By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — Ever since a disappointed Rob Gronkowski sat at a podium in the bowels of U.S. Bank Stadium after a bitter Super Bowl loss, we haven’t really heard much from the all-world tight end regarding his future as an NFL player.
“I’m definitely going to look at my future, for sure. I’m going to sit down in the next couple of weeks and see where I’m at,” he said on Feb. 4. “We just lost. I just want to sit back, relax the next couple of weeks. Really, I’ve got nothing to say about that right now.”
Since then, speculation has run rampant, with rumors surfacing of a pro wrestling career or an acting career or a jumping-on-Shaquille-O’Neal’s-shoulders career for the 28-year-old Gronkowski. But almost nothing has come out publicly from Gronkowski or his agent over the past two months, and as a result, some minds have begun to wander.
They’ve also begun to wonder: Given the uncertainty, might the Patriots trade away Gronkowski? Greg Bedard of the Boston Sports Journal reported that Bill Belichick may be seriously considering such a move.
“A Bill Belichick-friendly source agreed with my thinking that once a player makes Belichick start to contemplate life without him, Belichick starts to warm to being without that player. ‘[Belichick] imagines you gone,’ he said,” Bedard wrote, via NESN.com. “The longer Gronkowski goes without saying he’s all in, the chances of him being traded increases, the source said.”
USA Today also cited Bedard in sharing what Belichick and the Patriots might be able to fetch on the trade market: “possible late first-round pick if the team has it, but more likely a high second-rounder and a third.”
Obviously, as we’ve seen over the years, Belichick will trade, bench, say goodbye or flat-out release seemingly any player at any moment. All the way back to Lawyer Milloy, to Drew Bledsoe, to Richard Seymour, to Wes Welker, to Logan Mankins, to Chandler Jones, to Jamie Collins, to Malcolm Butler, no player is ever really safe on the Patriots’ roster. So the idea of Belichick potentially trading Gronkowski should not be dismissed as only being a meaningless talking point in late March. It could happen.
But that doesn’t mean that it will happen. Or that it should happen. There are thousands of reasons to not trade Gronkowski. Here are the most significant.
1. Low Return
Think about it logically: The reason the Patriots would be trading Gronkowski is because they don’t know if he’s committed to play football in 2018. So … another team is going to give up a big return to acquire a player who might not even play? Doesn’t make sense. Why would a team look at Gronkowski in his current situation and give up anything to acquire his rights?
There are many people in this region who remain apoplectic because the Patriots traded eight weeks of the rights to Jimmy Garoppolo (who had 94 career pass attempts to his name at the time of the trade) and “only got” a second-round pick. Imagine the uproar if the Patriots traded Gronkowski for a similar return and then had to watch Gronkowski flourish for another team. Imagine if he’s doing it with Garoppolo in San Francisco? Heads would explode.
In any event, there’s something to be said about trading a player when his value is at its highest. Trading Gronkowski at this point would be making a move when his value is at its absolute lowest. That would be bad business.
2. Maybe Fix The Issue Instead Of Overreacting
So, clearly, there’s some work to be done in Foxboro to restore the relationship of Gronkowski with Belichick. Tom Curran reported that Gronkowski’s displeasure goes all the way back to training camp, when the Patriots wouldn’t let him train certain ways. Like Tom Brady, the tight end apparently butted heads with the team on training philosophies, and it became a bit of an issue.
But rather than blowing everything up over some disagreements, how about this: Figure it out.
Really. Whatever Gronkowski did to get his body ready for 2018, it clearly worked. He made First Team All-Pro for the fourth time of his career. He caught 69 passes for 1,084 yards and eight touchdowns. He led the team with three postseason touchdowns, two of which came in the Super Bowl, when he caught nine passes for 116 yards. At the end of a long, grueling season, Gronkowski was physically unstoppable in the final game of the year.
Maybe — just maybe — his training methods work. And if the team wants a productive Gronkowski on the field, maybe the team ought to let Gronkowski decide his own training regimen. Surely, the earth would keep on spinning.
It would just seem extraordinarily short-sighted to trade away a man who has firmly established his reputation as the most physically dominant tight end to ever play the game, all over seemingly minor disagreements. The wiser move would be to try to smooth over any issues.
3. If He Wants More Money, Maybe He’s Earned It?
There’s a school of thought that Gronkowski’s entire retirement song and dance is just a way of holding out for more money from the Patriots. There may be some truth to that, or there may be zero truth to that.
But if it is indeed the case … then maybe Gronkowski is worth a pay bump. Look at what Gronkowski did in the Super Bowl. Without him, the Patriots would have lost by double digits. As Tom Brady told Gronkowski after the Patriots managed to beat the Jaguars in the AFC title game despite losing Gronkowski early to a concussion, it “was a [bleeping] miracle” that the Patriots could eke that one out.
That might be an overstatement, but there’s no way to overstate Gronkowski’s impact on the field. He’s a generational talent, and as far as off-field “distractions” or attitude goes, he’s not even what many would consider to be a problem. He just might be looking at his limited number of years left in the NFL, and he might be looking at the salaries of Dez Bryant and Mike Evans and Sammy Watkins and thinking, “Hmm. I should probably get paid like they do.”
Sure, the Patriots could feel as though Gronkowski didn’t earn his salary in 2013 or 2016, when he missed significant time due to injury. But the team made him earn every last penny in 2017 with a restructure. Maybe it could be as simple as adding some incentives without as many hoops for Gronkowski to jump through, so that he’s not left a bit puzzled after being targeted zero times in a Week 17 game when his All-Pro money theoretically hangs in the balance.
Whatever the case may be, if it comes down to money, then it’s an issue that can be solved. Again, spitefully trading him away instead of trying to solve an issue would not be the best course of action, given the type of player that he is.
4. He Is Rob Gronkowski
This one’s pretty self explanatory. He led the team in receptions and receiving yards, despite missing two games and getting targeted zero times in a third. He’s registered 19 career games (regular and postseason) with multiple touchdown receptions. He’s gone over 100 yards in 30 games. He remains one of the best blocking tight ends in the NFL. He’s still in his prime.
Trailing by 10 in the biggest game of the year, Tom Brady and the Patriots’ offense looked to one man to get them out of the hole. And if Duron Harmon’s tackle of Zach Ertz on a fourth-and-2 had come just a few feet further up the field, Gronkowski’s touchdown would have stood as the Super Bowl-winning play. His talent and size made you actually believe for a second that a last-second Hail Mary might actually get completed.
He might be the best player in the sport.
Maybe he will retire early after all. Maybe that possibility will force the Patriots to feel rushed, as if they “have to” trade him in order to get something in return. Maybe.
But if any player is worth the “risk” of keeping, it would be Rob Gronkowski. You don’t trade Rob Gronkowski. You just don’t.