Report: Serious Mutual Interest between Titans and Rob Gronkowski

Personally, it was a lovely Saturday afternoon on March 12. It was my nephew’s 7th birthday, and I was able to take part intones introductions arcade games at Dave and Buster’s. We also had some Mexican food before hand. And of course right on cue, three pieces of Tennessee Titans news items were released almost all at the same time.

I definitely got the glares from the wife and in-laws as I am checking my phone, and seeing the Harold Landry contract numbers were released. I, of course, had a Landry article at home. It was unfinished and has been waiting these details since Tuesday.

As I sulked staring at my steak burrito, only thinking about how there would be so many reports, analysis, and tweets about the contract itself, and my work had gone to waste, I then saw a pretty significant tweet from a source I wasn’t expecting:

EYE EMOJIS

Chad Withrow, of Outkick 360, dropped a hell of a bomb at 1:23p on a chilly Saturday afternoon. This led to all sorts of the usual comments doubting Withrow. (Editor’s Note: it feel weird to use last name only for a man who has been on our show twice, but you know, journalism or whatever) However, Withrow wouldn’t just sling this out there unless this was something he heard from an ultra reliable source.

Seriously, how often do you see Withrow out there slinging a sourced NFL rumor out on Twitter all willy-nilly? I cannot recall a time that he has. This is obviously pretty big news for a team that is desperate to upgrade the absolute weakest part of their roster from 2021.

Now this just isn’t an article to update you on my Saturday afternoon and regurgitate the tweet for clicks. Let’s break down what all of this means.

Up till Now

After losing to the eventual Super Bowl champs, the L.A. Rams, Tom Brady stood at a crossroads. Brady eventually decided that he would Herndon Retire on the Bucs and ride off into the sunset. The speculation then switched to, well duh, Gronk is going to retire too.

I was on the boat. Sure, we just saw Gronk catch 4 of 11 for 85 yards in the final playoff game of the 2021 season, but without Brady, who is Gronk? Why would he even want to play for a Brady-less Bucs, let alone another team without his hand holding best friend.

However, as the weeks have gone by, it’s almost a foregone conclusion that Brady is at least highly entertaining the idea of coming back for another season or two of the NFL. Coming off an 800-yard season with six touchdowns, in just 12 games mind you, Gronk still has plenty left in the tank.

Did you know Travis Kelce and Rob Gronkowski are the same age? This is just absolutely mind-blowing to me every time I hear it. It feels like in football years that Gronk has five years on Kelce.

The question becomes how much does a team pay to make Gronk want to go through another offseason without Brady? How long does he make teams wait? That would be something to keep in mind with Gronk.

Gronk, while he stays in shape, has a pretty lazy approach to football itself. He could definitely be the kind of veteran player who isn’t going to be motivated to make a quick decision that plants him at some of the mandatory offseason activities, specially without a Brady there to make him.

In an interview with Pete Prisco here is what Gronk had to say about his 2022 outlook in regards to Free Agency:

As a free agent, do you get excited about picking the team you want to go to? Can you describe how hectic free agency is as a player? Do you feel like you want a deal done quick or do you like the process to be drawn out? 

Gronkowski: “There’s so much potential out there, and I’ve played for incredible teams in my career. There’s a lot to look forward to, and all I can say is 2022 is going to be a hell of a year.”

So what kind of money would it take to get Gronk to come to Nashville?

The Contract

You know me, I love a good contract section. On March 15, 2021, Gronkowski signed a 1-year deal worth $8m in fully guaranteed money, including a $6.25m signing bonus. Now, the Bucs were smart because here is how the contract worked out:

YearBase SalarySigning BonusCap Hit (Dead Cap)
2021$1,750,000$1,250,000$3,000,000 ($8,000,000)
2022VOID$1,250,000($5,000,000)
2023VOID$1,250,000
2024VOID$1,250,000
2025VOID$1,250,000
Bucs add 4 void years, have a $5,000,000 dead cap in 2022

They knew that Gronk was going to want all of his money fully guaranteed and upfront on a one year deal so they had to minimize exposure by rigging up the contract with a manageable dead cap due to void years.

We have seen that Jon Robinson likes to dabble in some void years having done it mainly in in the 2021 offseason with Jayon Brown and Julio Jones specifically. So why not do it with a guy that is an upgrade at the position, and has a relationship with Robinson. What would that deal look like?

