Start the Hall of Fame countdown for Rob Gronkowski.
Gronkowski, one of the most dominant tight ends in NFL history, came out of a brief retirement in 2020 to add an impressive new chapter to his career with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but now he's hanging up his cleats once again. He announced on Instagram on Tuesday that his playing days are over.
The Buccaneers are left grateful for the two outstanding seasons Gronkowski gave the team, which included the franchise's second Super Bowl championship.
"Rob is a true professional who left it all on the field for us the past two seasons and helped establish a championship culture in our building," said General Manager Jason Licht. "He played a crucial part in our Super Bowl LV championship season in 2020 and battled through a number of injuries last year while on the way to one of the most productive receiving yardage seasons in his 11-year career. It is always difficult to see a great player walk away from the game when he is still enjoying that kind of success, but the overwhelming emotions I feel today are 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."
Gronkowski teamed up with quarterback Tom Brady for all 11 of his NFL campaigns, the first nine (2010-18) in New England, a tenure that produced three Super Bowl championships. He walked away from the game following the 2018 season due to an overall accumulation of injuries but chose to return when Brady signed with the Buccaneers in 2020. Tampa Bay gained his rights by sending a fourth-round draft pick to the Patriots.
Brady also briefly "retired" after the 2021 season but 40 days later announced that he would in fact continue playing for the Buccaneers in 2022, which is the final year of his current contract. That likely made Gronkowski's decision more difficult, and he spent more than three months contemplating whether or not to continue playing after becoming an unrestricted free agent in March.
Gronkowski made five Pro Bowls and was a four-time first-team Associated Press All-Pro during his nine seasons in New England. Following his year away from the game, which allowed him to rebound from the aforementioned injuries, Gronkowski immediately returned to being one of the NFL's most productive tight ends.
Over his two seasons with the Buccaneers, Gronkowski caught an even 100 passes for 1,425 yards and 13 touchdowns in 28 games. He added another 17 receptions for 226 yards and three touchdowns in six playoff contests, including two scores in Super Bowl LV, helping the Buccaneers defeat the Kansas City Chiefs, 31-9.
In 2020, Gronkowski played in a career-high 20 games, playoffs included, marking the first time he had finished a season without missing at least one game since 2011, his second year in the league. He was sidelined for most of six games last year due to ribs and back injuries but still averaged 66.8 receiving yards per game. That ranked third among all NFL tight ends last year, trailing only Baltimore's Mark Andrews (80.1) and Kansas City's Travis Kelce (70.3). Gronkowski's average of 14.6 yards per catch in 2021 also ranked third among all tight ends with at least 20 catches, as his career-long ability to work the seams downfield remained strong.
Gronkowski also remained a force as a blocker, which is why he was the team's most active tight end in each of his two seasons in Tampa. He played a whopping 1,036 offensive snaps in 2020, playoffs included, and was on the field for 77% of the team's plays. No other Buccaneer tight end saw the field for more than half of the snaps. Last year, he was involved on 80% of the offensive snaps when he was active, and that includes one contest in New Orleans when he tried to return from his initial ribs injury but had to sit after just six plays.
View the top pictures of Rob Gronkowski from his time with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Gronkowski will first be eligible for induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2027. His résumé will surely make him a strong first-ballot consideration.
Gronkowski's career regular-season totals include 621 receptions for 9,286 and 92 touchdowns. Only Tony Gonzalez, Jason Witten, Antonio Gates and Shannon Sharpe produced more receiving yards by a tight end in league history. Gronkowski's totals soar well past the 10,000-yard and 100-touchdown marks when his incredible postseason work is included.
Gronkowski has essentially played another season-plus of football in the postseason en route to winning four Super Bowl rings. In 22 playoff contests he has amassed 98 receptions for 1,389 yards and 15 touchdowns. His 15 postseason touchdown receptions trail only Jerry Rice's 22 in the league's all-time annals.
Gronkowski never played an NFL season that didn't end with his team in the playoffs. Had he chosen to return for the 2022 season, he would have remained an integral part of the Bucs offense as they chased yet another postseason berth. Now Brady and the Buccaneers will have to chase that goal without Gronkowski, as the Hall of Fame-bound tight end moves on to other pursuits.