Set to play in his record-extending 10th Super Bowl, all eyes are naturally on Tom Brady up until the big game on February 7th. And while the greatest quarterback of all time has played a vital role in getting the Tampa Bay Buccaneers — an organization that had not won a playoff game in 17 seasons before his arrival — to that point, he is not the only former New England Patriots star who has played a role in the team’s recent success.
Rob Gronkowski, who joined the Buccaneers out of retirement, has played an equally important role according to Jason Licht. Tampa Bay’s general manager, who himself has a history in New England, was asked about the tight end’s impact during a media conference call on Wednesday. He spoke highly about Gronkowski.
“If you’re having a bad day, I suggest any of you just go spend a little time with Gronk,” Licht said about the future Hall of Famer. “He just lifts you up just by being him. He’s funny. We have conversations every day, and I look forward to it. I told my wife, ‘Can’t wait to go talk to Gronk at practice today.’ He’s just being himself. He’s very authentic. He loves the game, and when it’s time to be serious, it’s very serious.
“There’s a lot of talk of what Tom has done for this locker room, and it’s all warranted, but what Gronk has done for this locker room is equally amazing.”
Gronkowski arrived in Tampa Bay in April, when the Patriots traded his rights to the Buccaneers after he expressed a desire to return from his one-year retirement — but only if he can play alongside Brady again. New England obliged and sent him and a seventh-round draft selection to Florida in exchange for a fourth-round pick.
Since that trade, the 31-year-old has played a vital role in the Buccaneers offense.
Not only is he still arguably the best blocking tight end in the game, he also posted some solid receiving numbers that are on par with his final season in New England: Gronkowski has caught 45 passes for 623 yards as well as seven touchdowns. While no longer dominating the NFL leaderboard at his position, the veteran is still a dangerous option in the passing game and one of Tom Brady’s favorite targets.
As Licht noted, however, his role within the organization extends beyond that of a playmaker. Gronkowski is also one of the team’s leaders in the locker room even though he does not hold the title of captain his year (unlike Brady).
For Licht, his impact on the team is explained with one simple sentence:
“He’s just a great teammate and loves life.”