On Tuesday, legendary tight end Rob Gronkowski made the decision to retire for a second time. After 11 seasons with the New England Patriots and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, five Pro Bowl appearances, four All-Pro selections and four Super Bowl victories, Gronk announced via Instagram he would not follow Tom Brady's lead in returning to the field.
"I will now be going back into my retirement home, walking away from football again with my head held high knowing I gave it everything I had, good or bad, every time I stepped out on the field," Gronkowski wrote on Instagram. "The friendships and relationships I have made will last forever, and I appreciate every single one of my teammates and coaches for giving everything they had well."
Interestingly enough, after Gronk's announcement, his agent, Drew Rosenhaus, told ESPN that he wouldn't be surprised if Brady calls his longtime tight end in the middle of the 2022 or 2023 season, and Gronk ends up returning. If this is truly the end of his football journey, here's where the future Hall of Famer ranks among the best pass-catchers in NFL history.
Tom Brady's go-to-guy
No one has caught more touchdowns from the NFL's most decorated quarterback than Gronkowski. His 105 receiving touchdowns from Brady are 64 more than the 41 both Edelman and Randy Moss totaled during their runs with the quarterback.
Most receiving touchdowns from Tom Brady (including postseason)
- Rob Gronkowski: 105
- Julian Edelman: 41
- Randy Moss: 41
- Wes Welker: 38
- Mike Evans: 31
Those 105 connections in the end zone make Brady and Gronkowski the second-most prolific connection in NFL history, ahead of Steve Young and Jerry Rice's 92 receiving touchdowns as a duo and behind only Hall of Famers Peyton Manning and Marvin Harrison's 114 receiving touchdowns together.
Most touchdowns by QB-pass catcher duo in NFL history (including postseason)
- Peyton Manning and Marvin Harrison: 114
- Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski: 105
- Steve Young and Jerry Rice: 92
"We've played together -- I know basically every situation that's come up," Brady said last December about his 11 seasons with Gronkowski, half of Brady's 22-season career. "I know how [Gronkowski] would deal with it. So much about football is anticipating what the problems will be as opposed to trying to figure out how to solve the problem after the play. I think a lot of it is solving the problem before things happen. 'Gronk,' he knows what I'm thinking, I know what he's thinking. We've just done it so long together. It's really nice. It's a great luxury for two position players like that that have played together for as long as we have."
The best tight end ever?
Gronkowski ranks in the top 10 or top five in all three major receiving categories and trails only Antonio Gates (116) and Tony Gonzalez (111) in receiving touchdowns. Gronkowski has played in 143 games, 93 fewer than Gates and 127 fewer than Gonzalez.
Rob Gronkowski career all-time TE ranks
Gronkowski's mind-meld with Brady has made him the second-most dangerous playoff weapon in NFL history with 15 playoff receiving touchdowns, second only to Jerry Rice's 22 playoff touchdowns. In their fourth Super Bowl win together, he caught the game's first two touchdowns from Brady en route to a 31-9 Super Bowl LV blowout of Patrick Mahomes and the then-defending champion Kansas City Chiefs.
Most receiving touchdowns in NFL playoff history
- Jerry Rice: 22
- Rob Gronkowski: 15
- John Stallworth: 12
- Travis Kelce: 11
In just his second NFL season in 2011, he led the league in receiving touchdowns with 17, one more than Hall of Famer Calvin Johnson's 16 that year. Even though a lot of records have fallen as the NFL becomes more pass-happy, those 17 receiving touchdowns remain the most by a tight end in a single season in NFL history. His 1,327 receiving yards that season were also the most ever by a tight end at the time, but that total now ranks as the fifth-most a tight end has ever had in a season.
In case Gronkowski decides to hang up his cleats for good this time, the Buccaneers did select two tight ends during the NFL Draft in Washington's Cade Otton (fourth round) and Minnesota's Ko Kieft (sixth round). Tampa Bay also has Cameron Brate, an eight-year veteran who has amassed 253 receptions for 2,683 yards and 33 touchdowns in 115 career games. The Buccaneers are hoping that trio can make up for at least some of what Brady lost after his most productive teammate of all-time called it a career.