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Rob Gronkowski Retires

New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski announced his retirement via Instagram on Sunday afternoon.

"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," Gronkowski writes. "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."

Gronkowski accumulated 461 DYAR in 2011, the best tight end season on record by nearly 100 DYAR. It was one of six seasons in which he finished first or second among tight ends in DYAR. He was also top-ten in DVOA seven times, leading the league in that category twice.

In more conventional stats, Gronkowski had 79 touchdown receptions in his career. That's the most in the league over that span even though he missed 29 games. He is one of 30 players (and the only tight end) to average 60 yards per game and 15 yards per catch in their careers; five of the others only played in the 1987 strike season.

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105 comments, Last at 03 Apr 2019, 2:32pm

4 Re: Rob Gronkowski Retires

Seeing as how the career leader in yardage for a TE (Tony Gonzalez) has almost DOUBLE Gronk's total, it's assuredly a debate. Actually, I'm not sure it is. If you are going to lay claim to be the best ever it's really, really hard to only have half the record in a major counting stat like that. Gronk was an exceptionally bright star but burned out far earlier than his HOF TE counterparts.

8 Re: Rob Gronkowski Retires

This bears repeating; Rob Gronkowski circa 2011/2014-2015 has an argument for being the most dominant offensive football player (ex QB's) of all time. You can see it looking at him individually as a complete player, and the effect on his team as he went in and out of the lineup. Tony Gonzalez was never a player like that.

It's deeply unfortunate for football that Gronk really only had three seasons that weren't catastrophically impaired by injury. I can't think of another player/position (except perhaps robo-punter) at which the gap between the best and second best has been as wide as it was when Gronk was healthy - that kind of excellence is why I watch football.

As far as the Pats go I think we already know how they plan to deal with the decline of their passing offense; this is the 03-04 Pats all over again (+rule changes). We'll see whether they can execute that plan after the inevitable rough offseason or not.

31 Re: Rob Gronkowski Retires

I really think you're suffering from recency bias and lack of era compensation when comparing the two. Gronk played in an era *much* more favorable to receiving tight ends. Plus I just think you're forgetting exactly how durable and consistent Gonzalez was:

By DYAR, Gonzalez's ranks were:
16, 36, 2, 1, 1, 2, 1, 1, 3, 1, 4, 1, 9, 21, 4, 2, 4
By DYAR, Gronkowski's ranks were:
2, 1, 1, 11, 1, 2, 7, 1, 6

"Gronk was that much better when he was healthy"

First, the "healthy" part is a huge knock. *Durability* is even a different thing than *longevity*: Gonzalez had *14 straight 16-game seasons*. He didn't miss games. Period. Not at his peak, not ever. You can't ignore that. Second, Gronkowski played on historically great offenses. Brady had success before Gronkowski, and he's had success without Gronkowski. You can't ignore that, either.

But to me, it's simple - it's the Jerry Rice argument. I can't imagine anyone *not* saying that Rice was the best WR of all time, because it's the total *combination* of all three - peak ability, consistency, and durability. He had them all. Gonzalez did, too, so to me I just can't imagine someone saying that Gonzalez isn't the greatest TE of all time. He had *everything* you wanted in a tight end.

Which I guess makes Gronkowski Terrell Davis, or Randy Moss. Insane peak ability, but without that ability to sustain success over a long period of time for whatever reason.

23 Re: Rob Gronkowski Retires

I think it comes down to how one parses "greatest player" vs "greatest career". Peak Gronk was a better TE than Gonzalez or Sharpe or Gates or any other TE. Gonzalez had a much longer and more productive career.
But does one say that Tom Seaver was a better pitcher than Sandy Koufax? Generally speaking, no. Did he have a better career? Probably, yes. His huge advantage in longevity pushes him ahead (at least in my opinion).

There isn't a single, indisputable, objective way to assign the relative importance of "peak value" vs. "longevity value". Going back to baseball: I certainly wouldn't consider Phil Niekro to have had a better career than Koufax even though he basically had more longevity than anybody (apologies to Satchel Paige).

