Rob Gronkowski’s decision to retire from the NFL on Sunday instantly created one of the larger offseason storylines in football. The ripple effect of extends beyond the Patriots, all the way to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Assessing the full impact of Gronkowski’s decision is difficult to do in the short term. NFL free agency continues, and the NFL draft is yet to happen. How the Patriots will replace Gronkowski – a monumental task – is unclear.
Added to that is the possibility that the 29-year-old tight end might not stay retired. As Gronkowski’s agent, Drew Rosenhaus, has speculated on several occasions already, there’s still a chance the former Patriot decides he wants to come out of retirement.
What to make of the Gronkowski retirement decision? Here’s what some of the experts are saying:
Hall of Fame: First ballot or not?
One of the immediate takeaways from Gronkowski’s decision to walk away from the NFL is his inevitable place in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Gronkowski’s career was shorter than other Hall of Fame tight ends (such as 2019 inductee Tony Gonzalez), but the Patriots star still managed to post some all-time numbers in certain categories. He has the most touchdowns per game of any tight end in history, and is also second in all-time postseason touchdown receptions among all players.
Still, does that warrant a first ballot Hall of Fame vote? ESPN’s Field Yates seemed to think so:
“I think he’s a lock to be voted into the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility,” Houston Chronicle reporter and longtime NFL insider John McClain told ESPN’s Mike Reiss.
NFL writer Bill Barnwell made an interesting comparison to other former Patriots who are potential Hall of Fame picks.
“[Richard] Seymour and [Vince] Wilfork are borderline Hall of Famers,” wrote Barnwell, “while Gronkowski should already have a gold jacket by the time Brady gets in. I don’t think it’s ridiculous to prefer either of those guys to Gronk, but I also wouldn’t blame you for pegging him ahead of them, either.”
What the experts say on the other sideline
One key point in the departure of Gronkowski from the football field is how it affects the opposition. After menacing Patriots’ competition for years, it’s not surprising that a few of New England’s regular rivals are pleased to see Gronkowski retire.
“Is he retiring?” Steelers coach Mike Tomlin asked Patriots reporter Tom Curran. After being told that Gronkowski was in fact retiring, Tomlin exclaimed, “Awesome!”
A voice from another regular Patriots opponent concurred, also adding a tribute to his team’s now former adversary.
“Look, it’s obviously good news for the Jets because he’s an amazing player,” said Jets CEO Christopher Johnson told Brian Costello of the New York Post. “To take a step back, I’m going to miss him as a player because he’s absolutely magnificent. If you ever play the game like I do of if I could steal that player off that team, he’s one of the top players I’ve always wished was a Jet. Just an extraordinary man and extraordinary player.”
How might the Patriots replace him?
The most pressing question from a football standpoint in New England is how the Patriots will go about filling the Gronkowski-sized hole in the offense. The team’s immediate options, other than Julian Edelman, aren’t especially promising.
“They’re in a horrible, horrible position right now,” Curran bluntly summarized to Pro Football Talk host Mike Florio on Sunday.
“Right now, Julian Edelman is the only guy you could say you want to put stock in,” Curran continued, assessing the current dearth of receiver options for Tom Brady. “Phillip Dorsett’s a nice third or fourth receiver, maybe. They signed Bruce Ellington and Maurice Harris.”
With the draft still to come, there’s a likelihood that Bill Belichick will spend one of the higher picks on a tight end.
“Get ready to see an increase in tight ends mocked to New England before the 2019 NFL Draft,” wrote NESN’s Doug Kyed. An early possibility for the Patriots, should Belichick opt for an earlier pick, are two tight ends from Iowa.
Still, Gronkowski’s delayed decision did appear to have an impact on the Patriots’ pursuit of free agents, as Reiss noted.
“One other thing we’ve learned is that Gronkowski’s uncertainty was starting to affect the team’s business,” Reiss said. “They went after free agent Jared Cook, but Gronkowski, his uncertainty, they couldn’t close that deal.”