Top Options for the Buccaneers to Replace Gronkowski

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The Tampa Bay Buccaneers star tight end Rob Gronkowski has announced he is retiring from football. We have all been anxiously awaiting a decision from tight end Gronkowski regarding his future in the NFL. On Tuesday afternoon we got our answer.

While the news isn’t completely unexpected, many were expecting Gronkowski to return at some point this offseason. In fact, there is still speculation that he will return at some point this year. Even his agent, Drew Rosenhaus, openly acknowledged a possible return this season.

However, in the here and now Gronkowski is gone. Now the Buccaneers have to plan for what comes next and who will replace that production on the roster. Obviously Cameron Brate will be the starter moving forward, but after that there are questions. Here are a few possible answers to those questions surrounding the tight end room.

The Rookies

The Buccaneers may have had a hunch that this would be Gronkowski’s plan as they drafted not one but two tight ends in the draft. Cade Otton and Ko Kieft were both drafted on day three. Both are very different players who could combine to replace Gronk.

Otton is a well rounded tight end prospect. He’s big and agile with the versatility to line up all over. Obviously he won’t step in and replace Gronkowski as a pass catcher, but he can fill some of that void.

Kieft, on the other hand, probably shouldn’t be expected to catch many passes. He’s more in the mold of a blocking tight end who plays primarily in line or even as a fullback. Kieft can help replace Gronkowski as a blocker in a way Otton can’t.

Free Agents

Eric Ebron is probably the best play making tight end still on the market. At 29 years old he is still in his prime and excels at using his athletic ability to create seperation. He fits the Brate mold as more of a pass catcher than a blocker, but he might be a short term upgrade over Otton.

Kyle Rudolph feels like he’s been in the league forever and is still on the market. He is 32 years old and it’s fair to question how much he has left in the tank. In a backup role he could provide some depth value as a blocker and possession receiver. 

Jesse James has made a living as a backup tight end. He can block some and is a reliable pair of hands. While he certainly isn’t an exciting athlete, he’s the definition of a solid backup who won’t hurt the team.

Overall

If you asked me right here right now, I would think that the Buccaneers go with the rookies in the short term and Gronkowski comes back later in the season for a postseason run. This would help the development of the young guys and they could provide the team enough value until the playoffs. However, the team can’t count on that and have to plan for the season without the beloved tight end. 

If the Bucs do sign a free agent tight end in the coming weeks then it will likely be an indication they expect Gronk back. But if they sign a bigger name like Ebron or Rudolph then it might be that Gronk is gone for good. If they sign a fringe roster type of player or just go with the rookies, then the door seems open for a likely return.

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