Personally, one would hope that you could get the same exact deal done with Gronk. Same layout and everything, but I think with Gronk hitting the open market and having to play without his security blanket bud, you’re realistically going to have to be on the hook for more.

Then you have to think about the length. Will Gronkowski play out a full two or three year contract? Or is he just a one and done kind of guy, because if the team that signs him doesn’t win a Super Bowl, will he just retire? All pertinent questions to consider.

I think the Titans or any team would keep it clean with a one-year deal at $10m fully guaranteed, including a $8.25m signing bonus, and those void years. The Titans could probably also get creative where they can insert a team or player option in it, that when activated by a certain date gets him some additional monies in year two of the contract, but lets just keep it simple and look at it from the basic contract I laid out:

YearBase SalarySigning BonusCap Hit (Dead Cap)
2022$1,750,000$1,650,000$3,400,000 ($10,000,000)
2023VOID$1,650,000($6,600,000)
2024VOID$1,650,000
2025VOID$1,650,000
2026VOID$1,650,000
Titans add 4 void years, have a $6,600,000 dead cap in 2023

With the salary cap going up in 2023, this isn’t really a horrendous contract that lets the Titans immediately see a massive boost at a position of need without breaking the bank in year one. This would be a massive upgrade, but why would he choose Nashville over other cities?

Why Nashville?

Despite the belief on Titans Twitter, the Tennessee Titans are still considered among the AFC teams that are contenders to represent the conference in the Super Bowl. The season is not over, the Titans are not major losers in the NFL, and there isn’t any reason for anyone to be legitimately skeptical that the Titans won’t make the playoffs, unless they’re in need of radio ratings.

Get a grip, people. Anyways, the Titans are contenders, and he would want to go to a contending team. They also are tops in the division, because the Colts are a dumpster fire at quarterback and have no viable options currently for that position that make them scary.

Another reason why is the city itself, and the lack of income tax. Gronkowski, after playing in a state with income tax (Massachusetts) and one without an income tax (Florida), I am pretty sure that going to a team on a one year deal in a state with no income tax to maximize his earnings would be at the top of the list. Also, Nashville is awesome and Gronk’s brand of goofiness kind of fits right in with all of the bros on Broadway.

Probably the biggest why Gronkowski would, and why he pretty much will, choose the Titans as his next team, is Jon Robinson. Robinson is probably the very reason that Gronkowski was drafted by the Patriots.

Jon Robinson tells a great story about his interview with Gronkowski while Robinson was serving as the Patriots direct of college scouting. He asks what Gronk likes to do in his free time outside of football, and Gronk said watching cartoons, specifically SpongeBob.

“And then the Gronk laugh. I’m like, you’ve got to be kidding me. I’m bringing this guy up to Bill every other day, and he’s telling me he likes to watch SpongeBob. I’m (thinking), I’ve got no chance, Rob, you’ve got to help me out here.”

In an article at TheAthletic.com, Robinson goes into further detail about his pre-draft experiences with Gronkowski. Robinson said he didn’t make a great impression at the combine, but then Robinson showed the rest of the decision makers his college tape against then Patriots player Patrick Chung, where Gronk went off for 12 catches, 143 yards, and a touchdown, and they decided they needed to spend more time with him.

Well, Gronk didn’t do Robinson any favors on his visit. Not only did the SpongeBob story happen at the Patriots facility, Gronkowski fells asleep on the ground in the waiting room. Eventually the scouting department, led by Robinson, was able to put the goofiness of Gronkowski into perspective for Bill Belichick to make him comfortable enough with drafting him.

There are a combination of three reasons why he wouldn’t come here though:

  1. Money
  2. Retirement
  3. Doesn’t trust Tannehill

The third reason is a big one. While I do think Tannehill will be closer to his 2020 form, will Gronk have a short term memory and recency bias? If the money is all the same and its down to Joe Burrow or Tannehill. You can bet he’s going to choose Burrow. Even if the money is $1m less with Cincinnati, he would probably choose Burrow.

Are there any quarterbacks you would be interested in playing with other than Tom Brady? What do you look for in a quarterback as a pass-catcher? 

Gronkowski: “I love the way Joe Burrow presents himself on the field. Regardless of the outcome, the Super Bowl was a great game and he left his best out there. I’ve watched him since college, he’s confident in the pocket, and he just slings it out into the play. I love his swag, he’s killing it right now and I think we’re going to see a bright future ahead for him.”

