New England Patriots

Sep 23, 2018; Detroit, MI, USA; New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski (87) runs after a catch against Detroit Lions defensive back Glover Quin (27) and linebacker Jarrad Davis (40) during the third quarter at Ford Field. Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

By Ty Anderson,

The Detroit Lions really wanted Rob Gronkowski back in 2018.

Actually, that’s probably selling the Lions’ desires short when you consider the full details of the trade package they offered to the New England Patriots, which reportedly included Detroit’s first-round selection and a swapping of second-round picks.

Finally revealed by ESPN’s Adam Schefter in the wake of Gronkowski coming out of retirement and forcing a trade to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, that 2018 trade that never came to be would’ve seen Gronkowski and the No. 43 overall pick shipped to Detroit in exchange for the No. 20 overall pick and No. 51 overall pick.

Such a deal would’ve given the Patriots three first-round picks in 2018, which would have been plenty of ammunition for a potential trade-up. (Keep in mind that the Patriots were reportedly interested in Oklahoma quarterback and eventual No. 1 overall pick Baker Mayfield leading up to the 2018 NFL Draft, and tried trading up to get him, according to his agent.)

But assuming the Patriots didn’t swing for the fences and merely kept that No. 20 overall pick, there’s no doubt that they would’ve had the ability to bring a quality talent — center Frank Ragnow was the Lions’ pick at No. 20, but wideouts D.J. Moore and Calvin Ridley, tight end Hayden Hurst, and quarterback Lamar Jackson were some of the other players taken in the final 12 picks of the first round — into the mix. The Patriots had picks among that final third of the first, anyway, and passed on some of those players to instead draft lineman Isaiah Wynn (No. 23 overall) and running back Sony Michel (No. 31 overall).

The Patriots and Lions would make a trade involving their second-round picks even without Gronk on the table, as it would turn out. The Lions used that trade for No. 43 overall to draft Kerryon Johnson while the Patriots used No. 51 to weave a multi-deal trade-web that brought Christian Sam, Joejuan Williams, Damien Harris, and Byron Cowart to the Patriots. (Sam is the only member of that four-player net that’s no longer with the organization.)

It’s certainly a fascinating what-could-have-been that’s only becomes more intriguing by the Patriots winning the Super Bowl in 2019, and with Gronkowski coming through with some gigantic, vintage No. 87 catches along the way.

But the hypothetical becomes a moot point when you consider that that deal crumbled to complete nothingness when Gronkowski threatened to retire if he was traded away from Tom Brady. The threat was very real, too, as Gronkowski confirmed those rumors the next season, saying that Brady was the only quarterback he wanted to play with in his career.

“Yeah, it happened,” Gronkowski said back then. “Brady’s my quarterback. That’s all. Wasn’t going anywhere without Brady.”

And Gronkowski, after taking the 2019 season off, will get that chance to reunite with his quarterback. In Tampa Bay.

Ty Anderson is a writer and columnist for Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Yell at him on Twitter: @_TyAnderson.