdowns for the Chicago Bears.
Ebron caught 12 passes for the Pittsburgh Steelers last season before going on reserve with a right knee problem that required surgery. He was medically cleared. In 2020, he had 56 catches for 558 receiving yards and five touchdowns for the Steelers. Graham had eight touchdown passes in 2020, Cook had seven.
None of those players have the chemistry Gronk had with Brady, who will report to training camp in five weeks for what could be his final season after retiring for 40 days earlier this spring.
As Brady said last year, “A lot of football is about anticipating what the problems will be, rather than trying to figure out how to fix the problem after the game. I think it’s a lot part of solving the problem before things happen. Gronk, he knows what I’m thinking, I know what he’s thinking. We’ve been doing it for so long together. It’s really nice. It’s a big luxury for two-position players like that who have been playing together for as long as we have.”
The Bucs will miss more than Gronk’s contributions on the field. Not only did he provide experience as a four-time Super Bowl winner, his coaching demeanor lifted the mood of those around him as he found a way to work hard but keep things going. lighthearted and fun, with a knack for identifying teammates or coaches. need a push.
Brady said in a social media post shortly after Tuesday’s news broke: “Even more important is the person he was off the pitch. Focused when needed, and FUN the rest of the time. time. Having Gronk in your locker room was every NFL players dream.”
He performed in the community. Among Gronkowski’s most notable efforts was replacing $15,000 worth of football equipment and a storage shed that was destroyed by arson at Blake High School in Tampa in 2020, his freshman year with the team. .
“I don’t think he’s ever had a bad day, to be honest with you,” offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich said last year. “He smiles all the time, he has fun all the time. “Old Gronkitis” – that’s what we call it. Gronkite. He’s having fun, man. He has fun, he likes football, [and] the work he does is real [and] is serious. It’s just amazing the way he sees the world, not just the way he sees football.