Heresy to say, I know it. Following the stunning, agonizing defeat in Super Bowl LII, New England Patriots star tight end Rob Gronkowski put the fear of God in many fans and, worse, handed a match to sports media talking heads all too keen to ignite a wildfire of retirement rumors that would plague the team’s off-season headlines.
“I’m definitely going to look at my future, for sure.”
The New England Patriots Will Live Without Rob Gronkowski
Since that moment, Gronkowski’s potential retirement has been a key point of discussion for many reporters. The flames weren’t exactly quelled by later reports claiming there was not only a rift between Tom Brady and Bill Belichick, but between Gronkowski and Belichick as well. Many reports claimed Gronkowski wasn’t thrilled with his treatment before and throughout the entirety of last season. His concerns were serious enough to make the future Hall-of-Famer contemplate retirement, according to some sources.
Gronkowski has had record-breaking performances in many seasons while simultaneously enduring injuries that would put an end to any mere mortal. After a record-breaking injury-riddled career like his, who could blame him for retiring?
Many see Gronkowski’s potential departure as the beginning of the end for the Patriots. After all, he has made some amazing contributions to the team both on and off the field. However, losing Gronk would not be the end of the world. After all, they’ve played – and won – plenty of games without him.
Like it or not, the Patriots will be fine without Gronkowski
While Brady’s individual statistics see slight drops without Gronkowski on the field, the team’s record without Gronkowski is 20-6. Their most recent Gronk-less loss came from the Miami Dolphins, while he served a one-game suspension for his hit on Buffalo Bills cornerback Tre’Davious White.
Historically, Gronk’s availability has allowed New England’s receiving unit to thrive. Last year, through Week 15, the Patriots offense recorded 277 catches when Gronkowski was on the field versus 72 when he was not. It’s simple enough: Teams waste men trying to cover Gronkowski, which means other players are able to get open and eat up yardage.
That being said, the Patriots have been blessed with talented tight ends throughout the Belichick-Brady era, such as Ben Watson and Aaron Hernandez. Gronkowski may be on a wholly separate plane of playing ability, but it isn’t as though the team really hurts without him. New England is home to two of the best minds in football. Both Brady and Belichick are masters of making adjustments. Losing Gronk would just be another adjustment.
That doesn’t mean they need to (or should) trade him. Gronkowski is arguably Brady’s favorite receiving threat, and for good reason. Trading away Brady’s favorite guy – especially after losing players like Dion Lewis, Danny Amendola, and now Brandin Cooks – just isn’t a great idea.
Not for the reasons you think, though. Yes, trading Gronk would likely sour Brady’s relationship with Belichick. Yes, the fanbase would be heartbroken. However, there just isn’t much value in a player who is not only openly contemplating retirement, but whose history is fraught with devastating injury. Trading him to another team wouldn’t get the Patriots anything more than a mid-round pick.
So, keep him?
Ideally, yes. While the team has historically fared well without Gronkowski, that doesn’t mean the Patriots should take his thoughts on retirement as threats. After losing a Super Bowl, any player would want to sit down and examine why they’re playing the game and why they’re putting their body through hell. Make no mistake, Gronkowski has plenty of gas left in the tank.
Like I said, having Gronk on the field allows other players to get open. While the Patriots offense has lost Amendola and Cooks in the off-season, it’s important to remember that Julian Edelman and Malcolm Mitchell should both be returning next year – two additions that will return life to a drained receiving corps. If those players getting open doesn’t scare a defense, there’s always the nightmare of having to cover Gronkowski in the first place.
And if he retires?
Luckily all recent signs seem to be pointing towards Gronk returning to the team next season. Trade rumors aside, I think there are only two options here: He returns or he retires. If he retires?
Wish him well, but know that the Patriots are prepared to move on without him. The team is especially poised to draft a tight end this year. Some mock drafts and analysts see the team going for Mark Andrews, the tight end out of Oklahoma, or Hayden Hurst, out of South Carolina.
Both players are viable options. Andrews and Hurst are about the same size, just a couple inches shorter than Gronkowski. Andrews isn’t a super talented blocker but can handle difficult routes. His athleticism would be also an issue for defensive tacklers. Hurst, at 25, is an older player, but is more aggressive than Andrews and has excellent hands – dropping just one pass in 100 catches. On top of those skills, he has experience blocking as well. All in all, dropping a low second or early third round pick on either of these players would be good.
By no means could they fill a Gronkowski-sized hole right off the bat, but they would arguably be better options than Dwayne Allen.
It doesn’t matter if Gronkowski retires today, tomorrow, or five years from now – but let’s not kid ourselves, okay? The two-time Super Bowl champion will retire someday, and it’s high-time the Patriots start preparing themselves for his exit.
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