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Tom Brady to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers was probably the most interesting player move of the NFL offseason. Until the “Rob Gronkowski to the Bucs?” went from rumor to finalized in what seemed like 20 seconds.
The Brady-Gronkowski reunion in Tampa Bay is fun, for sure. It’s exciting and makes the Buccaneers perhaps the most interesting team in the league. That’s great for the NFL and all its fans.
But the notion that the Buccaneers are suddenly Super Bowl contenders? Plenty of people will be picking them, and that’s taking a pretty big leap. For both of the Buccaneers’ big acquisitions. There’s plenty of downside to both players.
Rob Gronkowski had a rough 2018
You might have heard, but Brady will be 43 years old. NFL Twitter seemed to celebrate his decline all last season, then forget about that once speculation started on where he’d land as a free agent. We’ll get to Brady in a moment.
Gronkowski is a more complicated case. He’s not all that old. He’ll turn 31 in May. But that’s not young either and Gronk has a long list of health issues. That’s a reason he retired in the first place. He’s undeniably an old 31 after all the punishment he has taken.
It’s entirely possible Gronkowski’s body feels great again after a year off and he survives a 16-game season (or, perhaps we get a shorter season, it’s impossible to say). But we also wondered if the same thing could happen with Le’Veon Bell. His year holding out preceded the worst season of his career with the New York Jets. There are plenty of reasons for that beyond a year off — well, just one reason and his name is Adam Gase — but the year off didn’t seem to help him. It might hurt Gronkowski as much as it helps. We don’t know.
And while Gronkowski is the most dominant tight end of all time, he wasn’t that player in 2018. He looked like a player near the end. In 13 regular-season games, he posted 682 yards and three touchdowns. His yards per catch went from 14.2 in 2016 to 10.3 in 2017 to 9.5 in 2018. He came up big a few times in the playoffs and it’s hard to bet against a player as great as Gronkowski, but it’s worth remembering that Gronkowski didn’t look like vintage Gronk in 2018. He wasn’t bad but he wasn’t great (aside from those clutch postseason plays). And now he’ll be two years older.
Gronkowski could be great after a year off, especially with some great receivers taking attention away from him, and sending a fourth-round pick won’t kill the Buccaneers either way. But it’s no sure thing.
Tom Brady had clear decline in 2019
The debate about Brady has been going on long before he left the Patriots.
The fact is, Brady’s numbers declined across the board and no quarterback Brady’s age has had any success in the NFL. Ever. Maybe a significant upgrade in weapons is all he needs — Mike Evans, Chris Godwin and Gronk is pretty impressive on paper — and perhaps the Bucs are right and Brady has the ideal arm to fit in Bruce Arians’ deep-passing scheme. Again, it’s hard to bet against Brady, who has put together the greatest resume in NFL history.
But it might not work out. In the playoffs last season, the Tennessee Titans — led by former Brady teammate Mike Vrabel — coached the second half in a very conservative way, seemingly content that Brady couldn’t overcome Tennessee’s 14-13 lead. And he couldn’t. Brady threw a pick six on his final Patriots pass, and plenty of stories were written that wondered if Brady was finished.
It wasn’t an unfair question to ask. And it’s not an unfair question to ask now, either. As great as Brady has been, we’re in unchartered territory with a quarterback his age. There were warning signs last season. And he won’t have a normal offseason to acclimate to his new team.
Perhaps Brady and Gronkowski have a storybook reunion and lift the Lombardi Trophy. Super Bowl LV is scheduled for Tampa Bay. But we might be hoping to see the all-time greats from our best memories, and forgetting what we saw the last times they were each on a football field.
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