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Damien Woody says Gronk is toast, and Belichick was right to want to trade him

Alex Reimer
December 17, 2018 - 11:32 am

Rob Gronkowski’s fall from game-breaking tight end to glorified run blocker was never more apparent than it was during the Patriots’ loss to the Steelers. In his previous six career games against Pittsburgh, Gronk had caught 39 passes for 664 yards and eight touchdowns. It looked like a different player was out on the field Sunday, and one prominent Patriots alumnus noticed.

ESPN analyst Damien Woody, who played in Foxboro for four seasons, says he now knows why Bill Belichick reportedly wanted to trade Gronk last offseason. “Remember when Bill tried to trade Gronk to Detroit this past off-season?,” Woody tweeted. “He knew that Gronk was a shell of himself.”

It’s difficult to imagine Belichick saw signs of slippage in Gronkowski’s game on the field last season, considering the tight end finished so strongly, with 23 receptions for 382 yards in three December games. He also dominated in the Super Bowl, reeling in nine grabs for 116 yards and two scores against the Eagles.

But there were strong hints that Gronkowski was wavering about his playing future. He was non-committal about returning following the Super Bowl loss, and didn’t officially commit to coming back until around the NFL Draft. Much like Tom Brady, Gronk didn’t attend any non-mandatory practices.

Plus, given Gronkowski's injury history, the odds weren't great he would enjoy another season without nagging ailments. Sure enough, Gronkowski has dealt with back and ankle issues for the bulk of the campaign, missing three games. 

Woody says he thinks all of those variables factored into Belichick’s apparent desire to move on. “Bill likes to get rid of guys early than late,” Woody wrote. “He sees him a lot more than any of us so Bill clearly knew what’s up.”

Gronk finished Sunday with just two catches for 21 yards, and wasn’t targeted until the fourth quarter. While Pittsburgh double-teamed Gronkowski for portions of the affair, his lack of production shows how he can now be contained. The once-most dominant tight end ever has caught four passes or fewer in eight games this season. 

With a $12 million cap hit looming over next year, it seems like Gronkowski’s Patriots career is coming to an end. And if it does, New England will surely receive less for him than a first-round pick, which is what Detroit was offering.

Belichick was right in hindset. Gronk's absentee showing Sunday is the strongest case yet.