With reports the Patriots are looking to trade All-Pro tight end Rob Gronkowski, it’s become clear the team needs to move on from one of the most beloved players in the sport.
Gronk came. Gronk conquered. Now it’s time for Gronk to get out of town.
After some “will he, won’t he?” retirement talk with the best tight end in the league over the last decade, the Patriots headed into the offseason with an uncertain future about their star tight end. Did he still want to play? Would he rather be an actor or a pro wrestler rather than subject his body to the beating it takes in the NFL?
(Honestly, it’s hard to blame him for wanting to be able to walk when he’s 50).
Gronkowski didn’t plan to report to the Patriots offseason program, one of those optionally mandatory NFL things that pervade pro sports.
So, at 28 years old, after a host of injury-plagued seasons, multiple back and elbow surgeries, how much does Gronk have left in the tank and how much can the Patriots continue to rely on him in this offense?
Tom Brady has made it clear he can win without Gronk. The Pats nearly beat the Eagles despite losing Gronkowski early in the game. They won the Super Bowl last year without him thanks to a tour de force performance from Brady.
It’s not so much the Patriots don’t need to drama—though clearly, they could probably use some time off from being the most compelling soap opera in the sport—but more a matter of opportunity cost.
How much longer can they build a team around a player who can’t stay on the field consistently and isn’t even sure he wants to be playing?
In eight seasons, Gronkowski has started 16 games just once, back in 2011. He’s started 14 or more just three times, and hasn’t gone over six games in two of the last five seasons. When he’s healthy, he’s still the best tight end in football, one of the five best players in the league full stop. But the Patriots can win without him.
With just one year after the 2018 season on his deal, the reported absence in the offseason program apparently has to do with money. Gronk has just one year on his deal after this season, both of which come under market. If he wants to be paid like the top tight end in football, he should be, but that probably isn’t happening in New England.
So why not trade him while he still has value, with years left on his contract before an extension has to get done? If he wants to keep playing there will surely be teams who will be willing to pay him to keep being the unstoppable weapon he is.
The Patriots already boast a cache of picks thanks to trades and could be positioning themselves to move up for a Tom Brady replacement. Getting additional value for Gronk could help them add help now to make another run with Brady while a successor is groomed.
With a loaded group of tight ends in the draft, the Patriots could even find Gronk’s replacement—though we shouldn’t expect anyone to be Gronk— at a much lower cost and with potentially more certainty in terms of staying on the field.
It may be hard for Patriots fans to admit, but for as lovable and entertaining as the Gronk Show has been, it’s time for New England to change the channel.