Credit: All-Pro Reels (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Rob_Gronkowski_2021.jpg)
By now, if you’re a Bengals fan, you’ve probably heard the news. For those of you who haven’t, let me be the first to welcome you back from the rock you’ve been living under! Also, Rob Gronkowski, the four-time Super Bowl Champion, the four-time first team All-Pro, possibly (definitely) the greatest tight end in NFL history, wants to play with Joe Burrow. He’s a free agent this offseason, and with Tom Brady retiring, Burrow just topped Gronk’s list of quarterbacks he’d most want to play with.
It’s big news. This caliber of player doesn’t usually come out and talk about playing in Cincinnati. In fact, I think we can all just go ahead and assume it’s never happened.
Naturally, a lot of the buzz in Cincinnati revolved around how Gronk could fit in the Bengals’ offense. Could you imagine an empty set with Ja’Marr Chase, Tee Higgins, Tyler Boyd, C.J. Uzomah AND Rob Gronkowski? Maybe Zac Taylor and the offensive staff would start utilizing two tight end sets more effectively. Maybe even three tight end sets. I can see Joe Shiesty lofting red zone touchdowns to Gronk already.
Still, it’s worth considering if Gronkowski really makes sense on future Bengals’ teams. With an injury history about as long as the Appalachian Trail, how long will Gronk be able to hold up long-term?
This is the tricky part. C.J. Uzomah, the Bengals’ current starter at tight end, has played very well this season, setting career highs with 493 receiving yards, 49 receptions and five touchdowns. Uzomah is also a free agent this offseason. The Bengals could potentially swap Uzomah for Gronkowski.
Uzomah has been a big part of this surprising Bengal’s Super Bowl run, though. The seventh-year tight end, who is one of the few remaining players from the Bengals’ previous playoff appearance, has provided energy and excitement to the team. They wouldn’t be in this position without his contributions.
On the other hand, it’s possible the Gronkowski could be a huge upgrade. Uzomah’s career stats look like this:
163 receptions 1,591 receiving yards 13 touchdowns
Gronk has had singular seasons that have approached those numbers. He caught 90 passes for 1,372 yards and 17 touchdowns in his sophomore season alone. He caught 10 or more touchdowns in five of his first six seasons. Gronk is going to the Hall of Fame. C.J. is a nice player, but he’s not that.
At the same time, Rob Gronkowski today isn’t the same player as Rob Gronkowski ten-years ago. The modern Gronk has had multiple back surgeries. He broke his forearm in 2012. There was also the torn ACL in 2013, not to mention hamstring strains, a concussion and even a lung bruise. The modern Gronk is damaged goods.
This is not to say that Uzomah isn’t damaged goods either, though. He tore his Achilles tendon last year and is currently recovering from an MCL sprain. Both tight ends have been hurt in the past, so why not go for the higher upside player in Gronk?
The biggest reason is their age. Gronkowski turns 33 in May. Uzomah just turned 29 in January. Gronkowski has already retired once in his career in 2019 because, as he put it, “I was not in a good place. Football was bringing me down, and I didn't like it. I was losing that joy in life... I could play right now if I wanted to play. I'm feeling good. Physically, I could do it. Mentally-wise, desire-wise, it's not there.”
Could Gronkowski put up big numbers for the Bengals with Joe Burrow tossing him passes? Sure. But it’s more likely that Gronk ends up on injured reserve at some point. Besides, Uzomah has been, in many ways, the heart and soul of this Bengals’ team. At the Bengals’ Super Bowl pep-rally, he ripped off his knee brace and threw it into the air behind him as Bengals fans went nuts. He’s made huge plays in crucial situations, like against Jacksonville in week 4 and against Tennessee in the Divisional Round. He did an Icky Shuffle-Griddy mashup dance against the Raiders in the Wild Card Round for Pete’s sake.
It’s possible the Bengals look at Gronkowski as a complementary piece, someone who could play alongside Uzomah in two tight end formations. Gronk has always been known as an excellent blocker as well and we all know how badly the Bengals could use blockers.
It’s just a lot to pay for an aging, injury-riddled tight end. Gronk just played on a one-year, $10 million contract. I doubt he will accept less to delay his retirement and sign with the Bengals. If the Bengals could find a way to sign Gronk on the cheap, then I’m all for it, but I just don’t think that’s possible. Gronkowski is still a premium player.
The Bengals would be better off re-signing Uzomah and using the majority of their remaining cap space to find better blockers for their offensive line room rather than for their tight end room. The Bengals also don’t really use two tight end formations much anyway. They’d rather find creative ways to get the ball to their three tremendous wide receivers and their dynamic running back. Uzomah fits what the Bengals want to do perfectly.
The bigger picture is still very positive for the Bengals. The sure-fire Hall of Famer, multiple time Super Bowl-winning Rob Gronkowski is interested in playing for Joe Burrow and the Bengals. He is the first to show that kind of interest, but he won’t be the last. More and more players of Gronkowski’s caliber are going to want to come to Cincinnati. That makes it a pretty nice time to be a Bengals fan.