What an honor and privilege to play with you these past nine years @gronk! You accomplished so much and our team was almost unbeatable when you were on the field! Your fun-loving, inspiring, and positive energy made an impact on everybody you came into contact with! Not just that, but for as great as a player you are, you are a better teammate and person. The NFL was a better place with you in it! But I have no doubt you will be a success in anything you do!!! Love you pal!**"_
That was an Instagram post Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady wrote to Rob Gronkowski when he announced his retirement from the league after the 2018 season. The Patriots were champs multiple times over, Gronk hoisting the Lombardi for the third time during Super Bowl LIII, and he was going out on top of multiple NFL leaderboards. The NFL was without the Brady-Gronk combo for the first time in 10 years, and worse off, according to Brady's post.
Until it wasn't.
Not only has Gronk graced the NFL with his presence again for the 2020 season, but he followed Brady to sunnier pastures, coming out of retirement and immediately getting traded to Tampa Bay from New England. Now, the two BFFs get to continue their already very well-established decade-long legacy with the backdrop of palm trees and pirate ships.
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What the pair have accomplished together thus far is unprecedented. Not only do they make for the best quarterback-tight end duo the league has ever seen (and it's not close), they're right up there for the quarterback-pass-catcher-of-any-kind title, too.
Brady threw 10 touchdown passes to Gronk his rookie season in 2010, which is impressive for any tight end with any amount of NFL experience. But that would prove to be purely foundational as Gronk exploded the next year for 18 total touchdowns, 17 of which came on passes from Brady. It earned Gronk All-Pro and Pro Bowl honors, the first of multiple seasons with such honors for the tight end. Those 18 touchdowns are the most ever by a tight end in a single season and the 17 receiving touchdowns are also a league record that still stands.
Gronk and Brady would continue their dominance over the next seven seasons and win multiple Super Bowl titles together. Their first came in 2014 against the Seattle Seahawks, where Gronk caught his first Super Bowl touchdown and tallied 68 yards on six receptions. His next win came while on injured reserve for Super Bowl LI where New England rallied from the infamous 28-3 deficit to defeat the Falcons in overtime. Gronk's last Super Bowl was LIII, when the Pats defeated the Rams in a mostly defensive effort with a final score of 13-3. Gronk still managed 87 yards… fitting.
He now re-enters the league in 2020 looking to add more cushion to his many career records that are still very much intact. His per-game touchdown average of .69 is the highest among tight ends. He has the most seasons with 10 or more touchdowns by a tight end with five. His four seasons of 1,000 or more yards are tied with Jason Witten and Tony Gonzalez for the most at the position. He was the first tight end to eclipse 1,000 postseason yards and currently has the most of anyone at the position with 1,163. He also owns the most career postseason touchdowns by a tight end with 12.
And these records were all accomplished with the help of Brady, who has a 129.6 passer rating when targeting Gronk, according to PFF. Yep. That's a real thing. Gronk has a career 65.6% catch rate and his 9.9 yards per target are the best among tight ends, ever.
"Brady throws and it's caught by Gronkowski." It's automatic; a plan more than possibility. And now, it's about to be echoed throughout Tampa Bay as the two team up again as Buccaneers.
View pictures of QB Tom Brady and TE Rob Gronkowski through the years.