A Final Look At Replacing Rob Gronkowski

January 29th, 2023

In early November, head coach Todd Bowles said publicly that he was still looking for Julio Jones to replace a chunk of Hall of Time tight end Rob Gronkowski’s production from the 2021 season.

Bowles also went there when Julio arrived in late July and, unfortunately, it never really materialized.

The Bucs tried to replace Gronk (55 catches, 802 yards, 6 TDS and 39 first downs) and O.J. Howard (14 catches, 135 yards, 1 TD, 11 FDs) with Julio and rookies Cade Otton and Ko Kieft.

They came up short.

Julio’s biggest plays this season were very un-tight-end-like, and he ended up with 24 catches for 299 yards, 2 TDs, and 13 first downs. Otton had a rookie season filled with growing pains but produced in the passing game with 42 catches for 391 yards and 2 TDs. He had 19 first-down grabs and caught 64 percent of the balls thrown his way; Gronk hauled in 61 percent last season.

Joe doesn’t expect Julio back next season, and Joe really is looking forward to the Bucs hiring an experienced tight ends coach to develop Otton and Ko Kieft. If both those guys can take a sophomore step forward, that would go a long way toward improving the tight end blocking that arguably was Gronk’s most valuable asset.

Frankly, Joe could see the Bucs drafting yet another tight end this year.

They could use more special teams help and, if a young quarterback gets the ball this year or next, quality tight end options become more important.

Former Bucs QB Josh Freeman never would have had his breakthrough season of 2010 without tight end Kellen Winslow getting 98 passes thrown his way (66 catches) and being one of the more reliable targets in the league that season.

39 Responses to “A Final Look At Replacing Rob Gronkowski”

  1. NEfan Says:

    SB~LV that was some great QB play. Brady should be ashamed if himself.

  2. Deano Says:

    I hate the eagles and I hate Kansas City

  3. stpetebucfan Says:

    Gronk was a truly special player. He was a great blocking TE as well as a great target with good hands and a big body that made him a wonderful possession receiver. Not many TE’s combine those skills and certainly none as well as Gronk.
    We could waste another ten years hoping we’ll find another HOF TE.

    The solution is at hand. Kieft blocks as well as Gronk…Otton shows promise as a receiver. Put BOTH of them together and you at least can fill the positions that Gronk could do all by himself.

    I look forward to Otton’s development as well as Kieft. There is a lot of potential there and the hope that while they’ll never equal Gronk the two of them together can replace him.

  4. SKBucsFan Says:

    I would hate to see another pick used on. TE. It wouldn’t surprise me of Licht wasted another high pick on one when we could just sign a free agent. Use the first pick to take a LT and send Donny Smith packing. Saves his $15 m salary less dead cap money.

  5. Beej Says:

    pas rush pass rush pass rush

  6. TheBucsAnthem Says:

    A Tight End who can block and can get vertical as an effective receiver too????

    ……now that’s a rare commodity in the NFL….very rare, that’s what made Gronk so special.

    Tony Gonzalez was special like that too.

  7. Knucknbuc Says:

    We’ll Joe we only have a hole at almost every position and limited depth so if Brady comes back we’ll be all set with an offensive coordinator (supposedly)… oh and did I mention no cap space lmaoooo but we’re fine we’ll just rely on a lil Brady magic and oc to work crazy well it’ll be fine all is well

  8. Redeemer Says:

    They drafted two TEs in a really bad tight end draft. It was a major problem all year. The couldn’t stretch the middle. Btw wtf is going on with the officiating? It’s sad. KC gets another play because it didn’t happen? I’m so confused right now, I’m going to bed.

  9. Miller5252 Says:

    With Brady or without, Bucs have gotta beef up both lines.

  10. David Says:

    Otton showed a lot. He’s going to be good but he’s not going to be Gronk or Kelce. Ko IDK, he did not show much. The problem is you can’t have a blocking tight end and receiving tighten. Your TEs need to be able to do both otherwise you’re just advertising 90% of your plays.

  11. Aceofaerospace Says:

    Julio was the biggest big time free agent disappointment for the Bucs in years.

  12. Rand Says:

    Looks like the refs want KC in the SB

  13. Curse of Gruden Says:

    Hard to beat the refs.

  14. DBS Says:

    Hard to beat your own stupidity.

  15. cmurda Says:

    Well, I get the call. It was stupid of him to touch Mahomes and you have to know he’s the NFL Golden Child. I feel for the Ossai though. It’s just instinct and a touchy call. That’s today’s NFL. I can deal with all that. The thing I have a problem is classless CBS continuing to show Ossai. The dude terrorized Mahomes but cost his team the game. Do you have to keep showing the guy as he’s devastated. It’s distateful. One quick glance. Guy is dejected. Fine. But leave him alone after that. Really feel for the guy.

  16. The Anomaly Says:

    There was no reason to give him an extra shove


    Refs are awful this game.

    Hicks, Gage, Jones…all massive busts by Jason Licht.

  17. Rod Munch Says:

    Two games today, both decided by the refs.

    The NFL is becoming soccer with all the flops, and the NBA with the rigged games.

  18. Mike C Says:

    Yeah, refs didn’t do that, dude was dumb

  19. jack sparrow Says:

    SF fans screaming for Brady….

  20. DBS Says:

    Munch. Every game you watch is decided by the refs. Nothing new.

