Rob Gronkowski will net a $9.25-million base salary in 2020. That’s a pretty big chunk of change for a player who’s totaled (checks notes) two catches for 11 scoreless yards this season. It’s not as if the Bucs are saving Gronkowski’s bullets for the postseason either. He’s played plenty in the early going, absorbing a 73.3-percent snap rate through two games. If you were expecting Gronkowski’s pairing with his former Patriots partner in crime Tom Brady to produce immediate results, well that hasn’t materialized either. Brady has only looked Gronk’s way on four occasions.
While Gronk admittedly hasn’t moved the needle much in his return to the gridiron, perhaps his early struggles could be attributed to rust (understandable after spending last year enjoying the fruits of retirement) or a lack of offseason reps playing in a new system. But Buccaneers coach Bruce Arians isn’t buying any of those excuses.
“We haven't had that many red-zone opportunities and I don't see him running 40 yards past people anymore,” said Arians, explaining why Gronkowski has yet to make his presence felt in the Bucs’ passing game. “We brought him in to play tight end. If that means no catches, that means no catches."
Judging by that unenthusiastic soundbite, Arians doesn’t sound particularly psyched about having Gronk, a four-time 1,000-yard receiver and arguably one of the most talented players to ever line up at tight end, at his offensive disposal. Fantasy owners with buyer’s remorse probably could have seen this coming. Aside from a handful of big plays (none bigger than his Super Bowl clincher against the Rams), Gronkowski largely functioned as a blocker the last we saw of him in 2018. With Arians himself casting doubt on Gronk’s ability to separate from defenders downfield, the 31-year-old seems ticketed for a similar, blocking-centric role in Tampa. That’s not unusual for Arians, who has rarely incorporated tight ends as receivers.
Slowed by years of injuries, Gronkowski was running on fumes by the end of his New England tenure, though the hope was that his year away from the NFL limelight—and all the punishment that comes with it—would provide a certain level of physical catharsis. Instead, the likely Hall of Famer has mostly been a non-factor.
It’s too early for a victory lap, though Patriots fans who were inconsolable upon Gronk and Brady’s dual departures this offseason have to be feeling quite a bit of relief, especially with newcomer Cam Newton playing at an MVP level.