Rob Gronkowski

NFC South Notes: Bucs, Forbath, Saints

Currently in the Buccaneers‘ concussion protocol, Chris Godwin may miss their Week 2 game against the Panthers. But the 2019 breakout wide receiver still looms as a candidate to sign a lucrative extension. The fourth-year wideout is willing to be patient ahead of his next contract, with Jeremy Fowler of ESPN.com noting (Insider link) the former third-round pick is willing to negotiate with the Bucs through the franchise tag or ahead of free agency. In April, Jason Licht said the team wants Godwin around for the long haul.

The Bucs already authorized a $16.5MM-per-year deal for Mike Evans — one of just two players ever to start a career with six straight 1,000-yard seasons (along with Randy Moss) — and the receiver market has ballooned since. A Godwin deal could come in north of $20MM annually, which would put Evans in a bit of a strange spot. With Godwin and Evans a big part of Tom Brady‘s two-year Tampa Bay commitment, the younger of the two Pro Bowl Bucs wideouts stands in good position as his contract season begins.

Here is the latest from Tampa and other NFC South cities:

  • Lavonte David began negotiating with the Bucs on another extension nearly three weeks ago. The sides have not made much progress, but Fowler notes David wants to retire as a Buccaneer. The 2012 second-round pick signed a five-year, $50.25MM deal in 2015. David joins Godwin as a contract-year Buccaneer, so the team will need to address one of these deals before free agency — in order to keep the franchise tag free for the other. David, 30, led all linebackers with 724 solo tackles during the 2010s and can conceivably push for a deal in the Bobby Wagner neighborhood ($18MM AAV).
  • Godwin and Evans represent a key reason why Leonard Fournette opted for a Tampa stay. The former Jaguars running back said the weapons the Bucs possess played a role in him agreeing to head to south Florida, James Palmer of NFL.com tweets. As the centerpiece of the Jaguars’ offense for a while, Fournette faced stacked boxes on 39% of his carries from 2017-19, Palmer notes. Fournette received six touches in his Bucs debut but figures to become a bigger part of the offense in the games to come.
  • In addition to trading for Rob Gronkowski, the Bucs made another move to accommodate their new quarterback. They have given Brady’s trainer, Alex Guerrero, an office at their facility, Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports notes. The Patriots did this at one point too but removed the TB12 co-architect’s office later. Guerrero is working with Brady, Gronk and several other Bucs, per La Canfora, who adds that some believe the Pats souring on Guerrero helped lead Brady out of New England.
  • The Panthers worked out Kai Forbath on Thursday. Second-year kicker Joey Slye, whom the team went with over former Pro Bowler Graham Gano, made all three of his field goal tries in Week 1 but missed a PAT. Slye missed four extra points last season. Carolina does not have a kicker on its practice squad.
  • Panthers rookie UDFA Sam Franklin has moved from linebacker to safety, according to defensive coordinator Phil Snow (via The Athletic’s Joe Person, on Twitter). Franklin’s primary role still figures to be special teams this season. He played 18 special teams snaps against the Raiders compared to just two on defense.
  • The Saints worked out defensive lineman Anthony Zettel on Thursday. The journeyman D-lineman signed a one-year Vikings deal earlier this year but did not stick on their roster.

This Date In Transactions History: Rob Gronkowski Signs Record-Breaking Extension

Eight years ago today, Rob Gronkowski inked the most lucrative deal for a tight end in league history. The Patriots tacked another six years on to the two remaining seasons of his rookie contract at $54MM, locking him down through the 2019 campaign. 

[RELATED: Patriots Explored Cam Newton Deal?]

The deal made plenty of sense for both sides. With $13MM fully guaranteed and $18MM guaranteed for injury, the 23-year-old scored some serious financial security early in his career. Through his first two NFL seasons, the former second-round pick made less than $2.5MM in total.

Meanwhile, the Patriots locked down a tight end coming off of a First-Team All-Pro selection. Although he impressed as a rookie, Gronk took his game to a new level in 2011 as he caught 90 passes for 1,327 yards and 17 touchdowns with a catch percentage of 72.6%. Even today, those numbers stand as Gronk’s career bests.

A broken forearm sidelined Gronkowski for five games in 2012. Shortly after returning, he re-aggravated the injury in the Pats’ first playoff game and missed out on the AFC Championship game. In the offseason, the forearm became infected, forcing the tight end to undergo the third and fourth surgeries of his career. In June of 2013, he had back surgery. Then, in a late-season contest against the Browns, he suffered a torn ACL and MCL in his right knee. Gronk was undoubtedly grateful for his injury guarantees at that time.

