When he announced his retirement from pro football last offseason, Rob Gronkowski pointed out that there might be a chance for a return one day if in the right physical and mental state to do so. One year later, it seems as if he has found it again: Gronkowski is back in the NFL. He will not play with the team with which he spent the first nine seasons of his career, however, and requested to be traded from the New England Patriots to the team of his former quarterback Tom Brady, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
New England agreed to the move — the Buccaneers sent a fourth-round pick in this year’s draft to the Patriots for Gronkowski and a seventh-round selection — and the future Hall of Famer will therefore play alongside Brady in Tampa this year. Gronkowski was introduced as a member of the team via a Zoom conference call on Wednesday, and naturally fielded a considerable number of questions about his tenure with the Patriots and the decisions playing into his return to the NFL.
“I am very thankful for the nine years that I had with the New England Patriots, hands down,” Gronkowski said about his tenure with the team. “I learned so much under that organization. I learned so much football from the best coach, hands down, in football — Coach [Bill] Belichick.” I learned more about football than I ever had in my whole life under Coach Belichick. Just learning so much, just the whole organization — Mr. Kraft, too. Those are two guys that I look up to and will always look up to.”
Gronkowski originally arrived in New England via the second round of the 2010 NFL draft, and went on to become one of the most dominant players the league had ever seen — and clearly the best tight end of his generation. He appeared in a total of 131 games and posted some truly outstanding numbers along the way: Gronkowski caught a combined 602 regular season and playoff passes for 9,024 yards and 91 touchdowns while playing a key role in the Patriots’ second-era dynasty and winning three Super Bowls.
“I am very thankful for those opportunities,” Gronkowski said before also acknowledging that playing in New England is anything but easy. “I am not going to sit here and say it is an easy organization to play for. [...] I know that the New England Patriots, hands down, it is not the easiest place to play, but it gets you right. It gets you mentally right. It gets you physically right, and what I have learned there I am definitely going to take with me — with my future and whatever I have present to this day.”
The legendary tight end also opened up about his return to pro football after a one-year hiatus, especially how it was tied to the status of Tom Brady. Gronkowski noted that he and the quarterback had spoken before about a potential reunion and that he subsequently followed Brady’s free agency experience closely even though he was still in the process of deciding whether or not the really end his retirement at that time. This return, according to the man himself, could also have happened in New England.
“I had a little fire under me, but [returning to New England] would have definitely been an opportunity I would have looked at, for sure, because playing with Tom is special. He’s one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time,” Gronkowski said. “It just happened to be the right opportunity down in Tampa. Tom was like the appetizer of the whole meal. He got me hooked when he went down to Tampa. I saw what was down there. The opportunity to go down there and play with that type of offense — I’m definitely looking forward to that.”