Professional football journalist Lindsey Prather covers the departure of the NFL’s top tight end and what it means for the Patriots.
The NFL offseason is always littered with announcements and retirements. Although the element of surprise was absent, Rob Gronkowski, the long-time tight end of the New England Patriots, announced his retirement via Instagram on March 24.
Gronkowski’s struggle with various injuries in recent years is well documented; as a result, this decision was not necessarily surprising. Furthermore, it was reported that Gronkowski threatened retirement just this past season following rumors regarding a mid-season deal that would have resulted in his transfer to the Detroit Lions.
The prolific tight end is now taking the opportunity to go out on top with yet another Super Bowl win under his belt and an undisputed Hall-of-Fame career behind him. The question of retirement arose rather quickly following the Patriots’ Super Bowl victory over the Rams; however, Gronkowski was relatively tight-lipped about his final decision at first.
Nonetheless, Gronkowski’s career is complete with 522 recorded catches for 7,861 total yards, with 79 touchdowns over nine seasons with the Patriots. However, the pivotal storyline throughout his career involves the astonishing injury history that plagued most of his time in the NFL. Even prior to his draft selection, concerns regarding his back issues wreaked havoc on his first-round projection, leading to his draft stock falling into the second round.
Gronkowski only played two full 16-game regular seasons: his first two years in the NFL. Even so, his injuries could not keep him from five Pro Bowl selections and four All-Pro honors.
Gronkowski’s nine-year career was full of spectacular plays and unbelievable catches, coupled with a New England offense that forced the entire league to completely reevaluate their defensive schemes. His career is quite literally one for the record books. His collection of records is astounding: he is the all time leader in the NFL postseason for touchdowns, receiving yards and targets by a tight end.
So what’s next for the Patriots? Gronkowski has been a Swiss-army knife for New England’s offense and a reliable target for quarterback Tom Brady. The draft is going to prove to be make-or-break for the Patriots this year, especially due to their vulnerability to losing several pivotal pieces of their team to free agency. Free agency has already been unkind to the Pats, as players such as Trey Flowers have moved on to greener pastures. Ignoring the potential shortcomings of their other position groups, pursuing a tight end in the draft should be a priority. Even considering their wealth of draft picks in the top 100, finding a diamond-in-the-rough player that can replace Gronkowski is going to be exceedingly difficult.
Although there is a great amount of fanfare surrounding his retirement, there is already speculation as to whether it will even last. Retirement isn’t exactly binding; a prime example of this is running back Marshawn Lynch. Lynch retired from the Seattle Seahawks to similar fanfare until the chance arose to play for the Oakland Raiders. Lynch signed with the Raiders with retirement all but forgotten. However, given that Gronkowski has hinted towards other pursuits beyond football, for now it’s easy to reminisce about being one of the best tight ends to ever play football and wish him well on other endeavors.