With the recent announcement of New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski’s retirement from football at the age of 29 on his Instagram, does it signal a shift of power in the AFC?
Gronkowski, a three-time Super Bowl champion and four-time All-Pro in his nine seasons in Foxboro was widely considered the best TE in the game today. A monster at 6’6 and 260, Gronkowski was a mismatch for any linebacker or safety that defended him.
A major focal point in the Patriots TE-based system, Gronkowski made his living in the middle of the field on seam routes and fades in the red zone. Now, without Gronk, how does this effect the Super Bowl champions and those who hope to dethrone them?
You have WR Antonio Brown now in Oakland, Odell Beckham Jr., DE/LB Olivier Vernon, WR Jaelen Strong and WR Kareem Hunt in Cleveland and LeVeon Bell down in New York with the Jets.
While longtime rivals such Pittsburgh have gotten significantly weaker due to to the losses for the aforementioned Bell and Brown, they still have second-year WR Juju Smith-Schuster and recently signed Donte Moncrief while other longtime rivals such as the Colts and Ravens have quietly strengthened themselves in adding Pro Bowlers such as Justin Houston, Earl Thomas and Mark Ingram.
And the always pesky Buffalo Bills cannot be ignored as they added WR’s John Brown and Cole Beasley to give a promising Josh Allen more downfield weapons to work with. You also have reigning NFL MVP Patrick Mahomes and Baker Mayfield to contend with.
Mind you, Tom Brady isn’t getting any younger, and Father Time is undefeated.
If there is one person who will be effected most by Gronkowski’s sudden retirement, it is him.
In such a tight-end heavy offense, Gronkowski was the one reliable target other than Julian Edelman that Brady trusted the most and relied on in clutch moments. Need some evidence? Look no further than his 37-yard pass to Gronkowski that set up the game-clinching touchdown run by rookie running back Sony Michel.
How will the Patriots cope without Gronk? More than likely they will try to target—or even trade up—for the top-rated Iowa Hawkeye tight end duo of T.J. Hockenson and Noah Fant or Irv Smith out of Alabama.
It is still a ways to go before the 2019 NFL Draft down in Nashville, but thanks to the loss of Gronk, don’t be shocked if the Pats are active players come draft night.
In terms of Gronk leaving a GIANT Gronk-spike-sized power vacuum in the AFC, While Cleveland is the current du jour flavor of the moment and Oakland—soon to be Las Vegas—Indianapolis, Baltimore, Pittsburgh and New York have all added big-time players and closed the game on New England, in the end, the Patriots still have Brady and Belichick.
While the sans-Gronk Pats may seem a lot more vulnerable, they are still the champions—and the team to beat—in the AFC until proven otherwise.