As if 2020 couldn’t get any weirder.
The Tom Brady-Rob Gronkowski dynamic duo ditches the chilly northeast and heads to steamy Florida on Sunday, with the recently signed Brady and unretired Gronk taking the field as members of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Of Gronk’s 79 career touchdowns, 78 of them have come from the arm of Brady, and the pairing is set to extend that number this weekend. Gronkowski’s loyalty to Brady has never unwavered, resulting in the trade from New England to Tampa Bay this offseason.
While Brady’s free agency was well documented, the news of Gronkowski’s unretirement struck quick, with rumors turning to hard news in just a matter of hours. Gronk, now 31, sat out the 2019 season as he let his body recoup from years of gridiron abuse, including several concussions, a bad back and general lower body injuries.
During the time away, though, Gronk stayed busy: he partnered with a CBD company to advocate for pro athletes’ use of medicinal marijuana, showed up on “The Masked Singer” and even lived out a boyhood dream of capturing a WWE championship. The man of many talents is turning in the many for the one, though, with his long-awaited NFL return coming vs. the Saints on Sunday.
Why did Rob Gronkowski retire?
It all started at 20 years old on stage at the NFL draft when my dream came true, and now here I am about to turn 30 in a few months with a decision I feel is the biggest of my life so far. I will be retiring from the game of football today. I am so grateful for the opportunity that Mr. Kraft and Coach Belichick gave to me when drafting my silliness in 2010. My life experiences over the last 9 years have been amazing both on and off the field. The people I have meet, the relationships I have built, the championships I have been apart of, I just want to thank the whole New England Patriots organization for every opportunity I have been giving and learning the great values of life that I can apply to mine. Thank you to all of Pats Nation around the world for the incredible support since I have been apart of this 1st class organization. Thank you for everyone accepting who I am and the dedication I have put into my work to be the best player I could be. But now its time to move forward and move forward with a big smile knowing that the New England Patriots Organization, Pats Nation, and all my fans will be truly a big part of my heart for rest of my life. It was truly an incredible honor to play for such a great established organization and able to come in to continue and contribute to keep building success. To all my current and past teammates, thank you for making each team every year special to be apart of. I will truly miss you guys. Cheers to all who have been part of this journey, cheers to the past for the incredible memories, and a HUGE cheers to the uncertain of whats next.
A post shared by Rob Gronkowski (@gronk) on Mar 24, 2019 at 2:53pm PDT
It was never a clear-cut No. 1 reason why the All-Pro tight end decided to walk away from the game, but there were two predominant ones:
The injuries: Gronkowski dealt with a myriad of injuries throughout his career, playing in 16 games just twice in his career, his freshman and sophomore seasons with New England. In the last three years, Gronkowski dealt with back, ankle, rib and hamstring issues, along with a concussions he sustained during the playoffs.
The relationship with Bill Belichick: A vetoed 2018 trade between the Patriots and the Lions involving Gronkowski left the tight end feeling shunned by Bill Belichick. Gronk would play the season out in New England, but would retire following the 2019 season after helping win his third Super Bowl ring.
Rob Gronkowski timeline from Patriots to Buccaneers
It all started over two years ago, when rumors of Gronk’s retirement really began:
April 15, 2018 — ESPN’s Adam Schefter reports that Tom Brady will be sitting out the beginning of training camp. Somewhat surprisingly, though, Schefter also reports that Gronkowski is not only sitting out, but he’s thinking about stepping away from football entirely.
Aug. 30. 2018 — The Patriots agree to rework Gronk’s contract, giving him a little pay bump, effectively keeping him in New England through 2018.
Sept. 23, 2018 — As it turns out, there was a reason for Gronkowski’s hesitance to want to play the season after all: the Patriots were on the verge of shipping Gronkowski off to Detroit on the night of the 2018 NFL Draft. Perhaps as a sign of things to come, Gronk told reporters he “wasn’t going anywhere without Brady.” The veteran tight end was likely disappointed with rumors of the talks.
Feb. 3, 2019 — Gronkowski’s final catch as a Patriot comes midway through the fourth quarter, a diving grab that lands the Patriots on the 2-yard line. The Patriots would score off a Sony Michel rush, and Gronk would secure his third and final ring with New England.
March 24, 2019 — An outcome many expected, Gronkowski decides to hang up his cleats temporarily, announcing his retirement from the NFL. A myriad of injuries and his seeming fracture with head coach Bill Belichick forces the soon-to-be 30-year-old into retirement.
March 25, 2019 — Drew Rosenhaus, Gronkowski’s agent, leaves the door open for a Gronk return in 2019: “If the team was struggling or they needed him at some point next year, and let’s just say hypothetically Tom Brady gave him a call and said ‘Rob, I need you,’ I wouldn’t be shocked if he came back to play a few games.”
Oct. 10, 2019 — Patriots owner Robert Kraft is still hopeful that Gronkowski could suit up for New England, as he reveals Gronkowski has yet to file his retirement papers with the league.
Nov. 31, 2019 — The opportunity for Gronkowski to throw on shoulderpads for the Patriots comes and goes, as the deadline for players to be reinstated from the reserve list passes at 4 p.m. ET. This effectively ends Gronkowski’s season, though he will be eligible to play once again following the Super Bowl.
March 11, 2020 — News breaks that Rob Gronkowski has signed … with WWE. The sports entertainment superfan is set to appear on an upcoming episode of WWE “SmackDown.”
April 4-5, 2020 — A life-long WWE fan, Gronkowski hosts WrestleMania 36 from the WWE Performance Center in Orlando, Fla. It’s not the first time Gronkowski appeared in a WWE ring, having stepped into the ring at WrestleMania 33 just three years prior. Gronkowski wins WWE’s 24/7 Championship on the second night of the event.
April 21, 2020 — In the span of a little over an hour, Gronkowski goes from retired to reunited with Tom Brady, as ESPN’s Adam Schefter reports a deal between the Bucs and the Patriots was struck quickly. The Patriots got a fourth-round pick in return, while Tampa Bay got a conditional seventh-round pick and Gronkowski. The deal is made official around 9 p.m. ET.
June 1, 2020 — The sports entertainment dominance of two-sport athlete Gronk comes to an end, with Gronkowski losing the belt to R-Truth on an episode of “RAW.”
Sept. 13, 2020 — Gronkowski returns to the field, playing in his first regular season game in two seasons, this time as a Tampa Bay Buccaneer.