On Tuesday afternoon, Rob Gronkowski announced his retirement from the NFL…for the second time. The news comes with some time for the Buccaneers to make plans without him, but the loss of Gronk to their arsenal of weapons will impact the team this year.
Unless Gronk pulls a move like his good friend, Tom Brady, we will not see the playmaking TE in 2022. Obviously, that impacts the Gronkowski stock for owners in every league. But what other impacts will Gronk retiring have in fantasy football?
Let’s look at a few of the players that Gronkowski’s retirement may impact.
Right off the top, we could see an impact on Brady’s output in 2022 with Gronk’s retirement. Gronk has been a favorite target of Brady for years. They are up there with Peyton Manning and Marvin Harrison or Joe Montana and Jerry Rice as one of the most dynamic pass/catch duos in NFL history.
Brady and Gronk connected for 105 TDs in the regular season and playoffs over Gronk’s career. This fell just short of the record 114 touchdown connections between Manning and Harrison in their careers. Gronk has always been a red zone threat and a favorite target of Brady there. But Brady also uses the threat of Gronk to help free up his receivers all over the field.
If we use 2021 as the sample, Gronk missed five of Tampa’s 17 regular-season games last year due to injury. While many other factors play into Brady’s performance in every game, it should be noted that he averaged 325.67 passing yards per game in the 12 games Gronk played last season. Without him on the field, Brady only averaged 281.6 yards per game.
While this may seem somewhat significant, it is a pretty small blip from a fantasy perspective. Brady had a slight rise in TD average and a lower INT percentage in these games. The 41 passing yard difference will account for less than two points in fantasy matchups should this trend continue in 2022.
The more significant issue is looking at Brady’s entire arsenal from the start of 2022 until now. In week 1 of last year, Brady had Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, Antonio Brown, and Rob Gronkowski at his disposal. That is four receivers with a combined 21 seasons of over 1,000 yards receiving.
In 2022, Brady will start the year without Gronk or Brown and most likely Godwin, who is still recovering from an ACL tear in 2021. Brady’s top four now look like Evans, Breshad Perriman, Russell Gage, and Cameron Brate.
The retirement will not cripple Brady or make him an immediate sell for contenders, but it certainly is disappointing if you have shares of him in your leagues.
The obvious next player to discuss is the next-man-up, Brate. He looks to be who will step in as the Bucs’ starting TE with Gronk gone, a role he has been in. In his eight NFL seasons (all in Tampa), Brate has been the top TE on the depth chart for several seasons.
However, those seasons were never all that stellar. Brate’s best season came in 2016 when he hauled in eight TDs and had 660 yards receiving. That was good enough for Brate to finish as TE6 on the year, but it was also six years ago. Brate will be 31 in week one and has slowed slightly with age.
While the targets going Gronk’s way have been vacated, I wouldn’t be jumping to acquire Brate and expecting him to have anywhere near Gronk’s production. We can look at the five weeks Gronk missed last year for a small sample size. In the five full games Gronk missed last year with Brate as the top TE, he only managed to total 73 yards receiving and one TD on seven receptions and 18 targets.
Again, this is a very small sample size, but it doesn’t bode well for Brate to become an every-week fantasy option for owners. If you are looking for anyone on the waiver wire, I think Cade Otton may be a better bet where he is available. The fourth-rounder out of Washington is 6’5”, 247 lbs, and is an intelligent route runner with solid hands. Otton had some injury issues he is working through, so don’t be stunned if Tampa still makes a move this offseason for another TE option. But the likelihood is Brate will be the starter come week 1.
Of course, other Dynasty Nerds may be a bit higher on Brate than I am. Steven Pintado mentioned him in his Deep Sleeper Dynasty TE article and seemed to like his upside this year.
Suppose you have the bench space and want to take a stab at Brate, by all means. But I would temper expectations in thinking you have a TE1 on your roster.
The last guy I want to discuss is one of Tampa’s free-agent acquisitions this offseason: Russell Gage. Gage comes over from the division-rival Falcons having back-to-back 750-plus yard, four TD seasons.
While those numbers may not jump off the page, the vacated targets in Tampa are beginning to stack up. Gronk and Brown accounted for 151 targets in 2021. Additionally, Godwin had 127 targets a season ago and could miss the first third of the year.
In comes Gage, who totaled 203 targets over the last two seasons in Atlanta and fitted the WR mold that Brady covets. He has speed, good hands, and is versatile, having played 202 snaps in the slot and 203 snaps out wide with Atlanta in 2021.
And you don’t have to believe me. The Gage hype is coming straight from the GOAT’s mouth:
While some of the impact for Gage comes from him filling the role Brown had a season ago, Gronk’s targets across the middle need to be filled in somewhere. Gage is a great candidate to see some of that action in Tampa. He had 94 targets in 2021 in Atlanta, a team that passed 573 times total. The Buccaneers threw the ball 731 times last year.
Opportunity keeps opening up for Gage, especially in the early season. Acquiring him now could pay off big time down the road if he starts out hot with Brady in the first few weeks of 2022.
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