Bucs tight end and four-time All-Pro Rob Gronkowski announced his retirement Tuesday, possibly setting up what Tampa Bay fans can only hope will be the most famous double-reverse in NFL history.
Gronk, like Tom Brady, also reversing course and playing again in 2022.
Widely considered the best tight end in NFL history, Gronkowski announced his decision via social media. The news arrives more than three months after the un-retirement of Brady, one of only two starting quarterbacks (Jacoby Brissett is the other) with whom he has worked in the NFL.
“I will now be going back into my retirement home,” Gronkowski, a five-time Pro Bowler, said in a lengthy Instagram message, “walking away from football again with my head held high knowing I gave it everything I had, good or bad, every time I stepped out on the field.”
Coinciding with that announcement, however, was a sliver of hope for Bucs fans, in the form of two sentences from his agent, Drew Rosenhaus.
“It would not surprise me if Tom Brady calls him during the season to come back and Rob answers the call,” Rosenhaus told ESPN’s Adam Schefter via text. “This is just my opinion but I wouldn’t be surprised if Rob comes back during the season or next season.”
If he sticks with his word, Gronk almost certainly will be Canton-bound in five years.
His 90 career regular-season touchdown catches from Brady are the most of any Brady target, more than twice as many as runner-up Randy Moss (39). The two own the NFL record for most passing-touchdown connections in the postseason with 15
Gronkowski, who turns 33 in May, already had posted a Hall of Fame career in nine seasons with the Patriots when Brady lured him from a 13-month retirement to join him in Tampa Bay. The Bucs gave up a fourth-round pick in exchange for Gronk, his $10 million contract in 2020 and a seventh-round selection.
Soon, the Bucs learned his mischievousness, outsized personality and infectious giggle were offset by a blue-collar work ethic and zeal for grunt work (i.e. run blocking).
Despite a year layoff, he played in all 20 games (including four playoff contests) in 2020, catching 45 passes for 623 yards and seven touchdowns in the regular season. He signed on for another season (for $8 million) a month after catching two TD passes from Brady in a 31-9 romp of the Chiefs in Super Bowl 55.
Stay updated on the Buccaneers
Subscribe to our free Bucs RedZone newsletter
You’re all signed up!
Want more of our free, weekly newsletters in your inbox? Let’s get started.Explore all your options
He missed five games last season after fracturing ribs and puncturing a lung in a Week 3 loss to the Rams, but totaled 39 receptions in the team’s last eight regular-season games.
In 28 games over two regular seasons, Gronkowski totaled 100 catches for 1,425 yards and 13 touchdowns while providing a brute-force blocking component possessed by no other tight end on the Bucs roster. He added 17 receptions for 226 yards in six playoff contests.
Bucs general manager Jason Licht said in a statement that he has nothing but “gratitude and respect for one of the greatest tight ends who ever played the game.”
“While his on-field accomplishments will surely earn him a gold jacket and a place in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, it is his humble attitude and team-first approach to the game that truly defined his career.”
In March, Gronkowsi was captured on video inside a West Tampa barbershop saying “there’s a very good chance” in reference to a question about whether he’d play for a third season in Tampa Bay in 2022. Nonetheless, the Bucs drafted two tight ends, Washington’s Cade Otton and Minnesota’s Ko Kieft, this past spring.
Currently, the team has only one tight end — veteran Cameron Brate — with more than one career NFL reception.
“We’d all love to play with him, but he’s got to make the best decision for himself, and he knows that,” Brady said during the Bucs’ three-day mandatory minicamp held earlier this month. “Anyone who cares about him knows that he’s doing what’s right for him, which is trying to figure it out.”
And Tuesday, Brady was only offering words of support for Gronkowski’s decision.
“Love you as a man, teammate and friend,” Brady wrote on Instagram. “One of a kind in every way.”
Gronkowski presumably ends his career with 621 regular-season catches for 9,286 yards, 92 TDs and more 100-yard games (32) than any tight end in NFL history. His 98 playoff receptions, 1,389 yards and 15 TDs all are postseason records for his position.
• • •
Sign up for the Bucs RedZone newsletter to get updates and analysis on the latest team and NFL news from Bucs beat writer Joey Knight.