All eyes are once more on Rob Gronkowski after the Super Bowl: as was the case last offseason, the New England Patriots’ superstar tight end is again flirting with retirement. While no decision has been made public one way or the other, the club itself will likely prefer a decision being made soon. After all, we are one week away from free agency and Gronkowski returning or stepping away would have major implications on the team.
For starters, his retirement would create plenty of additional cap space for the Patriots. The team currently has $24.3 million available, according to the Boston Sports Journal’s Miguel Benzan, and Gronkowski hanging up his cleats would add around $9.4 million to this sum. This, in turn, would give New England more flexibility when it comes to approaching free agency — especially with 17 of their own players about to hit the open market.
Among them are defensive edge Trey Flowers and starting left tackle Trent Brown. As things stand right now from a financial standpoint, and with Gronkowski on the payroll, the reigning world champions will likely not be able to keep both for the 2019 season (at least without hurting the middle class of the roster). Removing the game’s best tight end from the equation, however, should boost the Patriots’ chances of retaining both men.
Then again, Gronkowski retiring would create a massive need at the tight end position after the club already parted ways with Dwayne Allen in a cost-cutting move. While Allen could return on a reduced deal, replacing Gronkowski is an enormous task even after his comparatively inconsistent 2018 season: as he showed in the Super Bowl, he is still capable of playing at the highest level and making big plays for the Patriots.
If he steps down, New England might use some of its newly created additional cap space on a free agent tight end like Maxx Williams or Dion Sims. While neither is on the level of Gronkowski — no tight end is, frankly — they would at least bolster a depth chart that would be headed by the three-headed monster of Jacob Hollister, Stephen Anderson and Ryan Izzo in case of Gronkowski retiring and Allen not returning.
Of course, Gronkowski taking himself out of the picture would likely also have an impact on the Patriots’ draft plans. The whole situation could look like 2010, when the team added Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez in rounds two and four, respectively, to fill the voids created by the offseason departures of Benjamin Watson and Chris Baker — the difference being that replacing a Gronkowski-Allen duo is on paper more difficult.
Then again, the draft is still a few weeks away and Gronkowski did not make his decision to return for the 2018 season until a few days before the event. And while he could go down the same road again this year, the club would likely prefer having at least a tendency before free agency starts next week. After all, a lot is tied to the 29-year-old’s decision from a financial and roster building standpoint.
The early signs are encouraging — from Gronkowski reportedly telling teammates that he wants another Super Bowl win, to him regularly visiting Gillette Stadium — but until a decision is announced, the Patriots remain up in the air to a certain degree. Gronkowski should therefore make it sooner rather than later. But, of course, he alone has to make up his mind about this and as 2018 showed: better late to return than never.