Why Did Rob Gronkowski Retire — and What Made Him Decide to Return to the NFL?

Rob Gronkowski, like many athletes before him, disappointed fans when he made the decision to retire from the NFL. Known as “Gronk” by his fans, Gronkowski started with the New England Patriots in 2010 and stayed with the team for nine seasons. That’s a long run for such a high-impact sport, and the tight end was ready to call it quits when multiple injuries were taking more and more of a toll on his body. There’s only so long most people can play such high-level athletics, so it was perhaps not a surprise that nine seasons was enough for the then-29-year-old to hang up his jersey. Imagine the shock, then, when Gronkowski announced he’d be returning to the NFL after only one year away from the game. So what brought him back?

Gronkowski saw much success with the New England Patriots

Rob Gronkowski why did he retire and why did he return to the NFL
Rob Gronkowski #87 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers runs the ball. | Katelyn Mulcahy/Getty Images

After playing college football in Arizona, Gronkowski joined the New England Patriots in 2010, making it on as a second-round draft pick. Gronkowski comes from a family of NFL stars, and the family’s site Gronk Nation shows that of the five Gronkowski brothers, four of them have played for the NFL. Rob Gronkowski joined in with his big brothers Dan Gronkowski (who started with the Detroit Lions in 2009) and Chris Gronkowski (who signed to the Cowboys in 2010). His younger brother, Glenn Gronkowski, has also been part of the NFL, joining the New England Patriots practice squad. 

It’s Rob, however, who has arguably had the most success on the field. He even got an award in the Madden video game named after him when he became the youngest rookie ever to catch three touchdown passes in a single game. His work on the team earned him a remarkable six-year deal that he signed in 2012 for $54 million. In 2016, he earned the distinction of being ranked the 9th best player in the entire NFL. 

He also earned the admiration of his teammates with quarterback Tom Brady calling him “one of the most positive people I’ve ever been around.” 

Why did Rob Gronkowski retire?

With these impressive successes behind him, Gronkowski could not deny that age was catching up to him. After nine seasons with the Patriots, he was feeling the pressure from younger players. As CBS reports, Gronkowski explained, “I was trying to go out to the practices during the summer and I was getting smoked by every rookie.”

He gave these explanations as he announced his retirement, pointing to multiple injuries that had sometimes sidelined him as well as an effort to party like a “rockstar” that had definitely not worked out as he’d hoped. Still, Gronkowski wasn’t ruling out a possible return. Even then, he said, “When that time comes down in the future, if I have the desire to play football again, if I feel passionate about football again, if I feel like I need to be out there on the field, I will go back to football.”

Why did Gronkowski come out of retirement?

It didn’t take long. Gronkowski was passing up opportunities to return throughout his brief retirement, but eventually he felt it was time. As the Buccaneers website reports, Gronkowski said, “I’m definitely blessed to have had those opportunities big time, but I said it from the beginning that I wouldn’t come back unless I was feeling it; unless I’m feeling good, feeling healthy and I’m feeling like I’m ready to go. Now this is the case.” 

At the time, Gronkowski expressed confidence that he could get back in playing shape in no time. Only about 15 pounds under his playing weight, he said it was just a matter of almond butter and blueberry shakes. It also didn’t hurt that he would be rejoining quarterback Tom Brady, who also made the move to Tampa Bay. Reunited, the pair have once again been impressing with their abilities on the field. 

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