There were more ailments to come, including a less serious knee injury in 2015 and a pulmonary contusion in 2016, but Gronkowski continued to be one of the very best at his position. Meanwhile, the salary cap continued to grow and the tight end market advanced. Over time, Gronk’s record-setting deal started to look more and more team-friendly. In 2014, Jimmy Graham signed a deal that made him the league’s highest-paid tight end with an average annual average value of $10MM and $16.5MM in full guarantees.

Eventually, something had to give. Prior to the 2017 season, the Pats tweaked Gronk’s deal to incentivize his performance while protecting the team against another injury-marred season. The deal gave him a base salary of $5.25MM with incentive packages at three different tiers:

  • A total salary of $10.75MM with either 90% play time or 80 catches or 1,200‪ receiving yards or an All-Pro nomination.
  • A total salary $8.75MM with 80% play time or 70 catches or 1,000 receiving yards or 12 touchdowns.
  • A total salary of $6.75MM with 70% play time or 60 receptions or 800 receiving yards or ten touchdowns.

With 1,084 yards (off of 69 receptions with eight touchdowns), Gronkowski satisfied the middle tier requirement. However, thanks to his First-Team All-Pro selection, the tight end maxed out his 2017 package. After that, Gronk asked the Pats to sweeten the pot once again, and they obliged with a similar incentives package worth up to $3.3MM for the 2018 season. The Patriots also came close to sending Gronk to the Lions, an indication that all was not well between the two sides.

The 2018 wound up being Gronkowski’s final season in a Patriots uniform. At the age of 29, Gronkowski retired. One year later, he pushed the Patriots to trade him to the Bucs, rebooting his bromance with longtime pal Tom Brady.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Bucs Notes: Brady, TEs, OL, Free Agency

Tom Brady‘s transition to a new team in advance of his 21st NFL season has obviously been less than ideal, with the COVID-19 pandemic preventing the future Hall of Famer from working with teammates and coaches at the Buccaneers‘ facility. The first time the soon-to-be 43-year-old quarterback is expected to be permitted to enter his new team’s facilities will be training camp. But the Bucs do not plan to compensate for this by giving Brady more preseason work. Bruce Arians said Thursday he doubts Brady will need more preseason time to make up for the virtual offseason, per Greg Auman of The Athletic (on Twitter). Still, Brady’s preseason snaps figure to be more important than usual this year.

Here is the latest out of Tampa:

  • Arians has not gotten much out of the tight end position during his stay as head coach in Arizona and Tampa. That should soon change. The Bucs currently house an all-time tight end stable, with Rob Gronkowski joining the team’s O.J. HowardCameron Brate duo already regarded as one of the NFL’s best. Arians said the Bucs will use a two-tight end offense as their base this season (via Auman, on Twitter). Going with more “12 personnel” looks would give Howard and Brate more time on the field and potentially represent an effort to conserve Gronkowski, who retired partially because of injury issues last year. This also points to the Bucs giving stronger consideration to keeping all three tight ends rather than trading Howard or Brate. Arians even said he’s interested in three-tight end looks.
  • Tampa Bay is not expected to make a move to add interior offensive linemen to back up starters Ali Marpet, Alex Cappa and Ryan Jensen, Arians added (via Auman, on Twitter). The Bucs did not draft any guards or centers, but Arians likes what he has seen from backups Aaron Stinnie, Anthony Fabiano and Zack Bailey. A fifth-year blocker, Fabiano is now on his eighth team. Stinnie was a 2018 Titans UDFA; Bailey was a Bucs 2019 UDFA who spent much of last year on IR.
  • However, the Bucs are keeping multiple roster spots open for possible veteran additions. Arians said (via Scott Smith of Buccaneers.com, on Twitter) he and GM Jason Licht discussed saving room for veterans who would be more prepared to play than rookie UDFAs. With Brady on a two-year deal, Tampa Bay stockpiling vets would make sense.

Gronk: I Told Tom Brady I Wanted To Play Months Ago

Earlier this week, Rob Gronkowski came out of retirement and pushed the Patriots to trade him to the Buccaneers. Publicly, the tight end hid his intentions, but he says Tom Brady has known about his plans for a while now. 

[RELATED: Brady Didn’t Demand Gronk]

We rarely talked about what his decision was gonna be, where I’m at,” Gronkowski said of their winter talks (via ESPN.com’s Jenna Laine). “But we did talk about [it] for one second. I told him that — we talked just real quick — like, ‘Hey, I’m kinda getting that fire underneath me again.’