  21. Rod Munch Says:

    DBS – yeah, that’s how ‘rigged’ works, dummy.

  22. Esteban85 Says:

    One of dem GA TE’s would be nice

  23. Buccos Says:

    The Bucs better put a full court press on Kellen Moore to be the new OC. It’s not every day that one of the top offensive teams fires their OC. He stands out above the rest. Brady might even want to play for us again if we get him

  24. The Anomaly Says:

    If I am a top OC candidate…I want a decent QB and running game at bare minimum. I’m not going to the Bucs garbage fest with Licht shopping in the Walmart bargain bins.

  25. Anonymous Says:

    Gronks coming back.

  26. Goatfarmer Says:

    Blowes is an abject cretin as a head coach.

  27. BrianBucs Says:

    All of these personnel failures fall directly on Jason Licht.

  28. Crickett Baker Says:

    I’m happy for Suh that he is going to another super bowl. I wonder who let him go.

  29. Buccaneer Bonzai Says:

    Gronk is never coming back.

    Otton shows promise. He seemed to improve as the year wore on.

  30. Rod Munch Says:

    Bonzai – I agree, in that I doubt Gronk would come back, but I certainly wouldn’t let Otton determine that. If Otton plays a ton, then you give Gronk some rest until you really need him, and this offense easily supports two TEs in any case.

  31. steele Says:

    This article fails to mention that KYLE RUDOLPH was supposed to replace a lot of what Gronk did. The Rudolph signing was a major bust, poor vetting by the Bucs.

    There are numerous other veteran TEs in free agency they should have considered instead.

    Brate was expected to step up, too, and he didn’t.

    Attempting to use the draft was a partial fail as well. The goal is one TE who can, hello, catch as well as block. One. So instead the spend two picks for Otton, who is a smaller (compared to Gronk) go-type, and Kieft, who is a good blocker, neither of whom were instant impact on the scale needed. Otton will be okay, but never Gronk. I was hoping Kieft would surprise with good receiving, and he showed flashes of it.

    The position is a mess, when you do not have a legit top caliber TE who can catch and block. Both in one is essential, to keep defenses honest. Period.

  32. Defense Rules Says:

    Gronk’s not coming back, at least to the Bucs. He’s just waiting for Brady to start his Fox gig, and he’ll be his sidekick on Day 1.

    Otton & Kieft are keepers (for different reasons), but Brate has to go because of lack of production (Rudolph was a 1-year rental so he’s gone & won’t be back). Cam is due to be paid $5.0 mil this year and carries a $3.0 Dead CAP (sadly we need to eat that and move on).

    There are TONS of free agent TEs on the market this year. Surely we can find ONE for a reasonable price who (1) knows how to block; AND (2) represents a real threat catching the ball, especially in the middle of the field. IF we do end up drafting a TE, it’ll be late (most likely with one of our 7th Rnd picks) and he probably won’t represent much of a threat for at least a year or 2 (hopefully though he’s a big puppy who knows how to run over people when he blocks).

  33. stpetebucfan Says:

    “Your TEs need to be able to do both otherwise you’re just advertising 90% of your plays.”

    Unless they are BOTH on the field at the same time!

    OR imagine this…Kieft is on the field and DC’s plan for him to block and he releases as a target. He was only targeted 10X last year, caught 7…not a bad % he averaged 11.4 yards on those catches with a longest of 19 that obviously pumped up that average along with a TD.

    My point is Otton and Kieft bring different skill sets but if DC’s sit on a package predicated on Kieft blocking for example, he can make them pay. He’s not fast but his hands are pretty good.

  34. NEfan Says:

    The reffing in KC game was a joke. The late it legit. Stupid arse, now sit with that all off season.

  35. Tampabaybucfan Says:

    I wouldn’t be opposed to drafting a good TE in the first 3 rounds……but we need a replacement for LVD & Dean or SMB also…..so.

    LB, CB, TE……..

  36. Defense Rules Says:

    TBBF … I’m with you on the high draft of replacements for LVD and either Dean or SMB, but even more importantly we need 2 other things to make this defense work:

    1 – A beastly DT to pair with Vea (preferably one who can give us more than 50% snaps each season).

    2 – A beastly DE/OLB who can actually rush the QB & put him on the ground.

    JTS & Hall are at best ‘OK’ but we need at least 1 beast to make our DLine pass rush work. Blitzing White as much as we do hampers our pass defense, and Shaq may or may not make it back to 100% (hey, he is 30 now).

    Hicks, Gholston & RNR are all FAs right now, but I suspect we’ll re-sign Gholston & RNR on 1-year contracts. Hicks is 33 now & we need to move on from that experiment by either drafting his replacement high or signing a quality FA to replace him.

    Any draft pick lower than Rnd 4 is iffy IMO, and we shouldn’t have high expectations there. We don’t have a Rnd 4 pick this year, so I’d personally count on 3 picks having a reasonable impact as either starters or (more likely) key rotational players.

    My draft preferences would be ILB, then DE/OLB, then DT but it really depends on who’s available when we pick.

  37. Your Mom Says:

    wasn’t Brate in that mix too?

  38. mark2001 Says:

    Yeah Deano. No interest in the SB for me this year, at all. Will probably have my eyes elsewhere.

  39. westernbuc Says:

    For the record I was right that Julio was not a good signing. Maybe he’ll rebound next year with more time away from his injury, but we can’t count on that