The Retirement Spike

The 2010 NFL Draft will go down as a memorable one. It’s given us many stars who have made a name for themselves. Earl Thomas is one, Tim Tebow was drafted that year and there’s Antonio Brown, he’s made a nice name for himself, I think. Rob Gronkowski was picked in the second round of that draft in 2010. I remember when he was selected. He and his brothers got up on stage and jumped around to celebrate. Then, the Patriots called and told him to stop. Nine years later and a boatload of accolades, the star tight end has officially announced his retirement after some years of speculations.

Rob Gronkowski is the second greatest tight end I’ve ever seen play our game. When he was drafted by New England, it took him a while to really get comfortable within the system. Once he did, he became such a nightmare for defenses. I remember a Sunday night game against the Pittsburgh Steelers that year. He and Tom Brady connected for three touchdowns which I called his “I’m here” moment. That was a Patriots offense that had traded Randy Moss then which Bill Belichick was questioned for doing, then we learned never to question the evil genius. The offense over the years would become built around 87. He claimed that title as the best tight end in the game for many years during his career. He was a football player of many talents. As a pass catcher, Rob did things that wide receivers did. He has a very wide catch radius, and not only could he play inside as a traditional tight end, he was often lined up on the outside where receivers are flanked. Standing at 6’6, he was a mismatch nightmare all over the field. He did things that tight ends do with his release off the line of scrimmage to get open and he did things that offensive linemen did. He was an outstanding blocker that could impose his will on defensive linemen and open lanes for his running backs. He could even be used in pass protection and block the other team’s best pass rusher. Most tight ends don’t like to block, he loved it. He was an all-around football player. I loved the way the Patriots used him. When he was lined up wide as I said a few sentences ago, I immediately knew that Tom was getting him the football. Teams would always defend him in one on one coverage underneath choosing not to have help over the top which always made me shake my head. His mindset every time he stepped onto the field was to dominate and be the best, he accomplished those with ease. The tandem of Brady and Gronk easily became one of the best in the league. He was a man amongst boys when he was on that field. He caught everything thrown to him, he moved well in open space after he caught the football as I always say, you can catch it all you want, it’s what you do with it that makes you stand out and he moved like a wide receiver in open space. He was always a threat to score no matter where the Patriots had the football. Brady could just lob it up and number 87 would find a way to come down with it. He had tremendous footwork which set him apart and I truly think if he were shorter than 6’6, he’d still succeed in the NFL because of the footwork he displayed. When Rob got it going, he always wanted to keep it going and that energy he had was infectious because the whole team would feel it. When he got it going, that’s when the beast mode kicked in and it wouldn’t be stopped. The one thing he didn’t get enough credit for was his body control. He was a strong guy that did an excellent job of using his body to keep a distance between the football and the defender. There are so many plays of his that stand out to me. The first I think of was a block he made against the Indianapolis Colts in 2014. He was lined up as an additional offensive lineman and destroyed a safety to the point where he shoved him completely out of bounds. After the game, Gronk said the guy had been running his mouth throughout the game and stated he “threw him out the club”. The next memory I have of his was from a 2017 game against the Pittsburgh Steelers. With the Patriots trailing, the ball got back in Tom’s hands and on each possession, he connected with Gronk. He caught every pass on the drive including the go-ahead two-point conversion to put the Patriots ahead. The next one came a week later in the same season against the Buffalo Bills. Gronk was flanked wide again. Brady lobbed it up and Gronk caught it one handed for the touchdown. He also had a big game on the biggest stage that season against the Eagles in the Super Bowl.

I hadn’t seen Tom develop a chemistry with another receiver like he did with Rob since the days of Randy Moss. For years, he was the engine of this offense for many years. With him, they averaged close to 32 points per game. Without him, they averaged half of that. He retires with many accolades under his belt. He won a comeback player of the year award for his 2014 season, he’s a five-time pro bowler, a four-time first-team all pro selection and the most important one of them all are the three Super Bowl titles he’s won. He finished his career with 521 receptions, 7,861 receiving yards and 79 receiving touchdowns. He’s the most dominant tight end I’ve seen since the days of Tony Gonzalez. What a career he had. I see a yellow jacket in his future in five years.