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Rob Gronkowski won’t be signed before minicamp, but Bucs optimistic about his return

The Pro Bowl tight end has spent time with Tom Brady this offseason, but for now the ‘Summer of Gronk’ rolls on.
Officially, Rob Gronkowski s undecided about this NFL future. Unofficially, the Bucs are optimistic he will re-sign with the team sometime before it reports to training camp in late July.
Officially, Rob Gronkowski s undecided about this NFL future. Unofficially, the Bucs are optimistic he will re-sign with the team sometime before it reports to training camp in late July. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]
Published Jun. 4|Updated Jun. 4

TAMPA — The “Summer of Gronk” will continue, uninterrupted by the Bucs’ mandatory minicamp.

Tight end Rob Gronkowski remains unsigned and won’t be part of the team’s full squad workouts June 7-9.

Officially, he’s undecided about this NFL future. Unofficially, the Bucs are optimistic he will re-sign with the team sometime before it reports to training camp in late July.

A couple of weeks ago, Tom Brady posted video of Gronkowski, 33, shagging fly balls while Brady took batting practice at the New York Yankees training facility off Himes Avenue in Tampa. He likely caught footballs from the quarterback, too.

The Bucs are giving Gronkowski all the space he needs this offseason to decide about whether to continue his career. He’s a free agent, but with Brady unretiring for “unfinished business,” it seems highly unlikely Gronkowski would play with another quarterback.

There also is the matter of negotiating a contract once/if Gronkowski decides to play.

Gronkowski earned base salaries of $9.25 million and $8 million with the Bucs the past two seasons. He also reached $1 million in performance incentives last year. But based on his production and skyrocketing salaries at his position, he could certainly ask for more.

Geroge Kittle is the highest-paid tight end in the NFL, averaging $15 million per year. He’s followed by Travis Kelce ($14.3 million), Dallas Goedert ($14.25 million) and Mark Andrews ($14 million). Even though Gronkowski has earned more than $70.6 million on the field during his 11 NFL seasons, fair value is fair value.

There are several signs that the Bucs are doing more than keeping the door open for his return.

In addition of re-signing most of their significant free agents, they’ve used voidable years in recent signings to enable them to go for it in what could be Brady’s final year in Tampa Bay in 2022. Bears defensive lineman Akiem Hicks’ signed a one-year deal worth about $6.5 million that could increase to $10 million based on incentives.

Hicks’ deal includes four voidable years, allowing the Bucs to lower his 2022 salary-cap value to $2.39 million.

According to Overthecap.com, the Bucs have $12.167 million in salary-cap space for 2022. That includes the $5 million in dead cap money for Gronkowski as part of his deferred signing bonus.

Another reason for optimism is that the Bucs haven’t added a veteran tight end this season. They selected two in the draft: Washington’s Cade Otton and Minnesota’s Ko Kieft. Cam Brate is primarily a receiving tight end but not likely to fill Gronkowski’s shoes as an every-down player.

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Nobody could begrudge Gronkowski from getting on with his post-football life. He retired once and has had multiple back surgeries, a torn ACL/MCL, a broken left forearm, a chest/lung contusion, four fractured ribs and a punctured lung.

But Brady can be very persuasive. Until he announces a decision, Bucs fans have to be patient and content with watching the shirtless tight end at the Gronk Beach Las Vegas NFL draft party or on the talk show circuits.

You won’t see him at the Bucs’ minicamp. His synergy with Brady is well documented, and they’ve spent time together this offseason.

The “Summer of Gronk” rolls on until he decides to become one of the “Boys of Fall.”

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