Jay Williams: Rob Gronkowski is Tom Brady's Binkie

Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski
Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski / Jared C. Tilton/GettyImages

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are running it back (kind of) in 2022. Tom Brady will be back after spending a month retired, but it'll be Todd Bowles on the sideline rather than Bruce Arians after the championship-winning head coach decided to move to the front office. Mike Evans and Chris Godwin will be there, but not Antonio Brown.

One member of the Super Bowl winning core has yet to decide what he wants to do. Rob Gronkowkski is a free agent right now and presumably was all but set to ride off into the sunset alongside Brady. But Brady has delayed that by at least another year. Gronk has made a few public appearances since that announcement but hasn't given any indication whether he plans to join his quarterback on the field in 2022.

Max Kellerman, Keyshawn Johnson, and Jay Williams discussed whether or not the Bucs *need* Gronk back this morning on ESPN. Obviously they'd like to have him back. But would it be the end of the world if the future Hall of Fame tight end decided to hang up the cleats? Williams made the argument that Gronkowski is Brady's "binkie" and the QB needs him on the field for his peace of mind, even if he's not going to put up huge numbers anymore.

It's an... interesting analogy. Gronkowski caught 55 passes for 806 yards and six touchdowns in 2021, which aren't exactly eye-popping numbers. But 34 of those catches were for first downs, indicating his importance to Brady when the chains need to be moved. Moreover, Gronk was targeted 17 times in the two playoff games the Bucs played this season after Tampa's receiving corps was decimated by injury. Even now, when all else fails, Brady looks to Gronk.

The binkie thing might be a bit strong but there is a point to be made. If the Bucs' receivers all stay healthy and have a great season, then they don't need Gronk out there, too. But that's a big bet. Brady doesn't trust anybody like he trusts his longtime tight end. It isn't up to the organization, but they should be pulling out all the stops to convince Gronkowski to come back for one more year. Just in case.