TAMPA, Fla. - When Tom Brady helped talk Rob Gronkowski out of retirement and convinced the Bucs to trade for his rights from the Patriots, they probably expected more from the 31-year-old tight end.
But in two games, Gronkowski has run 33 pass routes and been targeted only four times, catching two passes for 11 yards in the season opener at New Orleans. He had no receptions in Sunday's 31-17 win over Carolina.
Turns out, Gronkowski may not be the same player he was prior to walking away from the NFL.
"We haven't had that many red-zone opportunities, and I don't see him running 40 yards past people anymore," coach Bruce Arians said of Gronkowski. "If we get him press coverage, hopefully he can. But we brought him in to just play tight end, and if that means no catches, it means no catches. If it means 10 catches, it means 10 catches because he's open, and that's where the ball goes."
Gronkowski also has logged a heavy workload, playing 73% of the Bucs' offensive snaps. By contrast, tight end Cameron Brate has played 11 offensive snaps this season. Gronkowski will earn $9.25 million this season while Brate's salary is $4.25 million for 2020. He has no catches and has been targeted once with no catches.
The leader of the group has been O.J. Howard. He has been targeted nine times and has five receptions for 47 yards and a touchdown while playing 54.5% of the snaps.
After Week 1, Arians was critical of the inability to block the perimeter, calling it a negative. "Our tight ends didn't block the edge very well," Arians said. "That was a big part of our game plan, and we got beat at it. We were out-physicaled."
On Sunday, Brady's only pass to Gronkowski sailed over his head and was intercepted.
Arians was asked earlier this week if he was surprised the Bucs tight ends - specifically Gronkowski - weren't a bigger part of the passing attack after two games.
"Not really," Arians said. "He got a nice pass-interference call for us (and we) missed him on the over route. We're not throwing the ball 50 times to tight ends. That's why we have receivers for (and) that's the way our offense is built. Gronk's playing great run-blocking in the fourth quarter, so I'm not concerned with his pass catches or targets."
Arians made it clear Gronkowski's lack of targets is not because teams are doing more to account for him.
"I don't think they're paying that much attention to him" Arians said. "Tom has the ball. He decides where it's going, so he's reading the defenses and he's taking whatever they're giving him. We don't force passes to anybody."
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