That’s what ESPN’s Dianna Russini reported July 13 during an appearance on the “Keyshawn, JWill and Max” radio show. Gronkowski told ESPN’s Mike Reiss a day earlier that he is staying retired — even if Bucs superstar quarterback Tom Brady calls.
“Gronk isn’t healthy,” Russini said. “So that’s something that plays a big part in why he was able to be so open talking about retirement [on Tuesday].”
“I did reach out to some people with the Buccaneers organization to just see if they were buying it, and they are,” Russini added. “They are. They believe that Gronk really is done. But I feel like it’s important to add that there is a situation where there is some that believe late in the season — and [Tom] Brady gives him a call and Gronk feels good — then maybe that’s the situation [Gronk] comes back.”
“The health thing, though, guys — like, the health thing is real,” Russini said. “Anyone that’s close to Gronk that I talk to a lot, it’s like, ‘He’s just not the same; he’s not the same guy.’ Gronk’s not coming back until he feels like he’s the elite tight end, the greatest in the game.”
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Gronkowski Shined Amid Injuries
Gronkowski, 33, dealt with many injuries throughout his 11-year career, including rib and back injuries and a punctured lung last season. He missed five games due to injury and played in the last 11 games of the season, including the playoffs. He played 76% of the Bucs’ snap counts in 2021.
In 12 regular season games, Gronkowski maintained a high level of play, making 55 receptions for 802 yards and six touchdowns. He also tallied nine catches for 116 yards and a touchdown in the playoffs.
Despite coming back from injury, Gronkowski sounded hesitant to play again in 2022. He announced his retirement on June 21, but his agent, Drew Rosenhaus, said Gronkowski might come back during the season. However, after Gronkowski’s announcement on July 12, Rosenhaus did not come out with a similar statement.
Tight End Outlook for Bucs
Tampa Bay addressed the tight end position in the draft by taking Cade Otton from Washington in the fourth round followed by Ko Kieft from Minnesota in the sixth round. The Bucs haven’t publicly pursued a veteran tight end since Gronkowski’s June 21 retirement.
Cameron Brate gives the Bucs experience at tight end with 115 games played in eight seasons. Brate has 253 receptions for 2,683 yards and 33 touchdowns in his career. Former head coach Bruce Arians, now the Bucs’ senior football consultant, believes Brate can help fill the void left by Gronkowski.
“It’s a step back, that’s for sure,” Arians told Ira Kaufman of JoeBucsFan.com, “because [Gronkowski’s] a Hall of Fame player. But I really like the room right now. I love the young kids we’ve got in there, and Cam Brate’s a good veteran player that Tom really trusts. Now, he’s not Gronk. That size and what [Gronk] brings as a blocker and receiver I think is unmatched. You don’t replace that guy, but we also have Codey McElroy. … I think it’s time for him to break out as a receiver.”
McElroy has only three games of experience, and his only career reception came in 2019. He impressed coaches at OTAs, but Bucs head coach Todd Bowles tempered expectations until training camp.
The Bucs also have rookies Ben Beise from Wisconsin-River Falls and J.J. Howland from Yale to try out for roster spots.