Friday, July 1, 2022

Fantasy Football: Rob Gronkowski’s retirement announcement leaves big questions for Buccaneers (for now)

Throughout the offseason, Rob Gronkowski has been pretty consistently getting selected in Fantasy Football drafts despite not actually being on a roster yet. But it looks like those picks will end up having been wasted, as the future Hall of Famer announced Tuesday he’ll be retiring – again – rather than returning to the Buccaneers as many of us had been expecting. 

Of course, as Gronkowski’s long-time running mate, Tom Brady, reminded us earlier this offseason, retirement announcements aren’t set in stone. In fact, Gronkowski himself retired following the 2018 season, only to rejoin Brady when he went to Tampa during the 2020 offseason, ultimately playing two more years. Will the now 33-year-old be coming back despite this most recent announcement? According to his agent, Drew Rosenhaus, you shouldn’t discount the possibility entirely.

“It would not surprise me if Tom Brady calls him during the season to come back and Rob answers the call,” Rosenhaus told ESPN shortly after Gronkowski’s announcement. “This is just my opinion but I wouldn’t be surprised if Rob comes back during the season or next season.”

Which is all to say, don’t go tearing those best-ball rosters up just yet. And don’t just pencil Cameron Brate in as a TE1 for the 2022 season. It’s possible Gronkowski opts to return during or even before the season, so let’s take a minute to think about how we should approach the Buccaneers passing game, especially their tight ends.

Because this offense right now looks a whole lot different than it did last season. Gronkowski is gone, as is Antonio Brown – though that happened toward the end of last season. O.J. Howard, the No. 2 tight end, is also out of the picture after signing with the Bills, while Chris Godwin, the expected top option in the offense, is very much in question for Week 1 as he continues to recover from January ACL surgery. It’s possible he’ll be cleared in time for the start of the season, but he looks likely to open training camp on the physically unable to perform list, at the very least.

That leaves Mike Evans and Leonard Fournette as the only returning Buccaneers who caught at least 40 passes and are likely to be ready for Week 1. Free agent signee Russell Gage figures to play a prominent role in the offense, likely as the No. 2 option alongside Evans, and it’s not out of the question he could be a must-start Fantasy option at least at the beginning of the season. Gage is coming off career-best numbers with the Falcons last season, and he averaged 15.6 points over his final eight games in PPR scoring – numbers he could be capable of replicating as Brady’s No. 2 receiver. 

Cameron Brate also seems like a likely beneficiary of Gronkowski’s absence, especially with Howard out of the picture. Brate has been a non-factor during the Brady era for the most part, but he’s been a viable Fantasy option in the past. He’ll just need to be a lot better than he was last season – he had just 245 yards on 30 catches and 57 targets. At 31 in just a few days, Brate’s upside is probably limited, but he could have some appeal as a low-end starting option for Fantasy.

It still feels like there’s a hole in this offense, at least until Godwin is healthy. Evans is going to get plenty of targets, as should Gage, but this was the most pass-heavy team in the league last season, with five players who averaged at least 4.6 receptions per game. There is plenty of room for someone else to step up – maybe someone like Tyler Johnson or Cyril Grayson, or perhaps rookie running back Rachaad White, who caught 43 passes in 11 games at Arizona State last season. Any one of those players could be a viable late-round target, especially in deeper formats.

Or, maybe Godwin is healthy by Week 1 and Gronkowski does opt to come back, in which case, the status quo should reign. Neither seems like the likeliest outcome at this point, but it’s entirely possible Gronkowski simply doesn’t want to go through the grind of another training camp but will opt to return to the team before long. He’s already done it once, after all.

For now, the Buccaneers enter the season with some certainties – they’ll pass a lot, with Evans, Gage, and Leonard Fournette likely at the top of the hierarchy – and perhaps just as many questions. Those questions leave plenty of room for potential Fantasy sleepers to emerge, but there’s also plenty of time for those questions to be answered in other ways. 

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