Retirement never comes easy to professional athletes. Just ask the soon-to-be 43-year-old Tom Brady, who’s just reunited with one of his most dangerous weapons in his new home in Tampa Bay, the recently un-retired Rob Gronkowski.
Since his retirement the season before last, Gronkowski has openly flirted with the idea of making a comeback to the NFL. He was pressed on the matter over the past 12 months by a litany of interviewers on talk radio or by sportscasters looking for a scoop – always shooting back with a variant of ‘Hey, who knows?’
Well, now we know. Gronkowski, arguably the finest tight end to ever play in the NFL, is back and his request for a trade from the New England Patriots (who still held his contractual rights) to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers was granted late on Tuesday, pending the results of a medical.
On paper, this appears to be a significant coup for a Tampa Bay franchise intent on emerging from an extended slump – but can Tampa’s fans expect the same tandem which combined for all those Super Bowl wins in New England? Not quite.
It’s worth emphasizing the following: Gronkowski retired largely because his body could no longer handle the rigors placed on it by a decade spent in the National Football League playing in one of the most physically taxing positions on the roster. His final season in New England was marked by a transition from the dual-threat blocking and receiving tight end he once was, to primarily just a blocking one.
Gone was that extra yard of pace he could call upon to beat a linebacker to a football on the open field. Absent was the playmaking ability which saw him plunder an astonishing 92 touchdowns in nine seasons. Instead, and for the most part of his final season, he was just a regular tight end. And that’s fine… if your name isn’t Rob Gronkowski.
After 9 years of Gronk spikes, championships, and a trophy dent, it’s an incredible honor to be recognized as a @NFL Top 100 Player. I worked hard, tried to get even better, and most importantly had fun while doing it. Shout-out to my teammates and coaches, we are all champions together ??
Sure, he will be reunited in his new home with the man who threw him the ball for the majority of those 92 touchdowns – but what can we expect from the Brady-Gronk tandem nowadays? The jury remains out on that one until new NFL season begins, whenever that may be, but if history has taught us anything, these retirement tours don’t often end as hoped.
For Tampa fans, the signing of Tom Brady – the most successful quarterback in history – represented a coup, even if some of the more pessimistic observers see the move as mortgaging long-term success in favor of something more short term. But despite the motivations for the move for Gronkowski (which almost certainly came via discussions between the two players), the optics can be cynically viewed: here is a team ‘purchasing’ players who have historically been great, even if they’re past their sell-by dates.
And what of O.J. Howard, the 25-year-old former first-round pick tipped for greatness and currently occupying Tampa’s #1 tight end roster spot? Reports on Wednesday are linking him with a trade move to New England, in what would be one of the most Bill Belichick things to ever happen.
The move for Brady is understandable. Even if he is past his best (which he certainly is), you are still getting, at worst, a league average starting quarterback on your roster. The trade for a retired Gronkowski appears less considered and more opportunistic; an offering to their new QB to demonstrate their benevolence.
But we suspect that if the Buccaneers are looking for the type of play which dominated football for a decade (or two decades in Brady’s case), that is best viewed on Patriots highlight reels on YouTube.