Apparently, Rob Gronkowski is not like Tom Brady. Now retired again, Gronk says he’s not coming back. Despite drafting two tight ends, these are rookies and likely not ready for prominent, Gronk-like roles. But one veteran free agent, Kyle Rudolph, might be.
Heading into his ninth season with the team, the Bucs are likely to start Cameron Brate at tight end, with fourth-round pick Cade Otton and sixth-round pick Ko Kieft as the projected backups. But this is TB12 we’re talking about. Will he have the patience for two rookies to develop when he’s trying to win his eighth Super Bowl, now at the age of 44?
This is where Kyle Rudolph could become more appealing as the season grows near. Let’s get into all the other reasons why Rudolph is a great fit down in Tampa.
Kyle Rudolph would quickly build chemistry with Tom Brady
Right now the Buccaneers have a deep receiving corps, but Gronkowski was greatly expected to return for at least one final hurrah with Brady. The Bucs no longer have O.J. Howard to rely on after the tight end signed with the Buffalo Bills. So who will replace Gronk and Howard’s production in 2022?
- Combined loss of production for Bucs: 110 targets, 69 receptions, 937 receiving yards, 7 TD catches
It’s unlikely that the Bucs can rely on their rookies to replace Gronk and Howard, and Brate, while he’s dependable, isn’t going to turn back the clock and put up career-bests.
If training camp gets underway and the Bucs don’t like what they see, they shouldn’t hesitate to reach out to unrestricted free agent Kyle Rudolph, who they’ve already been linked to, according to ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler.
Like Brate, at 32, Rudolph is on the wrong side of 30 and won’t suddenly become an elite talent again. But what he’s shown, at least with his hands, should interest nearly any team without a strong group of tight ends. Even if Rudolph has slowed down a step or two, he hasn’t dropped a pass in three years. That’s at least 124 consecutive targets without a drop.
Rudolph was never going to outrun linebackers to begin with, so even if some think his speed isn’t top-notch, it’s not much different than what he had in his younger days when he made the Pro Bowl twice. His hands are what’s helped him rack up 49 touchdown catches and nearly 5,000 receiving yards in his first 11 seasons in the NFL.
While Rudolph has had game-winning catches with the game on the line in the playoffs, the one item he’s yet to check off is winning a Super Bowl. That’s where Brady is a master. If Rudolph wants to add a really shiny, heavy ring on his finger, he should sign with the Buccaneers. Not only could they use him, he’d be a great fit. Plus, he’d get to catch touchdowns from the greatest quarterback in NFL history to date.
Even if the Bucs may like their top three tight ends currently atop the depth chart, 17-game seasons plus the playoffs are no joke. Even if Rudolph can’t suit up for all 20 to 21 games, Rudolph can help get this team to the Super Bowl in 2023. At this point, there’s likely nothing he wants more out of his NFL career, allowing Rudolph to ride off into the sunset for once and for all.