The New England Patriots shocked the NFL world on Tuesday by dealing retired tight end Rob Gronkowski to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Just two days before the NFL Draft, New England acquired one of Tampa Bay’s fourth-round selections, the 139th overall pick, while additionally dealing away one of their own seventh-round picks.
What might seem like a small return for one of the best tight ends the game has ever seen, New England lacked any leverage in this deal.
Gronkowski, who retired after the 2018 season, still had one year remaining on his contract. The Patriots owned his rights, so if Gronkowski filed for reinstatement he would have counted for $9.25 million on New England’s salary cap. Currently, according to Miguel Benzan, New England has just over $1.1 million in total cap space available.
As New England would not be able to financially handle Gronkowski without making any major follow-up moves had he filed for a return, the team simply shipped him off to Tampa Bay where he will reunite with Tom Brady.
Gronkowski made it clear he would not play football for anyone unless Tom Brady was his quarterback. Back in the 2018 offseason, New England had a trade set to send Gronk to Detroit — instead, he informed both sides he would retire rather than playing for a quarterback not named Tom Brady.
“Yeah, it happened,” he told reporters who asked about the trade back then. “Brady’s my quarterback, that’s all. Wasn’t going anywhere without Brady.”
With Brady out of New England, the chapter of Gronkowski’s Patriot career was completely shut. Realizing this, the Patriots sent him to Tampa Bay, essentially receiving a free fourth-round pick in consolation.
The draft compensation is similar to that of the last two retired player trades. The Seattle Seahawks got a fifth-sixth-round swap for running back Marshawn Lynch in 2017; while the Baltimore Ravens got a sixth-seventh swap for linebacker Rolando McClain three years earlier.
With the draft now rapidly approaching, New England adds even more mid-round ammo to its 12 current selections. The Buccaneers had held two fourth round selections, No. 117 and No. 139., but will send their compensatory fourth-rounder (No. 139) to New England. Since 2014, of course, the Patriots have had some notable hits in the fourth round: James White, Shaq Mason, Trey Flowers, Bryan Stork, Malcolm Mitchell, and, most recently, Jarrett Stidham.
Now, the Patriots also have even more capital to move up in this year’s draft if they chose to do so. With a large gap between their first and second selections (23rd to 87th), the additional fourth-round pick could help them close it, or even help with a potential trade-up in the first round.
As for the seventh-round pick the Patriots will send to Tampa Bay, it will either be No. 230 or No. 241.
New England is still in the market for a, or multiple, tight end(s), as they failed to replace any of Gronkowski’s production last offseason. Perhaps their new fourth-round selection could be a part of the solution.