Future Hall of Fame tight end Rob Gronkowski announced his retirement from football on Tuesday. The 33-year-old appears to be hanging up the cleats for good this time, although this is his second shot at retirement. The first saw him miss the entirety of the 2019 season before joining former teammate Tom Brady for two seasons with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. While many wonder how long Gronk will stay retired, the bigger question is who will be the Bucs' tight end this season?
At the time of Gronk's retirement announcement, Tampa Bay has four tight ends listed on their current depth chart. Cameron Brate, Cade Otton, Ko Kieft and Codey McElroy are the remaining tight ends for the Buccaneers.
Brate wound up on the Bucs in 2014 after going undrafted out of Harvard. Of the remaining players, he not only has the most NFL experience but the longest tenure with the team. He has played in at least 14 games each season since 2015 even though he had been used either behind or in conjunction with former teammate OJ Howard during that span. His best season came in 2016 when he played 15 games and had 57 receptions for 660 yards and eight touchdowns.
Otton was drafted in the fourth round of the 2022 NFL Draft by Tampa Bay. He could be the future of the position for the franchise, but it is too early to tell. At Washington, he was a four-year player that totaled 91 receptions for 1,026 yards and nine career touchdowns. Kieft was also drafted this year but in the sixth round. He played four collegiate seasons although he missed the entirety of the 2019 season. Kieft never really took off in college only tallying 12 receptions for 166 yards and two touchdowns in nine career games.
McElroy is 29 years old and found his way back to football after playing professional baseball at the Class-A level in the Atlanta Braves organization. He went back to school at Southeastern Oklahoma State and walked on to their football team. McElroy went undrafted in 2018 and joined the Bucs in 2019 playing in three career games so far.
If the answer isn’t on the roster, who could Tampa Bay bring in to shore up their depth chart or to give Brady a reliable pass-catcher? Howard is with the Buffalo Bills on a one-year, $3.5 million contract so it theoretically wouldn’t take much to get him back. Another trade target could be Dan Arnold who is in the second year of a two-year deal with the Jacksonville Jaguars. The Jags signed Evan Engram in the offseason so Arnold could be someone to ship out to get what they can.
If the team chooses to go with a player that is currently a free agent, Hunter Bryant would provide the most upside with his talent and youth. Don’t be shocked if they woo a veteran free agent with a cheap deal to play with Brady. Jimmy Graham, Eric Ebron and Jared Cook all come to mind. It could end up being someone like Ryan Izzo who is a free agent tight end that has caught a touchdown pass from Brady in his career.