Gronkowski told ESPN’s Mike Reiss on Tuesday that his retirement is final, which leaves the Bucs with a gaping hole in experience at tight end. Only Cameron Brate has significant experience among Bucs tight ends on the roster.
Former Bucs scout Pat Kirwan, also a former NFL executive and linebackers coach, believes the Bucs will lean toward ex-New Orleans Saints tight end Jared Cook. Kirwan said on SiriusXM NFL Radio, via JoeBucsFan.com, that the Bucs would prefer Cook over other free agent options such as Eric Ebron and Kyle Rudolph.
A two-time Pro Bowler, Cook has 553 receptions for 7,237 yards and 45 touchdowns in his career. His 2021 season with the Chargers went well as he posted 48 catches for 564 yards and four touchdowns. The 6-foot-5 veteran from South Carolina averaged 11.8 yards per reception, which kept him close to his career average of 12.8 yards per catch.
Cook also maintained his career-long durability in playing 16 games for the Chargers. He hasn’t played fewer than 15 games in a season since 2016 when he played 10 games for the Green Bay Packers — the fewest in any season of his career. Pro Football Focus graded Cook at 71.9 or higher annually from 2018 to 2022.
“Cook has always been a supremely physically talented receiving option at tight end who has been productive but perhaps always left some meat on the bone,” Pro Football Focus wrote about Cook in its free agent rankings. “He can still be a productive member of an offense in 2022.”
Cook has a history of developing chemistry with quarterbacks quickly. He played for four different quarterbacks in the past six seasons — Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, Justin Herbert, and Derek Carr.
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Cook’s History Versus the Bucs
Amid Cook’s success, two of his worst moments came against the Bucs in the 2020 season. He fumbled near the goal line during a 38-3 Saints win over the Bucs in the regular season. He also turned it over in the playoffs against the Bucs, a 30-20 defeat at the Superdome.
Kirwan Doesn’t See a No. 1 Tight End on the Bucs Roster
Making a move for a veteran tight end behooves the Bucs in Kirwan’s view, but he added that it might not come until August when he talked on SiriusXM NFL Radio via JoeBucsFan.com.
Kirwan said that he graded the Bucs tight end the lowest in the NFL among thus far during his SiriusXM NFL Radio spot via JoeBucsFan.com. He also said that Brate isn’t a No. 1 tight end.
Brate last put up No. 1 tight end-type numbers in 2016 and 2017 with more than 45 catches, 500 yards, and five touchdowns in each of those two seasons. The Bucs notably drafted tight end O.J. Howard with a first round pick in 2017, but he left in free agency this year after five seasons with the team.
“Without [Gronk] running that little Y-choice route, it’s really going to be a lot of pressure on the slot receiver for Brady to have what he wants. He always likes something right in front of him,” Kirwan said on SiriusXM NFL Radio via JoeBucsFan.com.
Kirwan added that, “[Brady will] work with those two rookies for about a week and then decide if he thinks they’re ready to help.”