27 Re: Rob Gronkowski Retires

understand yoru point btu don;'t like T. Seaver being used to make it. Ther e are arguments for Seaver as a top 10 all time pticher. Peak and longevity was gerat.

If you were to write about J. Palmer, D. Sutton, J. Bunning, T. glavine, ro Bob lemon as comparison, then it works better. Those guys all likely topped Koufax in career value, but Koufax's peak was much better than theirs. For a 5-year strectgh, oufax had maybe best peak. It is almost night and day vs even many Hal of Famers, it is just that Seaver is one of the last Hall of Famers I woudl want to compare Koufax to in that way for prusposes of argument here

34 Re: Rob Gronkowski Retires

Yeah, Seaver was a poor choice. I re-checked his stats after I was posted and, really, the difference between Seaver and Koufax isn't all that big. I only remember Seaver's later years and don't have a gut feeling for how good he was with the Mets.
Palmer would have been a better choice.

28 Re: Rob Gronkowski Retires

I usually weight peak seasons more than longevity, something like 2 to 1 ratio. I think Gonzalez will probably still have the greatest tight end just because his longevity is so far ahead of Gronk.

Put it this way, if you were drafting this player and he was going to a middle-of-the-road franchise, which player would you rather have?

if gronk goes to the Lions he has a career very similar to Calvin Johnson's and nobody's thinking of him as the greatest tight end of all time, even if in terms of absolute ability he's better than anybody who ever came before him.

I think him having a relatively short career and being so injury-prone counts for something. For that reason, i do think Tony Gonzalez is the greatest tight end of all time even if though gronk was the better player in this peak seasons.

32 Re: Rob Gronkowski Retires

I just don't get this "Gonzalez is this workhorse who was around for a while" idea. Gonzalez led all tight ends in DYAR in 6 years, and led all tight ends in receiving yardage in at least that many. He didn't miss a game for 14 straight seasons. Played for *garbage* QBs on totally mediocre teams. Tony Gonzalez led all tight ends in receiving yards while receiving passes from Damon Huard and Brodie Croyle!

Even if you just look at "peak seasons", I mean, in 2011, yeah, Gronk set the (at the time) record for most receiving yards by a tight end, and he was heads-and-shoulders above in DYAR. But Wes Welker and Aaron Hernandez were lighting it up that year, too. Brady put up 5000 yards. Teams couldn't focus on Gronkowski because the *entire offense* was great. I mean, Gronk ranked #1 in receiving yards that year - but Hernandez ranked *4th*. When your team has both the #1 and #4 receiving tight ends by yardage in the league, it's fair to say something else might be boosting you other than pure ability.

Compare that to Gonzalez's 2007. Gonzalez was *33%* of that team's offense. The offense was god-awful, except for Gonzalez and Dwayne Bowe. And they *still* couldn't stop him.

37 Re: Rob Gronkowski Retires

Agree with this: Gronk created matchup problems that even Gonzalez didn't present. Gonzalez didn't abuse safeties in quite the same way (though he would certainly embarrass linebackers just as much.)

39 Re: Rob Gronkowski Retires

"I think if you just asked me who was the more difficult player to defend, I'd say Gronk."

I just can't separate that from the fact that he played his entire career in one of the most prolific offenses in the NFL (and it was one of the most prolific offenses before he got there), *plus* that team also happened to be one of the best in the league, period.

NE passing DVOA, 2009-present: 53.5, 67.5, 55.3, 53.9, 28.2, 35.0, 35.8, 49.6, 47.0, 32.9. Obviously don't know where NE will end up next year (and given Brady's age if there's a major slip most people would tend to assign that to Brady). I'd say you could definitely see the loss of Gronkowski/Hernandez (the first sharp drop) but Brady didn't miss a beat in 2016 without him, either.

Comparatively, KC 1998-2009: 0.1, 37.4, 32.1, 6.0, 17.2, 43.3, 45.1, 42.7, 20.7, -11.2, -4.0. And then after Gonzalez left they were even worse (at -18.9).

I don't want to sound like I'm *knocking* Gronk or anything. It's not a criticism to say that a guy had some of the greatest tight end seasons of all time. But if I want to say some guy's the "best, no question, slam dunk" there shouldn't be any "yeah, buts" there at all. Again, Jerry Rice example.

