With that comes a tsunami of emotions for many, as Tuesday's news of Gronkowski's coming out of retirement to play for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers -- and the Patriots' agreeing to trade him and a seventh-round pick in the 2020 NFL draft for a fourth-rounder -- drove that point home.
First Brady, and now Gronk? It feels like a double-gut punch.
Whether the Patriots wind up in a better place without Brady remains to be seen, but Gronkowski falls into a different category. He was never going to be part of their 2020 plans.
That was as much because of Gronkowski as anything; he wasn't coming back to New England. As his agent, Drew Rosenhaus, told SportsCenter on Tuesday night, it wasn't until Brady landed in Tampa Bay that Gronkowski expressed a desire to come out of retirement. It was Tampa or nothing.
So the Patriots weren't dealing from a position of strength when it came to trade compensation. Landing a fourth-round pick, albeit late in the round, is better than the alternative -- which would have been nothing.
The Patriots also faced a salary-cap crunch (they have about $1 million in space) that would have had to be addressed if they wanted to play hardball with Gronkowski and the Buccaneers in hopes of upping the compensation. In that scenario, they would have had to initially bring Gronkowski back on to their roster, which would mean clearing about $9 million in cap space.
Instead, they trade him directly off the reserve/retired list. No impact on the cap one way or the other.
In 2018, his final season in New England, Gronkowski was more effective as a blocker than a pass-catcher as he battled through injuries. Yes, he still came up with the big catch in the clutch moments -- his grab up the seam to set up the lone touchdown in Super Bowl LIII was epic -- but it wasn't the Gronk whom Patriots fans had been accustomed to seeing in his prime.
So in the end, Patriots coach Bill Belichick did what he often does with personnel decisions: stripped away the emotion and drilled down to the pure football ramifications.
Picking up a fourth-rounder for a player who wasn't part of the Patriots' plans is sound business. Even if it will hurt Patriots fans to see Gronkowski in a different uniform.