The Tampa Bay Buccaneers open a three-day mandatory minicamp on June 7 for the final team workouts before training camp in late July.
That minicamp won’t include star tight end Rob Gronkowski, who still hasn’t officially decided on his status for the 2022 season according to Rick Stroud of the Tampa Bay Times. Gronkowski became a free agent in the offseason, but he remained occupied with his off-field endeavors while leaving football up in the air.
Meanwhile, the Bucs “unofficially” remain “optimistic” that he will return for training camp in July, Stroud noted. Gronkowski at least confirmed in April that he would play for the Bucs if he returns to football.
Since, Gronkowski hasn’t increased hopes of a comeback. He talked about being “farther away from the commitment” to football during the draft and joked about returning if retired former teammate Julian Edelman does it, too. Gronkowski’s social media comment about wearing Leonard Fournette‘s jersey number in the stands didn’t breed confidence, either.
Things changed course a little in late May when Gronkowski caught fly balls during batting practice with quarterback Tom Brady, who notably donned his quarterback wristband. Brady had previously expressed hope that his longtime teammate will play again and said in another interview about “trying” to get Gronkowski to return.
It may take Brady-level persuasion for Gronkowski to return, Stroud alluded to. Gronkowski retired once in 2019 after an injury-riddled tenure in New England. Injuries interrupted Gronkowski’s 2021 season, too, with rib and back injuries, plus a punctured lung. Gronkowski has even spoken of the physicality of the game being a concern for himself.
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Bucs Didn’t Replace Gronkowski
Amid Gronkowski’s uncertainty, the Bucs only added tight ends through the draft this offseason as Stroud noted. The Bucs also let O.J. Howard go in free agency, and the Buffalo Bills signed him for $3.5 million contract, per Over the Cap, with hopes he will become the tight end the Bucs originally envisioned.
Bucs veteran tight end Cameron Brate, can’t “fill Gronkowski’s shoes as an every-down player”, Stroud wrote. Brate’s single-season career highs for receiving consist of 57 receptions, 660 yards, and eight touchdowns. That all happened in 2016, and he hasn’t hit 40 receptions, 500 yards, or six touchdowns in a season since 2018.
Plenty of Money Available for Gronkowski
Financially, the Bucs appeared to make the salary cap space extremely thin for re-signing Gronkowski with the recent signing of defensive tackle Akiem Hicks for a deal worth up to $10 million.
Since Hicks has four voidable years with the contract, the Bucs only take a $2.39 million salary cap hit according to Stroud. That means the Bucs have $10.67 million in remaining salary cap space according to Over the Cap as of Saturday, June 4.
Gronkowski made $8 million in 2021 with the Bucs per Over the Cap. Spotrac lists Gronkowski’s free agent value at $9.5 million annually, but several other elite tight ends make much more. George Kittle, Travis Kelce, Dallas Goedert, and Mark Andrews all make above $14 million as Stroud noted.
Salary cap management and roster moves serve as “several signs that the Bucs are doing more than keeping the door open for” Gronkowski, Stroud wrote.