The New England Patriots tight end announced on Instagram on Sunday that he is retiring from the NFL after nine seasons.
"It all started at 20 years old on stage at the NFL draft when my dream came true, and now here I am about to turn 30 in a few months with a decision I feel is the biggest of my life so far. I will be retiring from the game of football today," Gronkowski wrote. "I am so grateful for the opportunity that Mr. Kraft and Coach Belichick gave to me when drafting my silliness in 2010. My life experiences over the last 9 years have been amazing both on and off the field. The people I have meet, the relationships I have built, the championships I have been apart of, I just want to thank the whole New England Patriots organization for every opportunity I have been giving and learning the great values of life that I can apply to mine.
"Thank you to all of Pats Nation around the world for the incredible support since I have been apart of this 1st class organization. Thank you for everyone accepting who I am and the dedication I have put into my work to be the best player I could be. But now its time to move forward and move forward with a big smile knowing that the New England Patriots Organization, Pats Nation, and all my fans will be truly a big part of my heart for rest of my life.
"It was truly an incredible honor to play for such a great established organization and able to come in to continue and contribute to keep building success. To all my current and past teammates, thank you for making each team every year special to be apart of. I will truly miss you guys. Cheers to all who have been part of this journey, cheers to the past for the incredible memories, and a HUGE cheers to the uncertain of whats next."
One year later, Gronkowski was coy during the week of Super Bowl LIII when asked about his plans for the 2019 season, not letting on one way or the other whether the big game would be his last game. It turns out it was.
Gronk leaves the game as arguably the most dominant tight end of all-time. An unstoppable receiver and blocker over the course of his nine-year career, Gronk went over 1,000 receiving yards in a season four times in nine seasons. His unique combination of size and skill made him unguardable in his early years. He caught 38 touchdowns in his first three seasons, including a league-leading 17 in 2011, the most of any TE in NFL history.
He finishes his career with 521 receptions, 7,861 receiving yards and 79 touchdowns, including 81 receptions and a tight end-record 1,163 receiving yards and 12 scores in 16 postseason games.
A five-time pro Bowler and four-time All-Pro, Gronk was a force to be reckoned with on the field, but unfortunately he spent much of his career off of it. The tight end missed 29 regular-season games of a possible 144 over nine years. Sidelined by myriad back, ankle, hip, forearm, knee and head injuries, Gronk retires battered and bruised but rarely beaten.
A fixture of the late Tom Brady-era Patriots teams, Gronkowski defined a generation of winning in New England. Gronk made four Super Bowls as a member of the Patriots and was a part of two Super Bowl-winning teams from the 2014 and 2018 seasons; he sat out New England's win in Super Bowl LI due to injury.
Since leaving the Mercedes-Benz Stadium field victorious following Super Bowl LIII, Gronk's decision whether or not to retire has lingered over the Patriots' offseason plans. With Gronkowski out of the picture, the Patriots are now in need of a starting tight end; blocking tight end Dwayne Allen joined Miami in the offseason, and New England currently employs the anonymous likes of Stephen Anderson, Matt LaCosse and Jacob Hollister at the position.
Few if any tight ends currently in the NFL can replace Gronkowski's production on the field or impact in the locker room, but New England will now be forced to try to find one.
Next stop for Gronk will likely be Canton where he is expected to be enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame at some point. He is not eligible to be enshrined for another five years and whether he deserves to be a first-ballot Hall of Famer will be up for debate until that time comes, given his shortened career and injury history.