I said, ‘I’m definitely interested in your decision that you make.’ I didn’t put any pressure on him. I said, ‘If there’s a right opportunity out there, and you go somewhere and that opportunity is right – even if you go back to the Patriots and I feel like the opportunity is right – there’s a possible chance that I would definitely love to reconnect.'”

Brady, per Gronk, was “all fired up and juiced up” about the potential reunion. Now, they’ll look to pick up where they left off – the duo connected for 78 touchdowns across nine years together in New England. There should be plenty more to come, with better weather to boot.

Of course, this won’t be welcome news to fans in New England who were clamoring for Gronk last season. While the veteran’s 2018 campaign (47 receptions, 682 yards, three touchdowns) weren’t up to his normal standards, they still proved to be better than the numbers put up by New England’s tight ends in 2019. The Patriots got 36 receptions and two touchdowns from the trio of Ben Watson, Matt LaCosse, and Ryan Izzo last year.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Buccaneers Haven’t Pursued Redskins’ Trent Williams This Week

Two months ago, the Buccaneers nearly shipped tight end O.J. Howard to the Redskins in a deal that would have landed them Trent Williams. However, there are no active talks on Williams between the two teams, Jason La Canfora of CBSSports.com tweets

[RELATED: Brady Didn’t Demand Gronk]

Taking finances out of consideration, the Howard-for-Williams scenario would make more sense than ever right now. The arrival of Rob Gronkowski arguably makes Howard an expendable luxury and the Bucs still need quality protection for Tom Brady. Meanwhile, the Redskins are still looking to solidify the tight end position after parting ways with Jordan Reed. While sensible – again, when taking cap limitations and Williams’ demand for a hefty new contract out of the equation – nothing seems to be in the works between the Redskins and Bucs at present.

Instead, the Redskins could look to mid-round tight end options in this year’s class, or explore the late wave of available veterans. Last week, the Bears put Trey Burton on the free agent pile – he could be a low-risk option on a one-year deal with a modest base and incentives.

For the Bucs, the lack of Williams talk may signal a trade up for one of this year’s best offensive linemen. Bucs GM Jason Licht is already burning up the phone lines to explore a move, one that could put him in range for Mekhi Becton (Louisville), Jedrick Wills (Alabama), Tristan Wirfs (Iowa), or Andrew Thomas (Georgia).

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Tom Brady Didn’t Demand Gronk

Tom Brady made no demands for a Tampa reunion with longtime pal Rob Gronkowski, Ed Werder of ESPN.com tweets. However, the QB did “mention” to head coach Bruce Arians and GM Jason Licht that Gronk would love to play for the Buccaneers. 

[RELATED: Patriots Trade Rob Gronkowski To Buccaneers] 

The speculation over Gronk’s potential return to football has raged ever since his retirement in March of 2019. Once Brady left the Patriots for the Bucs in March of this year, everyone connected the dots, speculating that Gronk could force a move to Florida. This week, the deal went down. Gronkowski will be traded to the Bucs, along with a seventh-round pick. In exchange, the Patriots will receive a fourth-round pick in this weekend’s draft, a compensatory pick at No. 139 overall.

To date, Gronkowski has registered 521 receptions, 7,861 yards, and 79 touchdowns over the course of his legendary career. The majority of those throws, of course, came from Brady. Together, they’ve racked up multiple Super Bowl rings while securing their status as future first ballot Hall of Famers.

Gronk, the one-man fiesta, will look to silence any on-field doubts after a down 2018. In his last NFL season, he appeared in 13 games, catching 47 passes for 682 yards and three touchdowns. Still, with incredible offensive skills plus blocking ability, he’s one of the best (if not the best) tight ends of all-time.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Patriots Trade Rob Gronkowski To Bucs

Rob Gronkowski is ready to make his NFL return and he’ll do it with Tom Brady as his quarterback. The Patriots have agreed to trade Gronk and a seventh-round pick to the Buccaneers in exchange for a fourth-round pick. The trade is still pending a physical, but all of the pieces are in place for Gronkowski to suit up in TB, with TB.

Gronkowski, soon to be 31, told the Patriots that he wanted to return to football – just not with them (Twitter link via Ian Rapoport of NFL.com). Rumors have swirled about the superstar tight end taking his talents to Tampa for months. Now, it’s happening. Gronk will pick back up where he left off with one season and $10MM left on his deal. Gronk has a $9MM base salary due in 2020, with the other $1MM available through workout and roster bonuses.

