Retirement has been on Rob “Gronk” Gronkowski’s mind for as long as anyone can remember. He endured serious injuries before he even entered the NFL. He severely hurt his back in college and that injury never really left him alone. Once in the NFL Gronk had one injury after the next. The Patriots were constantly frustrated that he couldn’t stay healthy. But New England fans couldn’t be too upset because Gronk was incredibly productive when he was on the field.
Gronk wasn’t just one of the best Patriots of the decade, he was a beloved fan favorite. His personality was quick to win over the fans and annoy Bill Belichick. The somber Patriots’ coach put up with Gronk’s antics and silly persona during interviews because he was so valuable to the team. New England may not be the same next year without him. As we look forward to a Patriots team post-Gronk, in order to make sense of things, we have to look back at just how important he really was.
There really aren’t any other tight ends like Gronkowski. He was built like a tank but had great agility, could catch practically anything, and had impeccable football skills. He was able to put defenses in a difficult position because he was both an amazing blocker and a dangerously good receiver. He was effective on every play, just by being out on the field, because defenses had to worry about him as both a blocker and a possible target for Brady.
The thing is, most defenses are not equipped with a player who can line up against Gronk in both of his roles. So teams were left guessing what type of play the Patriots were running. If they guessed wrong, Gronk could either bowl someone over and open up a seem for a Patriots’ running back, or he could go out and catch a pass, moving the ball himself. Even if the defense did guess right, Gronk was so good at what he did, he often got his job done anyway.
The Hole He’s Leaving Behind
Gronk’s shoes are too big to be filled. It’s unlikely that Bill Belichick even wants to try to find a replacement for his beloved tight end. What’s more likely is that the Patriots’ offense makes some changes.
The Pats have been transitioning to more of a running-based offense anyway. With Tom Brady aging out, the Patriots are toning down their passing game. So if Belichick has to choose between a receiving tight end and a blocking tight end, he may go with a guy who can block.
It may seem strange to go back to a running-dominant offense in an age when teams are passing more and more. But Belichick never needs to do what other teams are doing. And it’s doubtful he’d make the mistake of trying to keep the offense the same without Gronk. He’s an adaptive coach with a team built around an aging quarterback. Bill can certainly figure out how to win games without throwing the ball as much.
When people think of the Patriots in the Belichick era, they are bound to think of Tom Brady first, as the player that made the most difference and was the face of the team. That’s a given. They may even think of Brady before Belichick. We may not know for years to come, depending on how Belichick does as a coach once Brady is gone.
But after Brady, who might fans look back on as the favorite, the most influential, the most missed player? All bets are on Gronk. He is a Hall-of-Famer for sure and can’t be forgotten in New England. And with a personality like his, we can be sure that he isn’t leaving the public eye yet. Whether it’s as a sportscaster, a WWE wrestler, or an actor, there’s no way Gronk is done being Gronk.
Which Patriot has finally called it quits?