"I definitely feel like this is the opportunity to play a full season the way it's supposed to be played."
If you weren't buying into the Tampa Bay Buccaneers hype yet, what went down on Tuesday might have changed your mind. Former New England Patriots tight end and current WWE 24/7 champion Rob Gronkowski made the decision to come out of retirement and was dealt to the Buccaneers in a. Gronkowski is reunited with his former quarterback in Tom Brady -- and the Buccaneers now appear to be an actual contender.
During their time together in New England, Gronkowski caught 78 touchdown passes from Brady -- which is the most of any receiver (or tight end) in Brady's career. Gronk's contract will pay him as much as $10 million in Tampa. He has a base salary of $9 million and an additional $1 million that can be earned by means of a workout bonus ($250,000) and per-game roster bonuses that will allow him to earn up to $750,000.
Gronkowski previously said that he had no intention of coming out of retirement, but clearly his mind has been changed. How much did Brady play into this decision and why did he go back on his word? How far does he think the Buccaneers can go in 2020 and what does he think about this change of scenery?
Why Gronkowski came out of retirement
While many speculated it was bound to happen, why exactly did one of the best tight ends to ever play the game decide to come out retirement? Gronkowski said that he finally recaptured that competitive fire that he was missing.
"I got many questions throughout the whole time I was retired. I was getting questions all the time, I was getting opportunities throughout the whole retirement to come back, which is special and definitely blessed to have those opportunities big time. But I've always said, I wouldn't come back unless I'm feeling it, unless I'm feeling good, feeling healthy and I'm feeling like I'm ready to go. Now this is the case, this is the time, it definitely wasn't last year, my body 100 percent needed a rest. I played football for whatever -- 15 years straight -- high school, college, NFL and I was taking hits, surgeries, everything. My body 100 percent needed a rest. I didn't have that fire underneath me but I knew I loved the game of football, I always have, that's why I always played it that's why I had a nine-year career with the New England Patriots. I wouldn't say I had no fire last year even at the end of the season to come back, but as the time rolled on the last couple of weeks, I started really picking it up. My body started feeling good, my desire to play the game of football was coming back and I knew that by the time the season would be rolling around again, I would want to be back out there. That desire, that passion has lit into me and I just felt like in the last couple of weeks it was the right time to hop on before it was too late."
Gronkowski's playing weight
There was a lot of speculation about what shape Gronk was in and if he was ready to play in the NFL right now. While he looked pretty good in his WWE match, playing in the NFL is an entirely different thing. Some thought he lost too much weight to play tight end, but he quickly put those concerns to bed during Wednesday's press conference.
"I played my career at about 262 pounds, 265 pounds, I would say I'm right about there, you vary week to week and all that stuff depending on what's going on. Currently, I am 250 pounds. I actually woke up this morning and I was in my boxers and I weighed myself. A lot of people out there think I've lost 40 pounds, lost 50 pounds -- one time I was in the supermarket about three months ago and this guy came up to me and he's like, 'I heard you lost 80 pounds!' And I was like, 'Dude, if I lost 80 pounds, I would be looking totally different than I do right now.' And I was only down 15-20 pounds. It's incredible, man. I'm 250 and I feel good, my body feels good and I definitely worked over the last year or two. It's not like I've taken off and done nothing. My body at some points there was a good month or two where I didn't do anything actually. My body just needed that time to rest, needed that time to heal and I would say I lost some weight too -- to take some pressure off my joints, to take some pressure off my body and I feel like it was totally the right decision. To put on 10 pounds -- I'm 250 -- to put on 10 pounds to get to 260, I think will be pretty easy. It just takes a couple extra protein shakes with some extra almond butter, some extra blueberries, just load it up and have a couple extra shakes a day on top of all your meals to put that weight on."
Did this decision have anything to do with Belichick?
So, Brady is now in Tampa Bay and so is Gronkowski. Did their decisions have anything to do with coach Belichick? Is it possible he drove them away with his style or did something that made them seek that change of scenery? Gronkowski's answer was a bit of a mixed bag, but he does appreciate the Patriots organization and thinks Belichick is the best coach of all time.
