Pro Football Talk’s Mike Florio speculated that as a possibility for Gronkowski, who hasn’t committed to playing for the 2022 season. Gronkowski said he would return to the Bucs if he plays, but he has been focused on off-field endeavors instead this offseason.
“At the heart of the issue could be the question of what the Bucs can or will pay Gronkowski,” Florio wrote.
Gronkowski made $8 million with the Bucs last season per Spotrac. The salary cap website proposes Gronkowski could command at least $9.5 million annually. That’s still below what 10 other NFL tight ends will make in 2022 per Spotrac.
Florio proposes Gronkowski “is worth a lot more” in light of the free agent market this year, including “the receiver market going haywire” with multiple free-agent wideouts making more than $25 million annually. San Francisco 49ers tight end George Kittle told Florio that tight ends should be making more during a May 20 interview on the #PFTPM podcast. Kittle used Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce as an example.
“I mean Travis Kelce, six seasons in a row, 1000 yards,” Kittle told Florio. “I’m pretty sure he has the most receiving yards over any wide receiver, skill position in the last six years. He gets paid half of what a wide receiver makes, which just boggles my mind. I mean, to me, Travis Kelce, he’s been doing it for so long and at such a high level. And he doesn’t have an off game. I think he has one bad game a year, and it’s just because he’s getting triple-teamed.”
Gronkowski, one of the greatest tight ends ever, still produces at a high level. He ranked seventh in receiving yards, 802, and touchdowns, six, among tight ends last season with 802 yards in 12 games.
The latest Bucs news straight to your inbox! Join the Heavy on Bucs newsletter here!
Gronkowski’s Final Pay Day in the NFL?
While Gronkowski has been saving his NFL salary and living off his endorsements, he doesn’t have many seasons left at age 33 and a significant injury history. Rising costs such as gasoline with inflation could be a consideration for him. Athletes and celebrities aren’t immune to it — rapper Ice T, for instance, joked he was robbed at a gas station because of the prices in March via Twitter.
“He should have a ceiling below which he won’t play,” Florio wrote about Gronkowski. “Maybe he does. And maybe the Bucs just haven’t gotten there yet.”
Florio suggests Gronkowski “should be done playing for anything less than $15 million per year” because of receiver pay inflation. Gronkowski once made the most of any tight end in 2012 when he signed a six-year, $54 million deal with the New England Patriots.
What Can the Bucs Afford?
Tampa Bay has $12.4 million in salary cap space to work with according to Spotrac. Some of that will go to draft picks and other remaining free agent needs.
Gronkowski notably played out the final year of his hefty Patriots contract in 2020 for $10 million in his first year with the Bucs after post-retirement trade. He averaged $9 million per season in two years with the Bucs, which sits below Spotrac’s projected market value of $9.5 million for his play.
What Gronkowski will play for in 2022 and if he will play remains to be seen as June minicamp draws closer.