60 Re: Rob Gronkowski Retires

I agree that it's not a slam dunk, and it 100% depends on how you value longevity. I do think that on any given day/season, every GM/coach would take Gronk over Tony, but I agree with your "who would you draft argument". What would be your answer, out of curiosity?

73 Re: Rob Gronkowski Retires

"depends on how you value longevity."

It's not just longevity! Longevity has its advantages, but obviously Gonzalez's career was so long that from a GM/coach's perspective, the player's going to last longer than them, so it doesn't matter. So there's a limit to how much longevity can matter.

But the key difference there is *durability*. Gonzo didn't miss a game in 14 seasons. That's 14 straight years of 16+ games. Gronk played 16 games *twice* in his career. If I'm a GM/coach and I know Gonzalez is going to be that much more durable than Gronk, of course you'd take Gonzalez. Gronk only played 80% of his games, and started a smaller fraction of that (*some* of those non-starts were just personnel choices, but some were due to them limiting Gronk due to injury - snap counts would quantify that better but obviously don't have them).

Comparing Gronk at his peak and healthy and Gonzalez at his peak and healthy, Gronk'd probably have an advantage due to blocking. I do *not* understand the people thinking that from a receiving ability standpoint there's much of a difference between the two. Gonzalez in the early 2000s was a matchup nightmare as well - go take a look at a highlight reel of Gonzalez and it'll be case after case of "how the heck did he catch that" - and even as late as 2009 Belichick was double-teaming him. Let me say that again: Bill Belichick was *double-teaming a 33-year old tight end*. Obviously players decline at different rates and injury plays a factor, but Gronk is still 4 years away from that!

I'm not even saying Gonzalez was like, the super-best most awesome TE at his peak, either, I'm plenty uncomfortable that Winslow, Ditka, Mackey, Newsome, and several others aren't being mentioned here. Gronk's obviously the most dominant TE in this rules period, but there's just no way that I could say "most dominant ever." Just too hard to compare. But I think part of the problem here is that Gonzalez overlapped with Gronk into the current rules period, so there *was* direct comparison - but it was direct comparison with a *much, much older* Gonzo. That being said I think part of the reason *why* Gonzalez lasted as long as he did is that the rules became easier.

36 Re: Rob Gronkowski Retires

"Played for *garbage* QBs on totally mediocre teams. "
I agree that Huard was no great QB, but Trent Green and Matt Ryan weren't "garbage" QBs. One of his Chiefs teams went 13-3, as did two of his Falcons teams.

" I mean, in 2011, yeah, Gronk set the (at the time) record for most receiving yards by a tight end, and he was heads-and-shoulders above in DYAR. But Wes Welker and Aaron Hernandez were lighting it up that year, too. "

Yeah, and Gonzalez played with Roddy White and Julio Jones in Atlanta.

"Compare that to Gonzalez's 2007. Gonzalez was *33%* of that team's offense. The offense was god-awful, except for Gonzalez and Dwayne Bowe. And they *still* couldn't stop him."

That team went 4-12. Seems like defenses didn't care much about Gonzalez's yardage because the Chiefs were losing all the time.

It is rare to see a team completely bereft of offensive options. But there will be times when a defense will be quite happy to let one offensive player rack up yardage because nobody else can do anything. That's especially true when the position is "short yardage receiver".

Look, Gonzalez had a great career. He was more durable than Gronk, but he also wasn't a blocker at the same level. He's certainly earned his spot in the "Greatest TE ever" debate. But TE isn't a receiving-only position, and career stats aren't the only stats that matter. Gronk has a lot of rate stats that are superior to Gonzalez, and he's got a postseason record that's unmatched. And he's been the best blocking tight end of the past decade, in addition to consistently being one of the best receiving TEs.

43 Re: Rob Gronkowski Retires

"I agree that Huard was no great QB, but Trent Green and Matt Ryan weren't "garbage" QBs. One of his Chiefs teams went 13-3, as did two of his Falcons teams."

