Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Bruce Arians has a few favorite sayings. One is “no risk it, no biscuit.” The Bucs have apparently taken Arians’ words to heart.
Former New England All-Pro tight end Rob Gronkowski was lured out of retirement and acquired by Tampa Bay via trade. The Bucs sent a measly fourth-round draft pick to the Patriots for the rights to Gronkowski, arguably one of the best to every play his position.
Remember, this is after Arians and the Bucs went out and acquired QB Tom Brady in free agency. Brady and Gronkowski, of course, have a long history from their time in New England.
While the NFL world is abuzz because of the trade, the big question is “Can Gronkowski, who will turn 31 on May 14, help the Bucs win?”
There is no question that Gronkowski is a future Hall of Fame tight end. He played all nine of his NFL seasons with New England and Brady. He has totaled 521 receptions for 7,861 yards and 79 touchdowns. All but one of those regular season touchdowns was thrown by Brady.
In just his second season, Gronkowski established career highs in receptions, 90, and receiving yards, 1,327. He also led the entire NFL in receiving touchdowns with 17. Gronkowski would earn his first of four first-team All-Pro honors and the first of five Pro Bowl berths.
More importantly, Gronkowski would team with Brady to win three Super Bowls. The 6-foot-6, 260-pound Gronkowski did miss Super Bowl LI after the 2016 season due to injury. He played in just eight games that season ending the season on injured reserve after needing surgery to repair a herniated disk in his back.
Does Gronk Have Anything Left?
There are some who surely do not see the value in Tampa Bay acquiring Gronkowski. The last time the tight end was on an NFL field was in Super Bowl LIII where he caught six passes for 87 yards. That was after a 2018 season that was not one of Gronkowski’s best.
He started just 11 games during the regular season and was clearly not healthy. He averaged a career-low 52.5 receiving yards per game and scored just three touchdowns. Taking away his first two NFL seasons, Gronkowski missed an average of four games over his final seven seasons. Can he make it through a 16-game season?
The injuries have piled up through his career. There have been nearly a dozen, including his years in college at Arizona. There was a back surgery in 2009, a broken forearm in 2012, and then multiple injuries in 2013. Gronkowski suffered a back injury, a concussion, and tore the ACL and MCL in his right knee that season.
He has had three back surgeries already and was on his way to a fourth in 2018 before he retired. Clearly, injuries will be a concern, but Arians and the Bucs believe Gronkowski can help them win now.
Gronk’s Real Value
Sure, Gronkowski is a skilled receiver. He is big and moves well for his size. He creates serious matchup issues when he is split out wide or lined up in the slot. Opposing defenses usually put a much smaller safety on Gronkowski in man coverage and attempt to bracket him with two or more smaller defenders in zone coverages.
What many forget about Gronkowski is that he retired as possibly the NFL’s best blocking tight end. The Bucs offensive line has some holes particularly at right tackle. Tampa Bay’s running game needs improvement too. The Bucs finished 24th in the league last year averaging 95.1 yards a game.
Pairing Gronkowski with current Buc TE O.J. Howard in two-tight end sets would give opposing defenses fits. Two-tight end sets create an extra gap in the running game and Gronkowski and Howard are two skilled pass receivers. Last season, San Francisco had a great deal of success on offense pairing George Kittle (85 receptions, 1,053 yards) with Ross Dwelley.
Arians is a master play-caller. Against opponents’ base defenses, the Bucs head coach can split out both Howard and Gronkowski along with wide receivers Chris Godwin (86 catches, 1,333 yards) and Mike Evans (67 catches, 1,157 yards). When teams get into a nickel or even a dime defense, the Bucs end up with the 260-pound Gronkowski and the 6-6, 250-pound Howard blocking defensive backs.
Bucs All-In on Win Now
When Tampa Bay hired Arians, they envisioned winning…and doing so quickly. Bringing in a six-time Super Bowl winner at quarterback was just the start. In addition, Tampa Bay re-signed Jason Pierre-Paul and Nkdamukong Suh to anchor the Bucs defensive line.
The franchise tag was used on 2019 NFL sacks leader Shaq Barrett and the Bucs have some promising youth in the secondary. While they gave up a fourth-round pick to obtain Gronkowski, it will be worth it when Arians guides the Bucs to their first playoff berth since 2007. Even if Gronkowski plays just 10 to 12 games, he gives them a chance to win…and win now.