Here’s the most compelling evidence that Rob Gronkowski is done playing NFL football: The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are planning for life without him.
Veteran tight end Kyle Rudolph is signing a one-year contract with the Bucs, ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported Wednesday night.
Rudolph is an 11-year NFL veteran and two-time Pro Bowler who spent the 2021 season with the New York Giants, where he caught 26 passes for 257 yards and one touchdown. The 32-year-old will join Cameron Brate as quarterback Tom Brady’s two primary tight end targets in Tampa Bay.
While Gronkowski retired for a second time in June, there was plenty of speculation that the former New England Patriots star would return for another season if Brady came calling.
Even Gronk’s girlfriend, Camille Kostek, thought a comeback was in the cards. “I am an honest lady, and honestly, in my heart, I didn’t feel like this one is a forever one.
So, I think maybe he’ll come back again,” Kostek told Sports Illustrated earlier this week. But Gronk recently insisted that not even Brady could convince him to return for one more season, and the Bucs’ signing of Rudolph is an indication that Gronk is not in Tampa Bay’s plans this season.
Gronkowski racked up 802 yards and six touchdowns on 55 catches last season, so Rudolph has some very large shoes to fill, and it’s possible that the 31-year-old Brate will be Tampa Bay’s lead tight end given his relative familiarity with Brady.
The last time Brady didn’t have Gronk for an entire season, his 2019 Patriots lost in the AFC Wild Card Game, so the GOAT will have his work cut out for him in 2022.