Yeah, of course he did. The point was that Gonzalez produced even when his quarterback was garbage. Gonzalez caught 61% of the passes thrown at him by Tyler Thigpen. We know he's a fantastic receiver not just because of the QB or the coach.

I don't know that about Gronkowski. He's had 10 passes thrown to him by guys not named Tom Brady. He caught half of them.

"It is rare to see a team completely bereft of offensive options. But there will be times when a defense will be quite happy to let one offensive player rack up yardage because nobody else can do anything. That's especially true when the position is "short yardage receiver"."

Sure, but a similar argument applies to a successful team, too: if you've got a hugely dangerous weapon and another weapon that's dangerous but not *that* bad, you'll pick your poison and go with the lesser of two evils. You have to just assume it all evens out in the wash.

The point here is that you *know* that Gonzalez is a great receiving TE, independent of QB, independent of coach. You've got tons of information on that. You *don't* have that for Gronk. I can't say Gronk's 2012 was due to him being the greatest TE of all time because the team around him was psychotically good anyway.

"Look, Gonzalez had a great career. He was more durable than Gronk, but he also wasn't a blocker at the same level."

Sure, if you want to add blocking to the mix, everything gets muddled. Although again, you're mixing durability and longevity: Gonzalez had both, Gronk had neither. Longevity adds the big advantage that it makes it more obvious how much is *the player* and how much is *the team*. Gronk's the Terrell Davis of tight ends.

47 Re: Rob Gronkowski Retires

This more an anecdote than anything, but Belichick vaporized Gonzo by putting Talib on him, a big physical corner who could run.

The 2015 Broncos threw their whole defense at him and it still didn't work. The only reason NE mustered any offense in that afc title game was because Gronk was Herculean.

51 Re: Rob Gronkowski Retires

Honestly, Belichick being head and shoulders above basically every other coach in terms of adaptation and adjustments *really* makes it super-difficult to understand players in this era. Both on offense *and* on defense.

52 Re: Rob Gronkowski Retires

I think you're mixed up - the only time I believe Gonzalez would have played against Talib in a NE uniform was in 2013, when he posted a career high 149 receiving yards on 12 catches with 2 TDs.

I do believe that at the end of that game Belichick essentially conceded that they couldn't cover Gonzalez and took him out with a punt gunner-style double team in the red zone as the Falcons were driving for a tying score. Atlanta wasn't able to make the numbers advantage on the rest of the field work to get into the end zone.

Funny enough, Gonzalez's second-best receiving performance was also against Belichick's Pats - he went for 147 against them in 2000. There were of course other games over the years where he didn't post big numbers vs. NE, but it definitely wasn't a matter of Belichick or anyone else being able to systematically take him out of the game.

54 Re: Rob Gronkowski Retires

"The point here is that you *know* that Gonzalez is a great receiving TE, independent of QB, independent of coach. You've got tons of information on that. You *don't* have that for Gronk. I can't say Gronk's 2012 was due to him being the greatest TE of all time because the team around him was psychotically good anyway."

Well, there are two ways to compare the value of a QB-receiver combo. One is to look at how the receiver did with various QBs. Another is to look at how other receivers did with the same QB.

There simply is no support for the implied contention that Brady can lift mediocre receivers to a high level. Like most QBs, Brady's stats vary with the quality of his receiver corps. And it's indisputable that Gronk has been one of the most productive receivers in that corps. Were it easy for TEs to be productive with Brady, Belichick wouldn't have had to literally spend 10 years drafting a large number of TEs until he finally found one who could play at an all-Pro level.

Christian Fauria? Ben Watson? Daniel Graham?

74 Re: Rob Gronkowski Retires

"There simply is no support for the implied contention that Brady can lift mediocre receivers to a high level."

Do you think I was implying that Gronk is a mediocre receiver? What part of me calling him one of the all-time great TEs would imply that? I implied that Brady lifts *good-to-elite* receivers to a higher level. If a guy can't catch, he can't catch. But if he *can* catch anything, then the finer details - like ball placement - take a good receiver and make them great, take a great receiver and make them elite, and take an elite receiver and make them epic. Gonzalez's comments about his workout with Brady make it obvious that he hadn't ever worked with a QB at that level.

