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As Bucs move forward minus Gronk, some veteran tight ends remain available

We look at a few proven guys who might make the most sense for Tampa Bay.
Bucs tight end Rob Gronkowski called it a career (again) on Tuesday. It seems likely the team will hit the market for a veteran replacement.
Bucs tight end Rob Gronkowski called it a career (again) on Tuesday. It seems likely the team will hit the market for a veteran replacement. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]
Published Jun. 22|Updated Jun. 22

For the second time in five months, Bucs fans have felt the blunt force of a major retirement announcement etched on social media.

Which is a far cry from stone.

Future Hall of Fame tight end Rob Gronkowski’s farewell to football Tuesday immediately was met with skepticism from his own agent, as well as a Tom Brady tweet suggesting — if not signifying — that he’ll place a call to his longtime target to rejoin the Bucs at some point in 2022.

But for now, the Bucs have no choice but to move forward minus Gronk, which means it could be shopping for a veteran replacement.

As it stands, Cameron Brate is the only tight end on the roster with more than one NFL reception. Though the Bucs drafted two tight ends in April and seem keen on practice-squad regular Codey McElroy, Brady presumably wants another proven weapon at that spot.

As recent history has shown, the team accommodates Brady’s desire for proven play makers (Gronk, Antonio Brown, Leonard Fournette). The Bucs currently have about $10.5 million in salary-cap space (according to Spotrac.com), which seems ample money to land a veteran on a one-year deal.

So who is available? A few prominent guys, actually. Here are four who seem to make the most sense:

Kyle Rudolph

Kyle Rudolph earned two Pro Bowl nods during his 10 seasons (2011-2020) with the Vikings before moving on to the Giants.
Kyle Rudolph earned two Pro Bowl nods during his 10 seasons (2011-2020) with the Vikings before moving on to the Giants. [ ADAM HUNGER | AP ]

After a prosperous decade in Minnesota, this two-time Pro Bowler spent a lackluster season (26 catches, one touchdown) with the Giants in 2021 before his release in March. Rudolph, who turns 33 in November, has spoken publicly about his desire to keep playing (and perhaps return to the Vikings). It almost makes too much sense for everyone involved.

Jared Cook

Jared Cook is past 30 and still productive. Of course he'd fit in on the Bucs roster.
Jared Cook is past 30 and still productive. Of course he'd fit in on the Bucs roster. [ DAVID BECKER | AP ]

Since turning 30, Cook has posted two Pro Bowl seasons, and has recorded five consecutive years of at least 500 receiving yards for three different teams. He had 48 catches at age 34 for the Chargers in 2021 and would seem a bargain financially. The downside? Cook never has been revered as a run blocker, and has 10 career fumbles — twice as many as Gronkowski.

Eric Ebron

Eric Ebron has sure hands, but did spend time last season being hindered by knee and hamstring issues.
Eric Ebron has sure hands, but did spend time last season being hindered by knee and hamstring issues. [ MARCIO JOSE SANCHEZ | AP ]
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At 29, this former first-round pick and 2018 Pro Bowler might warrant a look-see. He had 56 catches only two seasons ago with the Steelers — who signed him to a two-year, $12 million deal in 2020 — before being hampered by knee and hamstring ailments last fall. Once a liability as a run blocker, Ebron seemed to commit himself to that segment of his craft in Pittsburgh.

Levine Toilolo

The Bucs like tight ends who can block, and Levine Toilolo does fit that bill.
The Bucs like tight ends who can block, and Levine Toilolo does fit that bill. [ ADAM HUNGER | AP ]

A long shot at best, but perhaps worth a look. A Falcons fourth-round pick in 2013, Toilolo, 30, sustained a torn Achilles during the Giants’ preseason camp last August, and has bounced around with four different teams. But at 6-foot-8 and roughly 270 pounds, he has shown run-blocking prowess in the past, and has 102 career receptions with only one fumble.

Don’t bet on these dudes

Jimmy Graham appears to be at the end of his career after a slim season, production-wise, in 2021.
Jimmy Graham appears to be at the end of his career after a slim season, production-wise, in 2021. [ LINDSEY WASSON | AP ]

Jimmy Graham: An athletic freak in his heyday, Graham turns 36 in November and had only 14 catches with the Bears in 2021.

Blake Jarwin: This Cowboys veteran, 27, (70 catches over past four seasons) still is recovering from a rare hip injury.

Greg Olsen: This is one guy who is not un-retiring. A three-time Pro Bowler, Olsen, 37, now is the lead NFL analyst for Fox.

Contact Joey Knight at jknight@tampabay.com. Follow @TBTimes_Bulls

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