Gronk has passed his physical and the deal is now official, per Adam Schefter of ESPN.com (via Twitter). Greg Auman of The Athletic tweets that the fourth-rounder Tampa is giving up is the No. 139 overall selection, which is a compensatory pick. The Bucs still have their own fourth-rounder, No. 117 overall.

Although Gronk spent his prime tied to a contract he expressed frequent dissatisfaction with, he plans to honor it in Tampa, agent Drew Rosenhaus notes (via Rapoport, on Twitter). This deal goes all the way back to 2012, when the Patriots agreed to a six-year, $54MM deal with a player who would become an all-time great. For the time being, Gronkowski will remain tethered to that contract.

The future Hall of Famer said this week he was not “totally done” with football. He’s made a slew of “never say never”-type comments ever since his retirement, but this turned out to have legs.

Brady lobbied hard to have Gronkowski on the Bucs, per Rapoport, who adds Gronk has also been adding weight in preparation for an NFL return, Rapoport notes (on Twitter). The return-and-trade transaction is an unusual one, but it’s not without precedent. Back in 2017, the Raiders and Seahawks agreed on a trade involving Marshawn Lynch, allowing the running back to return to the NFL with his hometown team after a one-year hiatus.

As Gronk made notable inroads in the WWE, the Patriots sorely missed their top weapon. Brady struggled for much of last season, and the Patriots did not come close to filling the void the four-time All-Pro created when he retired over a year ago. It’s a fascinating deal, because the Patriots obviously need Gronkowski more than a Bucs team that rosters O.J. Howard and Cameron Brate does.

Gronkowski has dealt with numerous injuries throughout his career, with back trouble limiting him late in his Patriots tenure. But the Bucs are now set to pair Pro Bowlers Mike Evans and Chris Godwin with the most dominant tight end of this generation. Even if Gronk has ceded that belt to either Travis Kelce or George Kittle, he still stands to be a difference-making presence for a Bucs team that has now added the highest- and second-highest-profile members of the second leg of the Patriot dynasty.

A Gronk-Howard-Brate setup would seem untenable, with Brate also signed for $6.8MM per year. One year remains on Howard’s rookie deal, though he can be controlled through 2021 via the fifth-year option. Another trade should be expected, one that would stand to help the Bucs add a draft pick to make up for the one they’re losing by acquiring Gronkowski. Even before this, there were rumblings of Howard being available.

The Patriots still do not feature much at tight end, but they have engaged in Gronk trade talks previously. They were close to dealing him to the Lions two years ago, but Gronkowski nixed it by indicating he’d retire instead of going to Detroit. With Brady now a Buccaneer, Gronk OK’d a deal to the NFC this time around.

The Bucs said no to a Brady-Antonio Brown partnership, but they have green-lit a Brady-Gronk reunion. Either way, this figures to generate immense publicity for a team that has not made the playoffs since 2007. Conversely, with no surefire Brady successor in place and Gronk now on another team, the Patriots feature major questions for the first time in decades.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

NFC North Notes: Lions, Gronk, Vikes, Bears

The Vikings broke up their years-long receiver tandem of Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs, shipping the latter to Buffalo for a package of picks. While the Vikings did not collect quite the haul they did for Percy Harvin seven years ago, Rick Spielman called it a business opportunity that benefited both Diggs and the Vikings (Twitter link via the Minneapolis Star Tribune’s Ben Goessling). Spielman said he did not intend to trade Diggs when he last spoke at the Combine, but the Bills’ offer of a first-round pick and three Day 3 choices — including a 2021 fourth-rounder — was too enticing to pass up. The Bills also upped their offer from their previous one, which occurred before the 2019 deadline. The Vikings now hold the Nos. 22 and 25 overall picks in a receiver-loaded draft, and they now have a massive need at the position.

Here is the latest from the NFC North:

