All last season, the hopes and dreams in Foxborough centered on Rob Gronkowski coming out of retirement to fix the stalled New England offense and return the Patriots to Super Bowl contenders.
It never happened.
Now Gronk, 14 months after his last game, a Super Bowl victory over the Los Angeles Rams, is unretiring and, pending a physical, joining his old pal Tom Brady down in Tampa Bay.
New England, which held Gronkowski’s rights even into retirement, will send the future Hall of Fame tight end and a 2020 seventh-round draft pick to the Bucs in exchange for a fourth-round selection in Thursday’s draft.
Since Gronkowski was apparently unwilling to return to the NFL unless Brady was his quarterback, then whatever the Pats could get for him is a bonus to their post-TB12 roster retooling. Brady left New England, after 20 seasons and six Super Bowls, for Tampa last month. The fourth-round pick isn’t much, but it essentially fell out of the sky for the Pats.
Meanwhile, Tampa adds a guy who turns 31 next month and when healthy (or even close to healthy) was a game-changing presence. While he hauled in just three touchdown passes as he hobbled through the 2018 regular season, he caught the critical pass that set up the Super Bowl’s only touchdown. Along the way, he provided extra offensive lineman-level run blocking, one of his strengths.
After more than a year out of the game, where he has slimmed down, avoided nearly all contact and spent his time making promotional appearances and hosting Wrestlemania (where he won a sort-of championship belt) Gronk should be good. The NFL Network said he has begun bulking back up recently and no January weather in Foxborough won’t hurt.
“The day that I retired, within 24 hours there [were] already rumors that I was coming out of retirement,” Gronkowski said on “Watch What Happens Live” on Monday. “I’m feeling good right now. I’m happy where I’m at, and you just never know, man. You just never know. You never know. I’m not totally done; I like to stay in shape, but I’ve got to get that feeling back.”
Apparently, the feeling came back.
Tampa Bay was already reportedly shopping tight end O.J. Howard, so that should free up any logjam at the position. The Bucs would still have solid veteran Cameron Brate, who has averaged 42 receptions and six touchdowns a year over the past four seasons. That means Gronk wouldn’t have to carry the full load.
Mostly this will give Brady arguably his all-time favorite target; the two combined for a record 78 touchdowns across nine seasons together. It will also further cement Brady’s ability to establish his preferred culture in the Tampa locker room despite what will be a coronavirus-impacted offseason (and potential season).
When it’s time to work, Gronkowski works.
As for the rest of the time, when it comes to fitting into the general vibe of a city, Gronkowski and Tampa seem like a match made in T-shirt shop-, Mons Venus-, Clearwater Beach-tiki-bar heaven.
Really, how didn’t everyone see this coming?
Part of it was that Gronkowski has teased a return (and various retirements) so often it was hard to know what he was going to do. It was, if nothing else, an effective way to drum up interest in any business deal or product endorsement he was involved with.
Retiring at 29 and still near the top of his game always suggested that a real comeback was possible. He said he’d been worn down physically, but also mentally and emotionally over trying to deal with the pain and preparation that comes with life in the NFL as a big, over-the-middle target.
And he always seemed susceptible to a Brady phone call pleading for him to return.
A year of rest and relaxation, a year of realizing that pro wrestling isn’t quite the same thing, a year of letting the Brady saga play out only to land on a promising team in a warm weather locale proved to be enough.
So here we go, Gronk back to Brady for more Brady to Gronk.
Yo soy fiesta, Tampa. Yo soy fiesta.
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