Earlier today, one of the NFL’s greatest and most entertaining players announced his retirement: New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski will step away from the game. The move ends weeks of speculation and simultaneously closes the book on one of the league’s outstanding careers — one that will result in a Hall of Fame induction. Let us now, however, take a closer look at what the retirement means for the Patriots.
New England loses its premier offensive player
Even though 2018 was a down-year by his lofty standards, Rob Gronkowski was still a tremendous weapon in New England’s offensive arsenal: not only was he as outstanding a blocker as he ever was, he also was able to challenge man coverage better than any other player except Julian Edelman and serve as a big play threat — just look at the Patriots’ playoff run for confirmation. The team now needs to find a way to replace Gronk’s production and abilities on a play-to-play basis.
The team’s other playmakers need to step up...
The aforementioned Julian Edelman will carry much of the burden when it comes to replacing Gronkowski: he already was quarterback Tom Brady’s favorite weapon even with the tight end in the fold. The veteran wide receiver will not be the only player who has to step up, tough, as fellow wideout Phillip Dorsett and the running backs — both on the ground and through the air — will also need to help fill the role.
while its tight end depth chart needs a serious infusion of talent
Of course, the biggest responsibility to help replace Gronkowski will fall on the tight end group — one that is undergoing a major transformation process without its superstar as well as the primary blocker of the last two years: Dwayne Allen was released before the start of free agency. With unproven options Jacob Hollister, Stephen Anderson, Ryan Izzo and Matt LaCosse remaining as the lone players at the position, New England needs to look for additional talent, most likely through the draft.
Tight end is the Patriots’ number one draft priority now
The 2019 draft class is deep at the tight end position, but the Patriots may have to trade up to get one of the top-two options in Iowa’s T.J. Hockenson — the closest player to Gronkowski this year — and Noah Fant. Other players to watch are Alabama’s Irv Smith Jr. or Texas A&M’s Jace Sternberger. While they don’t have the upside of Hockenson and Fant, both might be available when the Patriots pick at #32 or early on the second day.
The Patriots gain $9.2 million in salary cap space
With Gronkowski no longer part of the calculations, the Patriots will see a considerable growth when it comes to their salary cap space: the 29-year-old was on the books with a cap hit of $11.86 million in 2019, the fourth-highest on the team. Subtracting his $2.0 million dead money hit as well as a player taking his spot on the top-51 contracts, the Patriots will gain around $9.2 million in salary cap space to bring their total to $17.55 million.