We’ve administered polls, taken the pulse, gathered the vibe and measured the reaction to Tom Brady potentially winning the Super Bowl as a non-Patriot.
Even though the exit was complicated, I can safely say that most people would prefer seeing a happy Tom. Which means a winning Tom.
But what about the other future Hall of Famer who made his legend here and now stands to win his fourth Lombardi in seven seasons? Rob Gronkowski.
Now we’re talking complicated.
Because as lovable, cuddly, authentic, vulnerable and -- above all -- productive as Gronk was, he kinda hosed the Patriots on his way out the door. And he did it over an extended period.
How? Well, after the Super Bowl win over the Rams in early 2019, it was certainly obvious Gronk was leaning toward retirement. But even as February wore on and free agency approached, he still hadn’t told the Patriots his definite plans. So when free agency began on March 13 and the Patriots commenced pursuit of the best tight end on the market, Jared Cook, the team couldn’t tell Cook that he’d be the only tight end in town. Which is an assurance he was looking for.
That opened the door for the New Orleans Saints to make their persuasive pitch. By the time Gronk announced his retirement on March 24, Cook was down the aisle with the Saints and opted to continue with the ceremony even with the news Gronk was done.
The Patriots signed Matt LaCosse.
But Gronk was just getting warmed up.
His retirement was just a one-year sabbatical. And this past spring, the scenario I predicted playing out as far back as September 2018 came to pass.
After Brady signed with Tampa Bay, Gronk pulled the pin on a salary cap grenade and forced the Patriots to trade him to Tampa before he blew up their roster.
You see, Gronk, even though he retired, was still the Patriots' property if he chose to unretire. And that meant his $9M base salary that tied him to the team would hit the salary cap the moment he was back on the roster. The Patriots didn’t have the cap space for that. So they were forced to either release Gronk -- allowing him to sign anywhere for no compensation -- or trade him. And since Gronk made it clear he would only go to Tampa, the Patriots’ hand was forced.
The big doofus was playing 3-D chess. Belichick was playing Yahtzee.
Why’d Gronk do this? For real and perceived slights over the years. He wasn’t happy with his contract after the team picked up the back half of it in 2016. He wasn’t happy with the heat he took in 2017 for eschewing some of the team’s strength training demands as he came back from back surgery. Basically, he wanted to be done with free weights and in particular squats, preferring instead to go the TB12/resistance band route.
He wasn’t happy with the fun he wasn’t having. He wasn’t happy that Belichick tried to trade him to the Lions in 2018. He wasn’t happy with what he perceived as a lack of appreciation for the physical punishment he put himself through every week.
So he didn’t put himself on the Patriots' clock in 2019 and that hurt their ability to bring in Cook. And he forced his way out of town in 2020. As miffed as Brady was toward the end of his time here, he lived on the high road and continues to.
And -- aside from being cranky as hell in 2019 and passing up working for free at OTAs when he was being paid half as well as quarterbacks he’s twice as good as -- he didn’t actively make it hard on the team when he left. He told them before free agency. Gronk told them well after its start. How do people feel about it? Here’s a poll I put up on Thursday.
The comments tell the story. It’s complicated.