  • Two years ago, the Lions nearly traded for Rob Gronkowski. Now that a team has actually swung a trade for the dominant tight end, Adam Schefter of ESPN.com provided the details (via Twitter) on the disparities between the Buccaneers and Lions’ offers. They are stark. The Lions offered the Pats their 2018 first-rounder (No. 20 overall) and were set to swap picks in the second round (dropping from No. 43 to 51) before the then-29-year-old tight end nixed the deal by threatening to retire. The Lions ended up picking Frank Ragnow in the first round; Gronkowski collected a third Super Bowl ring 10 months later and then retired. The Pats dealt the unretiring Gronk and a seventh-round pick to the Bucs for a fourth-rounder on Tuesday.
  • Everson Griffen remains unsigned and is “probably” gone from the Vikings, but the St. Paul Pioneer Press’ Chris Tomasson notes if Minnesota does not land a pass rusher in the draft it is not out of the question the 10-year veteran returns (Twitter link). Griffen issued a statement indicating an 11th Vikings season was not in the cards, but Tomasson indicates (via Twitter) he merely wanted to inform other teams he was available and not a lock to return to Minnesota. Griffen’s mental health episode in 2018 may well be impacting his free agency, with Tomasson tweeting teams would like to meet with him and discuss it. The 32-year-old edge defender will likely have to reassess his options after the draft.
  • Another year, another Bears kicking competition. After a very public kicker battle throughout the 2019 offseason, the Bears will hold another this year. Incumbent Eddy Pineiro will match up against lower-profile challenger Ramiz Ahmed, Ryan Pace confirmed (via the Chicago Sun-Times’ Jason Lieser). The Bears signed Ahmed, who kicked at Nevada for one season and has yet to kick in an NFL game, last week but had their eye on him as a UDFA last year. A late addition last summer, Pineiro made 23 of 28 field goals with the Bears last season.

Bucs GM On Brady, Gronk, Jones

Buccaneers GM Jason Licht has been heavily criticized over the years, but he managed to come away with the league’s biggest prize this offseason. So, how does it feel to land Tom Brady?

It feels damn good,” Licht said on Thursday (Twitter link via ESPN.com’s Jenna Laine).

The GM also recognizes his shortcomings, saying “a lot of [the criticism] was deserved.” The Bucs have gone 34-62 in Licht’s six years at the helm, but that could all be quickly forgotten if Brady is able to lead them to a Super Bowl championship.

Here are some of the highlights from Licht’s virtual chat:

  • Licht expressed confidence in Ronald Jones, signaling that the running back position might not be high on their to-do list. “We do think Ronald hasn’t even scratched the surface of what he can be,” Licht said (via the team website). “He made a huge jump from year one to year two. He didn’t have to do much to do that because year two wasn’t very good for him. But year two, we felt very good about where he came, and we think he still has a tremendous amount of upside.” Jones, a former second-round pick, had a strong start to the 2019 season as a backup to Peyton Barber. Later, he was bumped up to the starting lineup, but his production took a nosedive. He also missed some key blocks on blitzes, an issue that he’ll have to correct if he wants to be a regular this year.
  • No matter what’s going on in the news cycle, tight end Rob Gronkowski seems to remain front and center. Brady’s arrival in Tampa has fueled speculation that Gronk could attempt a reunion with his longtime pal, but Licht didn’t take the bait. “Well he’s doing a pretty good job in Wrestlemania right now,” Licht said (Twitter link via Laine), referring to Gronk’s recent WWE appearance. “I have no idea if he’d want to play.” It’s worth noting that the Patriots still hold his rights, so a return with the Bucs or any other club would require cooperation from Bill Belichick & Co.
  • Earlier this week, Tom Brady sat down with Howard Stern to discuss his move to Tampa and what led him to leave the Patriots.

Rob Gronkowski Nearing Deal With WWE

Retired Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski is nearing a deal with WWE, per Marc Raimondi of ESPN.com. Raimondi cites a report from FS1’s WWE Backstage Program, which said that Gronk could appear on WWE SmackDown as early as March 20.

Otherwise, the role that WWE has in mind for Gronkowski is unclear. The 30-year-old future Hall of Famer was involved in the Andre the Giant Battle Royal at WrestleMania 33 in 2017, but said he did not see himself as a full-time wrestler. He spoke over the summer about taking part in “one crazy match” in five years or so, but perhaps he has changed his mind in the regard.

After all, when asked over the course of the 2019 season about a possible return to football, Gronkowski’s answers varied wildly. One minute he said he had shut the door on that chapter of his life, and the next he was hemming and hawing about keeping that door open. Though injuries and the ability to walk away from the NFL on the heels of a Super Bowl win helped contribute to his retirement decision, it has never felt like a certainty that he would stay retired.

And it’s also unlikely that his pending role with WWE, regardless of what it is, would prevent him from returning to the gridiron if he chooses to do so. He would certainly attract plenty of interest, because despite the early retirement, he finished his career in the top-10 in terms of receiving yards and touchdowns for a tight end. His blocking abilities, which were just as much a part of the Patriots’ steamroller offenses as his receiving acumen, have led some to consider him the greatest TE of all time.

In his career, Gronk earned over $50MM from the Patriots and took home three Super Bowl rings. His accomplishments and his gregarious personality will probably keep him in high demand for any number of on-camera roles for the foreseeable future.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.