Monday, 25 March 2019


I am going to really miss Gronk. I think he was probably my favourite active player, both on the field and off. He is certainly unique, both on the field and off. Remember when Gronk, trying to speak to an interviewer in his own language, announced ‘Jo soy fiesta’? It seems a perfect in-character coincidence that Rob Gronkowski should retire averaging 69 yards per game, as well as .69 touchdowns per game, for his NFL career. It’s as if he’s having one last Gronk laugh as he heads off into the football sunset. ‘Yo soy fiesta’ indeed. 

I’m not making this point facetiously. Well, not totally. Remember back in 2011 when the pictures of Gronk and porn star Bibi Jones created a furor? Remember Gronk’s apology for ‘letting down the Kraft family’? I would say that we live in different times now, considering what the Kraft family has been up to lately. Remember Gronk’s party ship? Jerry Jones’ bus got far less attention..

Then again you would have thought Gronk was Odell Beckham Junior II when the first photos appeared on the clickbait scandal sites of his partying on a boat after the Super Bowl (not during the season). It turned out that he was there with his current girlfriend, ex-Patriots cheerleader and Sports Illustrated swimsuit model Camille Kostek as well as Jordy Nelson, his wife Jesse James Nelson, and others, just good wholesome family vacation, but a lot more fun than the guys from Deadspin have on theirs.We ought to consider the puritanical quality of the new cyber-wave of Jealousy Journalism.

I mention this because it seems like one of the most likely paths for Gronk post-NFL is reality TV of some sort—look what it’s done for Jay Cutler. Or maybe acting, though guys his size are hard to cast: he was in a movie called American Violence, and is in one coming out later this year called Deported in which he plays ‘Party Guy Jake’.

You may recall the last line of Martellus Bennett’s message to his brother Michael about his new Patriots teammates? Oh yeah, I forgot Gronk. He’s smarter than people think.’ Gronk will be able to make money simply being Gronk. Or Gronky, as Tom Brady’s daughter calls him. I see a line of children’s shows in the future.


Is Gronk the Greatest Of All Time? When I wrote a top ten listing last year I had Gronk fifth; behind Tony Gonzalez, Kellen Winslow, Mike Ditka, and John Mackey (you can link to that post here.) I was assuming his career needed to continue to amass more numbers and cement a legacy. The way it stands now, he’s caught in the classic rating dilemma first defined by Bill James writing about baseball, the difference between career value and peak value.

I have no problem calling Gronk the GOAT in terms of peak value. But one of the interesting things at the tight end position is the way most of the great ones had very short peaks, because the double burden of blocking and receiving, especially in the days before multiple tight end sets and receiving first tight ends came along, wore them down too quickly. Ditka, who was the prototype Gronk, really had only 3-4 great seasons. Jackie Smith, whose pass-catching style recalls Gronk’s was the same. John Mackey, Kellen Winslow (number two on my list) similarly. And Winslow wasn’t the blocker Gronk was (hint: no great pass catching TEs, save maybe Ditka and Mackey, were). Antonio Gates hung on for a long time, but at much lower effectiveness. Gronk ends his career a four-time first-team all pro and with five pro bowls.

On the career side of the argument, Tony Gonzalez’s 17 seasons of quality receiving but functional blocking pretty much ensure he’s in first place. That’s incredibly hard to argue again, though Gronk supporters will point to the three Super Bowl wins and his incredible post season stats. Coincidentially, Gronk’s post-season adds up exactly to one extra NFL season: 16G, 81 catches (130 targets, 62% catch rate) for 1,163 yards and 12 Tds. That’s a first-team all-pro season right there.

Jim Brown is still my GOAT running back, and he retired at about the same point in his career as Gronk did. But his body was not yet in decline, nor had he missed time to injury during his career. Anyone who watched Gronk this past season could see how much he was slowed by injuries; you could see the way he had to do a skip to build up speed. The injury part of his career could be foreseen: he fell to the second round in the 2010 draft because of back problems he’d had in college. Of his nine NFL seasons, he played in all 16 games only twice, and had four other seasons you could call ‘full’ (13-15 games). The other three seasons had 26 games combined.

My call is that at his peak he is easily the GOAT, given his ability to block anyone, defensive ends or tackles, linebackers or defensive backs, you could call him the equal at least of any blocking specialist TE, and probably the equal of all but a couple of receiving first TEs, and maybe even more than that given his catching radius, running ability, and ability to make catches while not being interfered with by defenders holding and hanging all over him. The NFL’s interference rule is all about gaining an unfair advantage, and you could argue Gronk’s abilities meant interfering with him gave defenders no advantage at all.

For his career, I’m still torn by that longevity argument, and in the end I might now leave Gonzalez at number one, and move Gronk ahead of Kellen Winslow, or at least equal (Winslow was a more transformative player, but Gronk’s talent is unique) into second. He’s got to be a first-ballot Hall of Famer.


While not totally unexpected, a lot of us thought that as the season grew closer Gronk's competitive juices would lure him back. He certainly goes out on a high note: you could make a case for his being the Super Bowl MVP in Atlanta. But it leaves a huge hole for the Pats, whose draft strategy has not included a future replacement for him (though I was highlighting Chicago’s Adam Shaheen in 2017 or Phailadelphia’s Dallas Goedert, in 2018, as long-term cover --both were smaller college guys who went in the second round). This surprised me, because the Pats’ offense is all about mismatches, and Gronk was a human mismatch with virtually any defender. Remember the stuff they could do with him and Aaron Hernandez?

With Dwayne Allen gone to Miami, they have no inline tight end except the recently signed Matt LaCosse and last year’s seventh round Ryan Izzo, while the receiving options, Stephen Anderson and Jake Hollister, remain unproven.

This is a strong draft for tight ends, but most of them fall in either the receiving or block-first category. TJ Hockenson will be the first one off the board because although he’s only 6-4 251, he can do both jobs well. With the Pats drafting at 32, it would take a steep fall for him to be available even for a package that could help them move up. George Fant and Irv Smith are said to be the next two: Smith is the more willing blocker, but he’s not really an in-line presence; I think Jace Sternberger might be a better fit. Kaden Smith of Stanford or Zach Gentry of Michigan might be considerations in round 2 or even 3 if they get lucky. But none is going to step in and start, much less be a Gronk.

The free agent market is limited, although the talk is of the Pats managing to snag Jared Cook away from the Saints, who had seemed to have beaten NE to the guy who had a fine season receiving last year. Or they could try to lure Martellus Bennett out of retirement to play with his brother.

Given that their wide-receiving corps is very thin as well (2 years/$10m for Cordarelle Patterson might seem more affordable now that Gronk’s opened up salary cap room) and with the best remaining free agency Pats-types being mostly on defense (DE Brent Urban from Ravens, anyone?) it’s hard to see them getting a big difference maker. They will adjust, as they always seem to do—last year’s success was as a run-first team in the last quarter of the season and the playoffs, and despite losing Trent Brown, Isaiah Wynn is expected to be the starting left tackle they drafted him to be (with LaAdrian Waddle gone they need a third tackle now too) – but the question is where the mis-matches will come from. Gronk’s presence made coming up with them easier: but as he dashes off into the sunny sunset, yo soy fiesta indeed.

NOTE: This essay was written for my Friday Morning Tight End column at Patreon
You can read it there for free, but subscribe because there will be more to write about in the run-up to the NFL Draft

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