Interview with Pete Prisco, CBSSports.com

Swag. Confidence in the Pocket. Willing to sling it. All things that could also be used to described Tom Brady. The biggest threat to no Gronk in Nashville is currently the Cincinnati Bengals where they have no viable starting tight end option, just like Tennessee.

What the Titans Get

The Titans would get a top-10, arguably top-5, tight end in the league at a position of need. Gronkowski can still play at a high level to where defenses have to account for him in the passing game, and he is a willing and an above average blocker.

Let’s be honest, Gronkowski is better than all four tight ends that caught passes for the the Titans in 2021. In fact, he is one person and could easily replace all four by himself:

Rec.Tgts.YardsTDsCatch %Y/RDropsFumbles
Titans TEs82105677872%8.2642
Rob Gronkowski5589802662%14.650
Gronkowski missed 5 games in 2021

It’s a no contest. Gronkowski even at his advanced age, is 5x the tight end that any of those guys dreamed about. Gronkowski ha only fumbled 5 times in his 11-year career as a NFL player.

An intangible that isn’t spoken about enough with a potential Gronk signing, is that he had Brady’s trust. He was in the right spot, and ready for the ball to come his way. That would be so huge for Tannehill to have a tight end that he can trust to be in the right spot and get some yards after the catch.

Gronkowski’s presence on the field also allows you to keep defenses guessing. Whenever Swaim would come off and Firkser would come in, the opposing defense would know that this isn’t going to be a run, and they don’t have to worry about an extra blocker. With Gronkowski they would still have to consider both a possibility when he’s on the field.

Gronkowski since 2014 has a lot of experience in zone blocking schemes for the run game, which is another win for him. On top of that, his pass blocking is truly elite. Out of 763 pure pass blocking sets, Gronkowski has only allowed three sacks over his career. Just three!

He’s never allowed more than one sack in a season in his entire career, allowing just one sack in 2021, 2014, 2011. That is wild! For perspective, Swaim is credited with allowing 2 sacks himself last season.

That’s a lot of positive, but there is a negative side of what the Titans could be getting if they were to sign Gronkowski. They could be getting a goofball with a lazy weekly approach to the scouting the opponent in season.

Gronkowski is a hilarious guy, but he was on the ManingCast last season and said some pretty self-deprecating remarks about his approach to film study. He said that he watches zero film, and just let’s Tom Brady tell him who is covering him and what the coverages are for the week.

Not to doubt Tannehill, but are we really confident that, if true, this approach will lead to the same success without Brady or even a Belichick to hold his hand throughout the week? That approach, if true, seems like it would lead to likely a massive step back in production for Gronk.

The Brady Effect

Tom Brady is a machine. We know this.We also know he watches 40 hours a week of film on his opponents and taught everything, every week to Gronk. However, what about Brady’s impact on Gronk when Brady isn’t on the field?

We truly have no clue, because there is only a 2 game sample size for Gronkowski without Brady and that’s not enough to draw a real conclusion. We could compare Gronkowski’s per season average for his career versus what Tannehill has done with his TE1 since 2019, and see what conclusions we draw.

The TE1 under Tannehill’s games during the regular season are Jonnu Smith for 2019 and 2020, and Geoff Swaim for 2021. They were chosen are based on snap counts.

Rec.TgtsYardsTDsCatch %Y/R1st Downs
Gronkowski56.587.3844.28.464.715.042.6
Tannehill’s TE138.553.73815.373.99.8319.4
Projections47.570.5612.66.869.312.431.0
Using 2.625 seasons for Tannehill’s TE1 averages

Geoff Swaim’s 2021 really brings down the averages across the board for the Titans. Now obviously, that is a raw data projection based on the averages of the two previous rows of data.

However, when you have a player of Gronkowski’s caliber, you obviously want to get him the ball more. So these would be considered the safe projections for a Gronkowski season in Tennessee. I think the Titans could definitely have used a player with that stat line.

So, while his production is likely to dip without Brady throwing him the ball, Gronkowski still would have one of the more overall productive seasons for a tight end since Delanie Walker.

Conclusion

First off, I think the information from Chad Withrow should be taken very seriously. It may not come true because of various other factors, money and quarterback specifically, but I think there is a definite connection between Robinson and Gronkowski that works in the Titans favor.

You would still be getting a tight end that is playing at a high level and can do wonders for the pass game both receiving and blocking, and keeping the offense from being easily predictable with their personnel.

I’m all in on Gronk, and now have high hopes he will be on this team, which means he won’t be. I am ready to be hurt again.

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