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Ex-Patriot Rob Gronkowski retires as the greatest tight end of all time

Related: Ex-Patriot Rob Gronkowski announces retirement from the NFL, again

Houston Texans v New England Patriots Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

Whenever one of the greatest NFL players of his generation decides to call it a career, the natural reflex is to discuss his status among the best of all time. For some such as Tom Brady, the debate is pretty straight-forward. For others like Julian Edelman, it is a lot more nuanced.

What about Rob Gronkowski, though, who on Tuesday ended his pro football career for a second time after his one-year retirement in 2019?

Gronkowski might not find himself just in the same sphere as his long-time quarterback, Brady, but he is not too far off. He too is a future first-ballot Pro Football Hall of Famer, who has as strong a claim as any as the greatest player his position has ever produced.

Just take a look at the numbers. Over his 11 seasons in the NFL, spent between the New England Patriots (2010-18) and Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2020-21), Gronkowski appeared in 165 regular season and playoff games and caught 719 passes for 10,675 yards and 107 touchdowns. He also was voted first-team All-Pro four times and was named to the NFL’s Team of the 2010s and 100th Anniversary Team.

Most importantly, Gronkowski helped both the Patriots and the Buccaneers earn some hardware. He won three Super Bowls in New England, and added another ring in his first year back in Tampa Bay.

Then, there are his signature plays — and Gronkowski had a ton of them. The following against the Indianapolis Colts is just one among many, but a microcosm of his rare abilities:

Whether it was this play, a spectacular one-handed grab against the Denver Broncos, overpowering the entire Chicago Bears defense, or making the biggest offensive play against the Los Angeles Rams in the Super Bowl, Gronkowski’s highlight reel stands up against any tight end in NFL history. You probably know several other that deserve to be added to this select list of signature plays.

Of course, receiving is only one half of the job for a player at his position. Gronkowski’s blocking, while far less consequential from a highlights perspective (unless, of course, your name is Sergio Brown), was no worse:

Whether it was catching the ball or throwing blocks, Gronkowski was the total package. As for his status among the best ever, former Patriots linebacker Matt Chatham made a pretty compelling argument on social media.

“Gronk is the best tight end ever, and it’s not really close,” he wrote on Tuesday (adapted from Twitter-speak). “There are a rare few who have caught passes similarly well. There are a rare few who have blocked similarly well. But nobody’s done both things at that level. Nobody. The whole job is the whole job — and that’s why he’s clearly the GOAT.”

Chatham’s thoughts were echoed by another former NFL player, ex first-round quarterback Robert Griffin III.

“Gronk could do everything you need a tight end to do,” Griffin noted. “Stretch the field, make contested catches, wide catch radius and block. He always found a way to make a play for Tom Brady. No need to beat around the bush. Rob Gronkowski is the greatest tight end ever.”

Combine his numbers, highlight-reel plays and sheer success in both New England and Tampa Bay and you get more than a Hall of Fame-caliber player. You get an all-time great.

As far as tight ends are concerned, you get the all-time great.