The big news of the day is that Rob Gronkowski is going to be traded to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for a 4th round draft pick. Overall I thought this was a pretty fair deal since New England didn’t have much leverage but I received on Twitter multiple questions/comments on that thought (and some others) so I figured it made more sense to post about here than to try to answer in a few words on Twitter.
When Gronkowski retired his contract was effectively put on “pause” by the Patriots. That means that in the event he returned the Patriots would “unfreeze” the contract and he would once again be a member of the Patriots. That certainly sounds like a situation in which the Patriots should have the trade leverage since they can block him from going to any other team in the NFL and would simply force him to honor his contract unless they received big trade value.
The problem for the Patriots is that they planned their entire offseason around Gronkowski being retired. The team has no cap room whatsoever. They have under $1.5 million in space. Once Gronkowski is officially reinstated he would count for at least $9.25M on the salary cap. That would leave New England scrambling to make moves on their salary cap to process his reinstatement. Why would a team whose cap is a bit of a mess this year want to make it even worse for a player who likely will not play for them this season? Or even if he did play for them would likely not be a difference maker playing with the likes of Brian Hoyer. Basically you are screwing yourself over for little reason by doing that.
If anything they should have looked at this as a gift. They are getting a 4th round draft selection for a retired player that they had no thought of using this year whatsoever. A 4th for a player who as of a few weeks ago was transitioning into working more in the field of pro wrestling rather than pro football. A 4th for someone they may have had to just cut due to cap concerns. Its getting something for nothing to be honest.
As for the Bucs many asked why they didn’t just let him get cut. One there is no guarantee he will be cut. Two they are absorbing a contract with no downside risk. The one year contract is worth $10 million for the season. $250,000 is virtually guaranteed (it’s the workout payment) and $750,000 is tied to per game bonuses. That’s only $1 million more than Jimmy Graham received from the Bears this year but with $5.75 million less in guaranteed salary. There is no guarantee that Gronkowski is going to be good. He wasn’t good in his final year in New England at times looking like a shell of the former player he once was. He may be great, but the odds may be just as good come August that you wonder what you got yourself into.
As for OJ Howard if I were the Bucs I would keep him even if it seems like tight end overkill. Part of the reason is the above about how Gronkowski may not be great and Howard is great insurance at a cheap cost. Secondly who knows if Gronkowski will even play. Jason Witten did last season but we have seen others come out and decide after a few practices that this wasn’t for them anymore. If that occurred and you traded Howard all you are left with is Cameron Brate. Brate is a good player but Howard is a better player.
The final comment I saw a lot of is will more players do this to force a teams hand? I guess its possible (Damon Harrison threatened retirement at some point this year and got cut, the Favre retirement dramas are legendary), but most teams are not in the salary cap predicament that the Patriots are in. If Gronkowski, for example, was a Brown they could hold onto him because they have so much cap room. So for many players leaving for a year and then coming back won’t put the cap pressure on their teams that Gronkowski could have put on the Patriots.
Jason is the founder of OTC and has been studying NFL contracts and the salary cap for over 15 years. Jason has co-authored two books about the NFL, Crunching Numbers and the Drafting Stage, which are widely circulated in the industry and hosts the OTC Podcast. Jason’s work has been featured in various publications including the Sporting News, Sports Illustrated, NFL Network and more. OTC is widely considered the leading authority on contract matters in the NFL.