By Michael Bennett

The big news yesterday was that the Tampa Bay Bucs reunited new quarterback Tom Brady with retired tight end Rob Gronkowski by sending a fourth-round pick in tomorrow night’s draft to the New England Pats for Gronk and a 7th-rounder.

Why did it cost the Buccaneers only a fourth-rounder to get one of the great tight ends in history?

As ESPN points out, the Patriots didn’t have any. They desperately could have used Gronkowski as a weapon for Jarrett Stidham, Brian Hoyer or whomever else is going to play quarterback in 2020. It’s clear Gronk didn’t want to be there and probably would have simply stayed retired if New England hadn’t facilitated a trade.

If Gronkowski had pushed his way back onto the active roster, the Patriots would have been in an immediate financial bind. They have just $2.1 million in cap space, and he has $10 million due in the final year of his deal. Guard Joe Thuney’s $14.7 million franchise tag became fully guaranteed when he signed it in March, so the Pats couldn’t have created room by letting the offensive lineman leave.

Realistically, the Pats don’t have much cap flexibility thanks to the $24 million in dead money they owe in 2020, so it would have taken something like a new contract for cornerback Stephon Gilmore to create immediate, short-term cap space. Even if they do create that space, it’s probably more valuable for them to use it on a veteran quarterback such as Andy Dalton or Cam Newton.

With Gronk wanting to play alongside only Brady, the Pats had just one team with which to negotiate. The Buccaneers were able to point toward similar deals from the past, such as when the Raiders sent a fifth-round pick to the Seahawks for a sixth-round pick and the rights to the retired Marshawn Lynch. Teams have not typically treated retired players or coaches as valuable propositions, in part because those players and coaches intend to stay retired unless they get traded to the team of their choosing. The same thing seems to be true here.

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