After winning another Super Bowl championship, Rob Gronkowski announced on Sunday his decision to retire after nine NFL seasons.
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It all started at 20 years old on stage at the NFL draft when my dream came true, and now here I am about to turn 30 in a few months with a decision I feel is the biggest of my life so far. I will be retiring from the game of football today. I am so grateful for the opportunity that Mr. Kraft and Coach Belichick gave to me when drafting my silliness in 2010. My life experiences over the last 9 years have been amazing both on and off the field. The people I have meet, the relationships I have built, the championships I have been apart of, I just want to thank the whole New England Patriots organization for every opportunity I have been giving and learning the great values of life that I can apply to mine. Thank you to all of Pats Nation around the world for the incredible support since I have been apart of this 1st class organization. Thank you for everyone accepting who I am and the dedication I have put into my work to be the best player I could be. But now its time to move forward and move forward with a big smile knowing that the New England Patriots Organization, Pats Nation, and all my fans will be truly a big part of my heart for rest of my life. It was truly an incredible honor to play for such a great established organization and able to come in to continue and contribute to keep building success. To all my current and past teammates, thank you for making each team every year special to be apart of. I will truly miss you guys. Cheers to all who have been part of this journey, cheers to the past for the incredible memories, and a HUGE cheers to the uncertain of whats next.
First Ballot Hall of Famer
Put plainly Gronkowski was one of the most dominant players at the tight end position to ever play the game of football. He could destroy you with a block, drag defenders across the goal line or make amazing catches. Per Pro-Football-Reference his 521 receptions ranked 13th all time (when removing players who also played wide receiver during their career) at the tight end position. Of the top 13 receiving leaders at the tight end position, every one of them played at least ten seasons except for Gronkowski, Kellen Winslow, and Jimmy Graham. Among the top 13, only Winslow played in fewer games than Gronkowski’s 115 played.
Gronkowski is seventh all-time in receiving yards (again removing players who also played wide receiver) playing at least 83 games less than every player atop him in the rankings. His 79 career receiving touchdowns ranks third all-time, with only Tony Gonzalez who played 155 (!) more games, and Antonio Gates who played in 121 (!) more games topping Gronkowski.
To say Gronkowski was a positional advantage at the tight end position is an understatement. In every season except for his rookie season when he finished as the TE15, Gronkowski finished as the TE9 or better in average points per game. He finished as the TE1 on four occasions and the TE2 two other seasons. He exceeded 1,000 yards receiving four times as well seeing over 100 targets on four occasions.
The only drawback was the multiple injuries that caused him to miss 29 games in nine seasons. But for what Gronkowski gave you when he was on the field, those missed games were well worth the cost of doing business. On a personal note, as someone who hates all things New England Patriots, Gronk was always exempted from that hatred because of his absurd talent, infectious personality and all around greatness. He was a pleasure to watch, and he will be missed.
Let’s look at how Gronkowski’s retirement will affect the remaining (or soon to be) Patriots.
Patriot Pass Catchers
With Gronkowski’s retirement and Josh Gordon being suspended the Patriots have at least 140 targets available from last season. Depending on what happens with Chris Hogan in free agency another 55 targets could be available as well. As available targets go, that’s not an exceptionally large figure. It’s reasonable to assume that Julian Edelman and James White would be the biggest beneficiaries of the Gronkowski retirement.
White sees about one more target and an additional reception per game without Gronk, while Edelman sees three targets but just one more reception per game without Gronk. Both players hover around two more fantasy points per game without Gronk. If you own either player and someone in your league thinks they’ll see a huge increase in fantasy production now is a good time to sell high on either player. Two points per game does represent a significant increase in fantasy scoring, but Edelman is 32 years old, with only one season remaining on his current contract. White should remain a consistent high-end RB2 low-end RB1, but his scoring is volatile, outside of an outstandng 2018 season. Before Gronkowski’s retirement, Edelman or White could be acquired for a late first or early second in 2019 rookie drafts, and I wouldn’t pay much more than that now.
Phillip Dorsett is still on the roster after signing a one year, $2.6 million prove it deal but has yet to show any reason to think he’s going to break out. The tight end position has Jacob Hollister who has in two seasons produced eight receptions for 94 yards, who is now the nominal starter as well as Stephen Anderson, Ryan Izzo, and newly signed Matt LaCosse. If you have the roster space, pick one of them up and hope for a lottery ticket to pay off.
While not used a pass catcher in his rookie season, with just seven receptions on eleven targets, it’s possible that perhaps Sony Michel sees a few more targets. While he won’t be confused with Brian Westbrook, Michel did average over two receptions per game during his sophomore and junior seasons at Georgia. Over the last three seasons, the Patriots averaged 2.69 more passing attempts when Gronkowski was out of the lineup and maybe Michel could pick up some additional work in the passing game. With Gronkowski’s blocking prowess the Patriots averaged 4.2 yards per carry compared to 3.9 without him, so expect a drop in efficiency in the running game, which worked out to about 10 yards per game over the last three seasons.
The NFL Draft
Assuming the Patriots don’t go out and trade for Gronkowski’s replacement (hello Cameron Brate!) they’ll likely find his successor via the NFL Draft. Per Daniel Jeremiah’s latest mock NFL Draft both Noah Fant and T.J. Hockenson will be gone by the time New England drafts in the first round (32nd overall). Irv Smith Jr. should be available at 32 and that could make things interesting in rookie drafts if he ended up with the Patriots. Jace Sternberger who had a breakout season in his lone year at Texas A&M after transferring from Kansas is an option later in the draft. Whoever the Patriots draft at tight end will immediately gain value in any fantasy format.
After finishing as the QB16 (10 or more starts) in fantasy scoring last year it’s hard to envision Brady improving without the services of Gronkowski. In fact, going back to 2010 when Gronkowski joined the Patriots Brady’s stats take a significant hit without him.
Even in superflex leagues you likely couldn’t sell Brady for appropriate value due to his age and being unable to determine how much longer he’ll actually play. Unless another owner is willing to overpay for Brady he’s a hold for me and you can expect continued high-end QB2 stats.