"Coach says it all the time, he always says that it's not an easy place to play and I'm very thankful for the nine years that I had with the New England Patriots hands down, I learned so much under that organization, I learned so much football from the best coach -- hands down that will not change -- the best coach in all of football in coach Belichick. I learned more football than I ever had in my entire life under coach Belichick and just learning so much under the organization of Mr. Kraft too. Those are two guys I look up to and will always look up to. They are the ones who drafted me and gave me my first opportunities ever in the NFL and I'm very thankful for those opportunities. I'm not going to sit here and say it's an easy organization to play for and I've also never played for another organization -- I haven't even been down to Tampa yet so I'm not even sure what to expect. But I know that the New England Patriots hands down is not the easiest place to play but it gets you right -- gets you mentally right, gets you physically right -- and what I learned there I'm definitely going to take it with me."
Who approached who about this opportunity? Brady or Gronk?
Did Brady call Gronkowski out of retirement or did Brady's decision to leave New England entice his tight end? Gronkowski says he actually might have joined the Patriots if Brady decided to stay in New England.
"We had a little conversation, there was no pressure on either side. We actually got together two months ago just to throw the ball. I haven't thrown the football or even touched a football since last year when we threw in L.A. I always knew in the back of my mind that I loved the game of football and if it ever sparked me again I did want to be ready. We rarely talked about what his decision was going to be, where I'm at, but we did talk about for one second -- I told him that I was kind of getting that fire underneath me again and I was definitely interested in the decision he was going to make."
Gronkowski says that he didn't put any pressure on Brady, but was interested in rejoining him if the opportunity was right -- even if he returned to the Patriots. Gronkowski says that Brady was "fired up" about that, which he considered "pretty cool" at the moment, and then the rest developed over time.
Tom Brady is an 'appetizer'
There's no doubt that Brady's connection with Gronkowski is special, but the tight end says that Brady was just the "appetizer" for what Tampa Bay could offer.
"Tom is like the appetizer of the whole meal. He got me hooked when he went down to Tampa, I saw what was down there. Just the opportunity to go down there and play with that type of offense. They got some special wide receivers out there, they got other great tight ends -- and let me tell you, I love working with tight ends too so I'm definitely looking forward to that -- working with O.J. and Cam. Definitely going to be a special opportunity."
'Block out the noise'
Gronkowski was asked if the move from New England to Tampa Bay was going to be a distraction. While Florida does have nicer weather, the distraction might come from the media. With Brady and now Gronkowski in Tampa Bay, the Buccaneers are going to be a team to watch, but Gronkowski already knows how to deal with the hype.
"I've learned many things here with the Patriots organization and one thing is to block out the noise. And that's one thing that I'm going to bring with me to wherever I go is block out the noise. There's no reason to listen to all the hype, listen to all that's going on, go out there and fall into all the distractions -- no that's not the case. You got to stay focused, you got to stay with the program and you got to stay mentally sharp and physically ready at all times, and not let the distraction get to you. You got to just block them out."
The health issue Gronkowski is still trying to get over
While Gronkowski is definitely one of the most successful tight ends in NFL history, he definitely has had a few injuries. With him taking a year off, is he confident he can make an impact for a full 16 games with the Buccaneers?
"My very last game I couldn't walk well for four weeks after the last Super Bowl game we won from my quad contusion. And I actually still have a little indent from it too but I'm going to get rid of it, that's my goal. That's like one of my last final things I got to get fixed on my body and it's that quad contusion I took from the Super Bowl over a year ago and there's still a little dent in my quad from it but it's all for the love of the game. I was in some pain at some serious times even while playing the game -- but that's why I did the last year. I took care of myself, I let my body heal, I let my body rest, I let my body get the treatments that it needed. I feel like I broke up all the scar tissue that was in my body and got rid of all the inflammation in my body that was holding me back my last year I felt like. It feels good. Definitely going forward -- this is an opportunity to play the game of football and play a whole season the real way that it's supposed to be played."
Gronkowski admits that he's not a "young buck" anymore. He realizes he turns 31 this offseason but he is putting more of an effort into taking care of his body and taking care of himself in general.