On Tuesday Rob Gronkowski informed the world that he talked to Bill Belichick and informed him that he will be returning to the Patriots for 2018. Everyone in New England breathed a collective sigh of relief, and they should because the best tight end in the history of the NFL is returning to the team.
As ridiculous as the prospect may seem, Belichick may actually consider trading the future First Ballot Hall of Famer before the NFL Draft on Thursday. Gronkowski has had a number of comments in the media throughout this offseason that are sure to have frustrated the Hooded One, and his uncertainty over whether he would be playing likely did not help the situation. In the past, behaviors like this have preceded an unceremonious exit from 1 Patriot Place (Richard Seymour, Logan Mankins, etc). Sources reported Wednesday that the Patriots were not planning on trading Gronkowski, but that means little in a league that prides itself on deception and media manipulation.
Gronkowski’s production since being drafted in 2010 has been utterly absurd. Through eight NFL seasons that have been full of injuries, Gronk has caught 76 touchdown passes in the regular season. Tony Gonzalez is the league leader for career touchdowns for a tight end with 111. If Gronk plays as long as Gonzalez did (17 seasons), he is projected to finish with 161 career touchdowns. He also holds the single-season records for touchdowns and receiving yards for a tight end. Gronk does not only show up in the regular season. He is second in NFL history in playoff touchdowns among all offensive players and is 16th all-time in playoff receiving yards. To go along with all of that, Gronk is a fantastic run blocker who has made serious contributions to the Patriots success in the run game.
So knowing all of this, would Belichick really trade #87? The frightening truth is that yes he would. Belichick loves to get rid of a player a year too early than a year too late. Now the Gronkowski has committed to 2018, it might be the perfect time for Belichick to trade him and get what he can for him. He is the biggest offensive difference-maker in the NFL and is still only set to make $8 million in 2018 and $9 million in 2019. The Patriots trade partner would be getting at least one year of the best tight end in football for an extremely reasonable cap hit, and if they could convince Gronk to play at least one more year, they would have him at a similar cap hit in 2019 as well.
The issues that many teams would point out would be Gronk’s injury history and his commitment. During his eight years in the league, Gronkowski has suffered a number of serious injuries, including a broken forearm that required multiple surgeries, a torn ACL, and multiple back surgeries (which is an issue that he suffered from in college as well). Teams would hesitate to pay a high price for a tight end, even of Gronk’s caliber, that is susceptible to missing time. Teams would also question his commitment and how long they would have Gronk as a member of their team. This is not an attack on Gronk’s work ethic. He has always been an extremely hard-working player, despite his goofy personality. However, his injuries seem to be catching up with him mentally, and he may not be interested in playing after this season in an effort to save his body for his post-NFL career.
The question would be what the Patriots can receive for him in a trade. A first-round pick could be on the table from a contender who thinks Gronk could put them over the top in 2018 (such as the Vikings, Falcons, and Cowboys), or from a team on the rise like the 49ers who may be interested in pairing Gronk with Jimmy Garoppolo. The Patriots would be wise to accept nothing less than a first-round pick or a mid to high second round pick (among other picks) for Gronkowski. While he does have an injury history, he could drastically change any offense in the league and would have a greater impact than any player selected in the first round (outside of a franchise quarterback that could save the future of the team).
As a fan, this is the worst situation imaginable outside of losing Tom Brady. Seeing #87 line up for another team would be heartbreaking because of how enjoyable he is as a player and a person. However, this is the NFL and this is the Patriots. If you prepare for the worst…you’ll still end up surprised but at least you will have already prepared yourself.
Until next time – B$