Source: Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images
I had a feeling this would happen, but now that it's official, it feels like somebody punched me in the stomach. First and foremost lets get this out of the way: Rob Gronkowski is the greatest tight end in NFL history. Now that we got that out of our system, it's time to talk about what was a Hall-of-Fame career for an incredible talent that every fan of every team loved for one reason or another.
Gronk dealt with injuries throughout his entire career, including his time in college, which is the reason he fell to the Patriots in the second round of the 2010 Draft. Along with Aaron Hernandez, who the team also drafted that year, he changed the tight end position and took the league by storm. In his rookie season, he dominated by catching ten touchdowns, which was tied for fourth-most in the league. The next season he put up the single greatest season by a tight end in history; in 2011, he caught 90 passes (T-5th most) for 1327 yards (6th) and 17 touchdowns (1st). That season was the only year of his career where he played in all 16 games, as he started to have injury problems in 2012. Gronkowski retires with the third most touchdowns by a tight end in history with 79 in 115 games; behind only Antonio Gates - 116 in 236 games - and Tony Gonzalez - 111 in 270 games. It's not hard to imagine that if Gronk didn't deal with serious injuries throughout his career, that he would've passed both Gates and Gonzalez in far fewer games.
Gronk also performed exceptionally in the playoffs. In 16 career playoff games, he caught 81 catches for 1163 yards and 12 touchdowns. In four career Super Bowls, he caught 23 passes for 297 yards and 3 touchdowns; while winning two Super Bowls, and being injured while his team won another. Talking about Super Bowls, it's not mentioned enough how different Super Bowl 46 against the Giants would've been if Gronk wasn't hurt against Baltimore in the AFC Championship. Gronk suffered a serious injury on a tackle by Bernard Pollard and his status for the game was up in the air for the two weeks leading up to the Super Bowl. Gronk ended up playing, but only managed 2 catches for 26 yards, as he was clearly playing at less than one hundred percent. If he's healthy for that game, who knows, he may have four Super Bowls on his resume. He did make up for it in the following Super Bowls though as he had a big touchdown against the Seahawks in Super Bowl 49, along with a few other clutch catches. He was the best non-quarterback on the field in Super Bowl 52, with 9 catches 116 yards and two touchdowns. Finally, in the last game of his career, against the Rams in Super Bowl 53, he made a gigantic catch that set the Patriots up to score the game’s only touchdown on the next play.
However, the most impressive part of his career had nothing to do with his on-field play; but had everything to do with the person he was off of it. It all started when he and his family basically formed a mosh pit on stage when he was drafted. That evolved into him being known for the Gronk spike, having a party cruise, wrestling with his brothers on stage at a club while recovering from an injury, jumping and dancing on Shaq's shoulders, making an in-ring appearance at WrestleMania and chugging beers on the duck boats at the championship parades. He never changed, despite the fame or money, which is clearly evident by his love of the number 69, which he can't help himself from laughing at every time he hears it.
All in all, this is a sad day for Patriots fans everywhere. Without Gronk, who knows how this past decade would've gone. He changed the way that teams scheme their offences, he changed the way that defences game planned against tight ends, and he changed the position as a whole. Nowadays, every team is looking for a tight end to incorporate in their offence and the position of tight end has never seen more skill as a whole. Guys like George Kittle, Zach Ertz, and Travis Kelce are all game changers on a weekly basis and without Gronk paving the way for them, they wouldn't be as valuable as they currently are.
When you factor in his football contracts and sponsorships, Gronk has probably made more than $100 million in his career. He now retires at the age of 30 with more money than he'll ever need, a supermodel girlfriend, legend status in the state of Massachusetts and plenty of years to do whatever makes him happy; whether that's venturing into professional wrestling, acting or just enjoying the retired life. What a career. What a life. What a person.
Thank you, Gronk. Thank you.