But it's even simpler than that. A quarterback that can't read defenses can't even make a throw for someone to catch. A quarterback that can't throw the ball accurately at all is obviously going to depress your statistics. Gronk *never* had that, so of course he's going to consistently put fear in you. No one worried about Gonzalez when Tyler Thigpen was throwing to him.

77 Re: Rob Gronkowski Retires

I guess another way to think about it: If we knew that Gronkowski could have played longer (and avoided injury), but played not quite as effectively if he had turned his intensity down to 75%, would the Patriots (and their fans) want him to do that?

42 Re: Rob Gronkowski Retires

I think the better comparison would Pedro Martinez vs. Greg Maddux.

Pedro had the highest peak of any pitcher in history, but like Gronk, he struggled with injuries throughout his career. Maddux, like Gonzo, also had a very high high peak but it wasn't quite as high as Pedro. However, Maddux and Gonzales also an extremely long and durable careers which set them apart from Pedro and Gronk.

53 Re: Rob Gronkowski Retires

I really like this comp - because peak Maddux was probably 90-95% as good as peak Pedro.

Peak Gonzalez was incredible as well - but probably not as good as peak Gronk.

Honestly, if you poll most baseball analysts, they would probably have Maddux ahead of Pedro as an all time pitcher.

2 Re: Rob Gronkowski Retires

That's a big hit despite the fall-off in his play last season. The loss of a TE who can block and receive at Gronk's level removes a great deal of flexibility from the Pats' schemes. I imagine they were patient with the decision because they didn't want to risk pushing him away. (Pats conspiracy theory: they didn't want him to announce it until after free agency to prevent other teams getting a read on their acquisition needs).
It does help with the Pats salary cap issues (although the Gilmore restructure did as well). Going to be an interesting draft for them; besides Edelman, the receiving depth...wait, Edelman is the receiving depth.

14 Re: Rob Gronkowski Retires

If they did wait to announce it, it hurt them. Word is that they were heavily courting Jared Cook, and he ultimately chose New Orleans instead because he knew he would be the #1 TE there, and was worried about playing second fiddle to Gronk in NE.

19 Re: Rob Gronkowski Retires

They also released Dwayne Allen. Who knows though, Belichick works in mysterious ways.
Good TE draft class this year, at least. I wonder if this is one of those rare times we'll see the Pats trade up, which they'd probably have to do to get one of Hockenson or Fant.
With Gronk's 9.2 million hit off the books, the Pats more than doubled their cap space so there's money to play with there.

24 Re: Rob Gronkowski Retires

The Patriots didn't wait. The timing was Gronk's. He didn't tell the Patriots until yesterday.

I think the Patriots had been getting impatient, but they knew that pressuring Gronk would only make retirement more likely. And though he didn't make the announcement before the opening of free agency (which the team would have preferred), he did do so before the draft. The delay may have hurt the Pats' ability to recruit Jared Cook, but so be it. I think Gronk has earned at least that much from the Pats, after being paid a TE scale despite being more productive than most WRs.

3 Re: Rob Gronkowski Retires

Man, it's pretty crazy how much variation there is in the length of careers for NFL players. Gronk hangs it up at age 29 while his 41-year old QB teammate is still going.

6 Re: Rob Gronkowski Retires

To be fair, none of these other guys were drafted with a chronic back injury. Chronic back injuries SUCK.

The Patriots got a ton of value for a second round pick that was a huge gamble ( as opposed to the 6000 Terrence Wheatleys they've drafted). It sucks to see him retire so early after how overwhelmingly dominant he was when healthy. Just 9 years and he holds pretty much every TE record that matters - and that ignores the fact that he was absolutely dominant as a blocker, and most of the guys in the record books around him weren't. Football is noticeably worse when he's not playing it.

On the other hand - its awesome to see a player retire who has been smart about his money, and who may still have a functioning brain and body in a couple years.

13 Re: Rob Gronkowski Retires

With second round picks you have two choices. You can take a player that has top of first round talent but has some kind of red flag and therefore slipped (either injury or off-field issues), or you can take a player that is good and "safe" but clearly not top end (and hence they were around in the 2nd round).

