In life there are few people that give off the impression of being larger than life. A true combination of size, strength, and personality, Robert James Gronkowski is the definition of that.
6’6” 270 pounds, a pure freak-of-nature mixed with a loveable meathead, is a rare breed to say the least. Gronk brings power, skill, intelligence, and finesse that have never been seen out of the tight end position. Tony Gonzalez, Antonio Gates, Shannon Sharpe are all-time greats, but they couldn’t even shine Gronk’s shoes in his prime.
Gronk is the greatest tight end to ever walk this earth by a landslide, but he’s no longer the same unstoppable weapon and his compilation of injuries are the result of that.
The superstar missed his second game of the season against the Green Bay Packers, with another nagging back injury. The Patriots won 31-17 and had 433 yards of offense, without Gronk against a decent Packers’ defense.
His back has been a major issue for him throughout his entire career, so who knows how debilitating this could become for him as the season progresses.
Through seven games played during the 2018 season, Gronkowski’s statistics leave a lot to be desired: 29 receptions (75th in NFL, 12th for TEs), 448 yards (39th in the NFL, 6th in TEs) , one touchdown, and a fumble.
Very decent numbers for the normal tight end, but by his standards, this is dismal. Yes, he’s missed two out of nine games, but the issue is he always misses games.
Usually the pass catcher makes up for his absences by putting up monster performances when he’s on the field, but this year that is not the case. Only recording one game of over 100 yards, and five games of 75 yards or less this season is a trend we have never seen before.
What could be the issue? Brady? McDaniels? Neither. It’s Gronk. He has lost a step after years of taking massive punishment from linebackers and safeties trying to bring the monster to the ground.
This season Gronk is averaging 2.7 yards of separation per route run, this ranks 25th of all tight ends. He no longer possess that quickness to beat linebackers consistently, and every throw his way is tightly contested.
Brady is only targeting Gronk 6.1 times per game, significantly down from his career average of 8.02 targets a game. He just hasn’t been open. Gronk has a huge catch radius, so they should be able to complete a high percentage of passes to him, right?
Wrong, 67.4% of passes going his way this season have been completed, ranking as the 92nd best in the entire NFL. Gronk has not been consistent in the passing game whatsoever, with two targets, zero catches, and zero touchdowns in the red zone this season. These are shocking number compared to his 13 receptions and nine touchdowns down there in 2017.
In the eight and a half years Gronk has been a Patriot, they have played in 155 games including in the playoffs. 121 of those he has played in. The games he hasn’t played in, the Patriots are 22-6 (78.5%), having a better winning percentage without him on the field than with him.
New England is 1-0 without him in the Superbowl, and 1-2 when he plays in it.
I’m not trying to discredit the undeniable ability the four time All-Pro and five time Pro-Bowler has, but it shows that although he’s been an amazing piece for the last decade, the Patriots have had no problem winning without him.
Gronk has 571 catches, 8,601 career receiving yards, and 90 touchdowns during his illustrious career. He’s also an amazing pass and run blocker, and it’s almost as if having a 3rd tackle out there when he’s not running routes. There’s no denying how refined his all around game has been during his career, but unfortunately Gronk is over the hill and the toll of the hits he has taken while running down the seam have shown in his performance and with injury.
Gronk is under contract through the 2019 season when he becomes an unrestricted free agent. This is when Gronk will retire, the Patriots will get this season and next season out of him before he steps away from the punishment of the grueling NFL season.
This season and next season Gronk will be a $12 million salary cap hit. His incentives for the 2018 season are 70 catches, 80% snaps, 9 touchdowns, and 1,085 yards each one that he reaches being another $1.1 million added to his contract.
Luckily for the Patriots pocket he’s nowhere near on pace for any of those marks, and instead is looking like putting up a season more like 55 catches, 60% snaps, 800 yards, and 4 touchdowns this year if he stays relatively healthy.
Who knows how bad this back injury is right now. If Bill rushes Gronk back, they could lose him for the year, maybe even for the career.
In no way are the Patriots a better team without him, but they’ve shown that when he’s gone, it really doesn’t hurt.
Football? Wrestling? Hollywood? All I know is that his run with New England has been fantastic and unprecedented, but it’s coming to an end sooner rather than later. Gronk is the greatest that ever lived at his position. Who knows the type of numbers that could’ve been produced if he wasn’t riddled with nagging injuries his whole career. The possible numbers are mind boggling.
Brady and Gronk are a combination unlike any other in NFL history, two transcendent figures that sadly for New England fans will no longer be in the picture in the near future. The legend of Rob Gronkowski will never be forgotten, but this is near the end time. Take it all in while it lasts.
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