Tom Brady threw 90 touchdown passes to Rob Gronkowski over their nine seasons together with the New England Patriots. Now Brady and Gronkowski just might hit triple digits.
The two are teammates once again after the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' newsworthy 2020 offseason took another startling turn: On Tuesday, the Buccaneers traded a fourth-round pick in the upcoming NFL Draft to the Patriots in exchange for Gronkowski and a seventh-round selection.
The fourth-round pick is the second of two Tampa Bay owned in the fourth round, a compensatory selection that was number 139 overall. The pick the Patriots dealt is number 241 overall and was obtained from Seattle last year in a trade of tight end Jacob Hollister.
Though Gronkowski did not play in 2019 after announcing his retirement from the NFL in March, his rights still belonged to the Patriots as there was a year remaining on the six-year contract extension he signed in 2012. That required a trade in order for Gronkowski to return to the NFL and renew his prolific partnership with Brady in Tampa.
Brady is considered by many as the greatest quarterback of all time and Gronkowski wouldn't be far behind in the tight end rankings. He is the most prolific postseason tight end in league history, with 81 catches for 1,163 yards and 12 touchdowns, and his production helped the Patriots advance to five Super Bowls during his tenure and win three of them. His 79 regular-season touchdowns from 2010-19 were the most by any player at any position in that span.
"Rob Gronkowski is one of the best tight ends in NFL history and he plays the game with the type of passion and desire that sets him apart," said Buccaneers General Manager Jason Licht. "Rob has played his entire career alongside Tom Brady and their accomplishments speak for themselves. Together they have developed the type of chemistry on and off the field that is crucial to success. Rob combines elite-level skills as both a receiver and blocker but what really makes him special is the fact that he's a proven winner who brings that championship mindset and work ethic."
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Possessed of speed, power and agility, the 6-6, 268-pound Gronkowski can make plays downfield like a receiver or turn short passes into big gains by running over would-be tacklers. He's also a force in the run game, making him a rare complete tight end. His 68.4 receiving yards per game during his nine seasons in New England were the most by any tight end in that span, as were the 3,080 yards after the catch he produced. His average of 15.1 yards per catch was also the best among all tight ends who caught at least 100 passes in this nine seasons.
The 30-year-old Gronkowski has four 1,000-yard receiving seasons on his resume, as well as five years in which he hit double digits in touchdowns. His best statistical year was 2011, when he caught 90 passes for 1,327 yards and 17 touchdowns, one of the greatest seasons ever for a tight end. His most recent 1,000-yard season was in 2017 and he remained extremely productive in his last seasons with Brady in New England. Over 27 games in the 2017-18 seasons, Gronkowski caught 116 passes for 1,776 yards and 11 touchdowns. He has earned five Pro Bowl selections and been named an all-pro four times. Gronkowski was oen of two tight ends named to the NFL's All-Decade Team for the 2010s.
Obviously, most of the passes Gronkowski has caught came from the right arm of Brady, who played 20 years in New England before signing with the Buccaneers in March. Between the regular season and the postseason the two have combined for 597 completions for 8,949 yards and 456 first downs to go with those 90 touchdowns. Gronkowski is Brady's all-time most prolific passing partner in terms of yards and touchdowns (regular season and postseason combined). With Brady's help, Gronkowski logged 28 100-yard receiving games, second-most in NFL history among tight ends to Hall-of-Famer Tony Gonzalez.
Gronkowski joins a Buccaneers passing attack that led the NFL in passing yards in 2019 and was third in scoring. That offense is now under Brady's direction but it still includes perhaps the NFL's best receiving duo in Mike Evans and Chris Godwin. The Buccaneers may also choose to add additional offensive weapons in Thursday's draft, as they still have three picks in the top 76 over the first two days of the draft. Gronkowski's blocking skills should also help the Buccaneers improve upon a rushing attack that ranked 24th in 2018.