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What Rob Gronkowski returning in 2018 means for the Patriots

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The league's best tight end announced his intentions yesterday.

New England Patriots v Buffalo Bills Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images

Yesterday, one of the most tiresome storylines of the New England Patriots' 2018 offseason found an abrupt end when tight end Rob Gronkowski took to Instagram to announce his decision that he would return this season. Ever since the Super Bowl there has been speculation about whether or not the 28-year old would decide to end his already impressive career. Gronkowski's announcements now puts all rumors to rest.

What does it mean for the team, though? Let's try to find out.

The Patriots' best skill position player remains in the fold...

Gronkowski is among the best players in all of football, a true difference maker in the passing and the running game. Losing him to retirement would therefore have been a big blow to the Patriots offense. Luckily for the team, it will not have to worry about it – especially in an offseason during which New England already lost its second- and third-most prolific pass receivers from last year. Keeping number one around is a win for the team in terms of quality and stability.

...but don't expect him to partake in voluntary offseason workouts

What added fuel to the Gronkowski retirement speculation was him staying away from the early portions of the Patriots' voluntary offseason program to apparently prepare on his own. But even despite his commitment to playing for the team in 2018, it should not be expected to suddenly see him show up for the team's strength and conditioning workouts. Gronkowski already started working with Tom Brady's personal body coach last offseason and it would not be a surprise if he continued doing so this year as well. Once workouts become mandatory, though, the NFL's best tight end will be back.

Gronkowski might soon see additional incentives in his contract

Last year, the Patriots and Gronkowski agreed to add incentive escalators to his present contract: Depending on playing time and performance, he was able to reach one of three tiers and earn up to $5.5 million (which he did). With the tight end committed to returning in 2018, a deal might be in the works to add similar incentives to Gronkowski's 2018 season – which would very well be a win-win for both parties.

New England's draft plans should not change despite the announcement

Even though Gronkowski will be back in 2018, the Patriots might want to add more depth to their tight end position. Behind the clear-cut number one option it currently has Dwayne Allen, Jacob Hollister, Will Tye and Troy Niklas. Adding another developmental body to offer long-term stability – partially because Gronkowski's outlook beyond 2018 is unclear – and quality depth should therefore still be part of New England's draft plans.

The offseason drama should be over...

The recurring theme of this year's Patriots offseason was drama: From the questions following Malcolm Butler's Super Bowl benching, to the team losing multiple key contributors via free agency, to rumors about potential turmoil inside the organization, to Tom Brady possibly but ultimately not really opting to retire. The Gronkowski saga was as big as any and with it now over so should be the (mostly media-fabricated) offseason drama surrounding the team – at least for the next few hours that is.

...even though trading Gronkowski could in theory still be on the table

Just because the players committed to returning in 2018 does not mean the team feels the same way – especially one run by Bill Belichick. The game's best head coach could therefore still opt to move Gronkowski and his uncertain long-term outlook if the return is right. Ultimately, though, it would be a shocker to see the Patriots trade away the 28-year old during the draft because it is not expected that a team would pay an adequate price for him.