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Is the rumor of Rob Gronkowski’s retirement real or about contract leverage?

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It could be a little bit of both.

NFL: FEB 04 Super Bowl LII Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski did not commit to returning to the team in 2018 in the wake of Super Bowl LII. This could have been the result of a question catching him off guard while he was still thinking about the game, but there is enough smoke from various channels to suggest that Gronkowski is legitimately thinking about his future.

Gronkowski is financially secure for the future, has had a Hall of Fame caliber career, and has battled through numerous injuries that could naturally lead him to questioning whether he should put his body through another season of stress.

“I believe Rob Gronkowski’s rumblings about retirement are real,” SI’s Albert Breer writes. “He’s been responsible with his finances (putting away most of his football money and living largely off his endorsement cash), and he’s taken an absolute beating. That this is a real choice for high-profile players now is great progress, too. Give credit to ex-Niner LB Patrick Willis and ex-Lions WR Calvin Johnson credit for blazing that trail.”

Sources also told ESPN’s Jeff Darlington that Gronkowski “began telling some people close to him, even before he suffered a concussion in the AFC Championship Game, that football was taking a toll on his body and he was contemplating the end of his playing days.”

We can add in the Eagle-Tribune’s report that Gronkowski is “considering retirement to pursue a career in acting” because “the injuries have taken a toll on him.” These ideas are reportedly inspired by conversations with Sylvester Stallone and former WWE star Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson.

Gronkowski had previously teased a future in wrestling during the 2016 offseason, but also said that he couldn’t retire before teammate Tom Brady.

The cynic in me thinks the retirement talk is about contract leverage, especially since the rumors started prior to the Super Bowl. Gronkowski restructured his 2017 contract to include more incentives for production, of which he earned the maximum possible value. He had been projected to make $5 million in cash for 2017, the 18th-most in the NFL, and the restructure allowed him to make $10.75 million, the most for any tight end in the NFL and closer to his open market value.

Gronkowski’s slated to make $9 million in 2018 and $10 million in 2019, both the highest amount for a tight end in the NFL, so it’s not like he’s drastically underpaid for his position. But with his long string of injuries and his value to the Patriots offense, I wouldn’t blame Gronkowski if he wanted to receive compensation more similar to the top offensive skill players.

The $9 million he can make in 2018 would be the 12th most for an offensive skill player, behind all wide receivers, and it could easily be argued that Gronkowski is more important to the New England offense than the majority of those receivers. The Patriots tight end should feel well compensated for the risk of damage to his body.

No one would blame Gronkowski if he hung up his shoulderpads, even as he’s coming off an All Pro season. And while Gronkowski is financially savvy, I don’t believe he’s the type to play into contract leverage immediately following a Super Bowl loss. I think his retirement rumors are real and that they are linked to his contract- and the Patriots and Gronkowski will have to find a middle ground to keep Gronkowski on the football field.