The Pats, like all teams, do both of course, but they have made quite a few picks in the first category.

In a sense, taking Gronk wasn't a huge gamble, because they also took Hernandez that same year at the same position in the same round. Both Gronk and Hernandez had amazing athletic skills and had the potential to be a game-changing player, and both had big red flags that accounted for them slipping into the 2nd. Gronk's was his health, and Hernandez were his off filed issues. If both player's success is a 50-50 proposition, then you have a 50% chance that at least one of your second round picks at the position will net you the equivalent of a high first round pick, and a 25% chance you'll end up with two shop shelf talents, and just a 25% chance that both will flame out.

Obviously, the Pats ended up with the first outcome.

25 Re: Rob Gronkowski Retires

Now I wish you could explain this to all the Pats' fans who whine about Belichick's drafting. Belichick has the luxury of pursuing a high variance strategy in the draft, since he never really needs to stockpile the roster with a lot of mid-level talent. Even back in 2000 he had inherited a good amount of talent from the Parcells/Carroll years.

(Nitpick: AH was taken in the same draft, but in the 4th round. Where Gronk dropped because of the back issues, AH dropped because of concerns about "off-the-field" issues, concerns that turned out to have been warranted.)

29 Re: Rob Gronkowski Retires

The other thing to bare in mind when discussing draft strategy is expected return; A lot of people look at AH as an example of a high-risk failure, but when looked at on it's face the opposite seems to be true. How many players drafted in the 4th round (114th overall) contribute 2.5 seasons of elite football (or equivalent) at rookie wages - almost none. Moral of the story: AH, bad man, great draft choice. BB getting panned for the draft is really just about fans that don't understand how football teams win/lose - these are the same people who thought the Buffalo Bills were "brilliant" or "bold" to trade up and pick Sammy Watkins because if there's anything that the history of the NFL proves it's that #1 WR's are what makes championship football teams, it's not like the Bills had any other holes on the roster that two additional picks (including another 1st rounder) could have helped them address **sarcasm alert**.

66 Re: Rob Gronkowski Retires

That said, drafting is significantly easier when you don't have to worry about what to do at QB. Also, it's much easier when you have the coaching staff to get the best out of mid-level NFL talent. Most teams have to do some digging for high-end talent by necessity.

67 Re: Rob Gronkowski Retires

I disagree. Once you have an established qb, excuse making from the draft becomes much harder. See the packers or Bill Polian in the latter years. In terms of the blame game, its usually a three slice pie - gm, head coach, and qb. If qb is unassailable, its between you and the coach.

Furthermore, a good effective qb means you usually never get really great draft picks, which means you never a get a chance at a Miles Garett, Calvin Johnson, or Jalen Ramsay.

72 Re: Rob Gronkowski Retires

Excuse making and scapegoating has nothing to do with actually making draft decisions. These are all adults tasked with trying to win football games. If they can't get on the same page, then that's an institutional failure. I don't know how you can believe that being set at the most important position is somehow a bad thing during roster construction.

You're underscoring my point. Yes, good teams are rarely in position to acquire high-end talent. That's why only the very best of them are able to compete year in, year out without a lot of high draft picks. The average NFL team doesn't have the type of coaching that can win consistently with mid-tier players, hence why they take chances in the draft by trading up on occasion.

11 Re: Rob Gronkowski Retires

Huh. One of the Pats' more reliable beat writers (Mike Reiss) says NE was "shocked" by the retirement announcement. Sorta hard to believe.

38 Re: Rob Gronkowski Retires

I don't believe "shocked". I believe "chagrined that he took so long to decide" but it seemed obvious to me that Gronk was going to retire this off-season. Certainly Belichick is at least as aware of what's going on with his team as a casual fan is.

12 Re: Rob Gronkowski Retires

If it comes down to "how good they were in their prime/at their peak" then Ditka, Mackey and Casper all have argments, too. Maybe also Winslow, though he wasn't as good a blocker as the others.

Some may scoff, but what about Mark Bavaro? Peak/prime was probably too short, but he was a beast for about three years.