TAMPA — Make the call. Bend the knee. Open the vault. Do whatever it takes but, for goodness’ sake, find a way to get these crazy kids together again.
Promise midweek vacations. Tease with more endorsements. Make it clear that he, alone, can rescue the Bucs. Just find a way to get Rob Gronkowski back in Tom Brady’s huddle.
You can see it, right? There is nothing wrong with Tampa Bay’s offense that a 265-pound legend of a tight end can’t cure.
Need a reliable target on third down? Sign Gronk. Need to stretch the field? Sign Gronk. Need that final block to open up the running game? Sign Gronk.
Need to see a freaking smile on Brady’s face? Sign Gronk!
Yes, I’m aware this may not be as easy as it sounds. Gronkowski has retired from the NFL for the second time and, from all appearances, is living his best life.
He’s throwing parties, he’s doing USAA and Subway commercials, he’s ripping it up on basketball courts. So, no, the Bucs cannot just snap their fingers and get Gronkowski back on the sideline at age 33.
But if they’ve already inquired 99 times, they need to pick up the phone again.
Look, on a serious note, if Gronkowski is concerned about his health then he absolutely made the right decision to walk away. No Super Bowl is worth risking any player’s long-term lifestyle.
But there are enough people around Gronkowski who seem to think that he has some ambivalence about retirement. His girlfriend, Camille Kostek, told Sports Illustrated in July that she did not think this retirement was going to last.
His agent, Drew Rosenhaus, has said numerous times that he does not think Gronkowski is done playing but he told ProFootballTalk on Monday that there have been no new developments with the Bucs.
Also, there is a chance that the current offensive malaise will be cured once Mike Evans, Chris Godwin and Julio Jones are finally running routes at the same time.
But that’s not a given. Jones has struggled to stay on the field the past couple of seasons, and his knee injury might be more significant than initially reported.
So, this isn’t a momentary panic attack. This is not overreacting. Even with their full complement of receivers, the Bucs still have a hole at tight end.
At this stage in his career, Brady has no desire to stand in the pocket and wait for downfield pass plays to develop on every drive. He gets rid of the ball in a hurry, and his options are limited with this roster.
Leonard Fournette can catch the ball out of the backfield, but that’s not his strong point. Cameron Brate and Kyle Rudolph have had some success in this league, but they’re not in Gronkowski’s class.
Brady wants receivers he can trust. He wants to know they will run a route exactly the way he expects and they will catch the ball if he gets it anywhere near them.
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Through the first three weeks of the season, that’s been a problem. The Bucs are struggling on third down, and they’re struggling in the red zone.
Do you think Gronkowksi could make a difference?
Of the 100 passes he’s caught in a Tampa Bay uniform, 63 percent have gone for first downs or touchdowns. And that doesn’t include the plays when he’s attracted multiple defenders and left Evans or Godwin or someone else in single coverage.
So do whatever it takes to meet Gronk’s demands. If he wants less snaps per game, that’s fine. If he wants to limit practice to walk-throughs, that’s fine. If he wants to wait until later in the season, that’s fine, too.
The Bucs got away with a lesser passing game the first two weeks because they played great defense and had some success running the ball. But the Green Bay game showed they are susceptible if they fall behind early and an opposing defense focuses on shutting down the run.
Now, maybe that’s an extreme example. As mentioned earlier, Evans, Godwin and Jones were all out of the lineup on Sunday. And so was left tackle Donovan Smith. Maybe the Bucs offense will be fine once the waiting room is cleared out in the doctor’s office.
Still, that’s not a guarantee. At the very least, the effervescent Gronkowski hedges their bets. And he provides Brady a little comfort and a lot of levity, which has been in short supply.
It’s no secret that Brady has looked fairly miserable in recent weeks. Maybe he’s frustrated with himself, maybe he’s frustrated with the players around him, maybe he’s frustrated with his own choice to come out of retirement in the spring.
Whatever the reason, Brady needs a boost.
And Gronkowski is the one guy who can provide it.
John Romano can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @romano_tbtimes.
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