- Covered the Buccaneers since 2009
- Joined ESPN in 2016
TAMPA, Fla. — Buccaneers tight end Rob Gronkowski, who opted to retire after the 2018 season due to injuries before returning to play with Tom Brady in Tampa Bay in 2020, said Monday that unlike his previous Super Bowl, where he struggled to walk for a month due to a thigh injury, he feels like he could get back onto the field right now.
“I feel like I could play another season right now, if it started,” Gronkowski said. “I feel really good. … I feel light. I feel flexible. I feel like I can go out and just play some football, and just go out and not be in pain … run routes and do what I gotta do out there on the field. So I definitely feel like I’m ready to go, to play another full season coming up this year and just take it a year at a time like that.”
Gronkowski, who will turn 32 in May, made it through his first full 16-game season since 2011 and played four postseason games. After a bit of a slow start, he got back into football shape and found his role in Bruce Arians’ offense about halfway through the season, then peaked in the postseason, matching his personal best of two touchdowns in Super Bowl LV.
“This year, just playing all 20 games, all 16 regular-season games, not missing a practice, not missing a game, not missing anything in the postseason — it was a great feeling,” Gronkowski said.
“It was just something I wanted to prove to myself too, that I could do, to prove to myself that the things that I’ve learned and I’ve taken in and I’ve changed — that I can play a full season, I can play a full postseason at a high level, too. It’s just great overall to complete that mission, and now I feel like I can do it again too.”
It also was important to Gronkowski to honor his contract, which he signed for six years and $54 million in 2012, which was added to his rookie deal. That made him a Patriot through 2019, which is why the Bucs had to ship a fourth-round draft pick for his rights and a seventh-round pick in 2020.
Gronkowski said that he’ll be playing on one-year deals going forward, assessing his body and overall health at the end of every season before making the determination if he would like to continue. Would he have continued playing through so many injuries had he not been compelled to finish out his deal with the Patriots?
“That’s kind of a tough question, because I signed that thing at like 22 years old, and when you sign something and you’re 22 years old, you think you can like run through a wall no matter what the rest of your life,” Gronkowski said. “You don’t really understand the obstacles that you’re gonna face down the line when you’re that young.
“But I would say that the contract didn’t really play a role, either. There wasn’t like any guaranteed money or like anything like that, so like I didn’t have to play. I would just say the contract didn’t really have anything to do with it — I just wanted to play football.”
Back then, he worked hard and played hard. As in — he loved to party. And while he still has it in him — as seen in viral videos of he and teammates standing shirtless and drinking on the bow of a boat in the Bucs’ Super Bowl boat parade — it’s to a much lesser degree now.
“Back in the day, when I was young 20s, I would extend the [Super Bowl] celebration probably for like a month or two,” Gronkowski said. “I wouldn’t even know what’s going on in the world. But you live and learn. I’m in my 30s now, so that [parade] was enough for me.”
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