Rob Gronkowski is heading to Florida to link up with his old buddy Tom Brady once again. He’s going to love it there.
So, the New England Patriots are trading Rob Gronkowski to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, where Tom Brady will throw to him once again. Gronkowski has passed his physical, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, and the deal is done. And why not?
At this point, it’s obvious that most people have just given up caring. Anything can happen these days. Just throw some words together in a way that sounds interesting, and you’re 90% of the way there.
Think about that sentence. “The Patriots are trading Rob Gronkowski to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, where Tom Brady will throw to him once again.” Think about how little sense that makes in any kind of fact-based, objective reality. It’s like a Mad Lib, and it makes about as much sense. “Long Island Ducks sign David Garrard as head groundskeeper, replacing Mick Jagger.” Is that at all sensible? No. Does it make a lot more sense than a retired Rob Gronkowski being traded to Tampa Bay? Not really.
But once you get over the initial shock of the news — and it’s no small thing to get over — the logic of the trade starts to fall into place. Gronkowski apparently never really got tired of football: Jeff Darlington of ESPN reports that “Gronk was done with the Patriots…but he never wanted to be done catching TDs from Brady.” Rob Gronkowski spent nine seasons catching passes from one of the best quarterbacks ever to throw them, and now that he can do the same in Tampa, it would almost be strange if he didn’t.
Even outside the football context, you get the feeling that as a city, Tampa Bay will fit Gronkowski like an enormous padded glove. For one, he’ll make a great Florida man. “Whatever insanity is happening in your state, Florida has done it with an alligator and possibly some amphetamines,” reads the sub-heading of the Esquire 2019 “Wildest Florida Man Headlines” countdown.
In Florida, they drive to Taco Bell with World War II grenades in their pickup trucks. They drive Ferraris into the ocean at top speed. They do donuts on the airport runway. In July 2018, a Florida man walked into a convenience store with an alligator in his hand and asked, “y’all ain’t out of beer are you?” The state practically screams “Gronk.”
And Tampa — he’s going to love it there. In March, Déjà Vu Showgirls, a Tampa club, announced that it would give away 10,000 face masks to its customers to help slow the spread of coronavirus. Gronkowski once made $25 as an impromptu male stripper at a bachelorette party. He’ll blend in like a local.
Yes, Gronk taking his talents to Tampa is an enormous surprise and a sort of cultural event. But there are also football implications. Tampa Bay’s top tight end, O.J. Howard, has promise: he’s 25 years old, 6-foot-6 and weighs 251 pounds and his 4.51 40-yard dash at the 2017 NFL Combine was second-best out of all the tight ends who participated.
But he’s not Gronk. A year ago, the Buccaneers had Jameis Winston throwing to a young tight end with potential, who hadn’t quite broken out yet. Now they have what is almost undeniably the most lethal quarterback-tight end combination of all time.
Sure, Gronkowski is almost 31, and has missed a year. But betting against Brady and Gronkowski because of age is like picking the ’96 Bulls to lose because Steve Kerr got a hangnail. Brady in a fresh new environment…Gronkowski after an injury-free year on the sideline…it’s an intimidating thought. Logically, maybe not, but players this good defy logic all the time.
Or maybe they won’t. Brady regressed last season, and he’ll be 43 in September. So far, everyone who’s predicted his downfall has been wrong, but he can’t literally play forever. Gronkowski has had injury issues, and he didn’t look great in his last season in New England. 31 isn’t young, especially for a tight end whose game depends on a delicate combination of speed and strength.
The scary thing, though, is that Gronkowski must think that he can do it. Would he make a comeback just to be a run-blocker? He’s Gronk. He likes the spotlight. It’s hard to imagine that he would come back, and reunite with Brady, if he didn’t think he could be a star.
Time will tell whether Gronkowski can still be a dominant tight end, whether Brady can throw to him like he once did, and what that will mean for Tampa Bay. It’s still early: It’s not even clear whether the season will start on time. The football elements are uncertain. For now, the Gronkowski trade is just an enormous sports news event. “Florida man wearing underwear and torn Buccaneers jersey plays beer-pong with alligator”? Not so far-fetched now, is it?