Rob Gronkowski is going out on top.
After making the biggest play of Super Bowl LIII to help the Patriots win another championship, Gronkowski is calling it a career. He announced he is retiring after nine NFL seasons.
Gronkowski was a dominant force for the Patriots, though years of significant injuries took its toll last season. He still had enough left for one more playoff run before stepping away.
And with his retirement, we can start Gronkowski’s countdown clock for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Rob Gronkowski came up big in the playoffs
Gronkowski’s retirement first became a topic after Super Bowl LII. He said he’d seriously consider walking away then. He returned for another season, though he rarely looked like the same player who established himself as the NFL’s best tight end through the past decade.
Gronkowski had a long list of injuries through his career. He had a back injury at the University of Arizona that caused him to slip to the second round of the draft. Then he dealt with multiple knee and arm injuries, among others, through his NFL career.
Gronkowski was always fantastic when he could play, though he wasn’t at his typically high level in 2018. He slipped to 52.5 yards per game, by far his lowest since his rookie season, and just three touchdowns. He didn’t look like the same player anymore.
But he came up big in the Super Bowl. Gronkowski’s fantastic 29-yard catch in the fourth quarter set up a go-ahead touchdown to break a 3-3 tie. That came after Gronkowski had some clutch catches in the AFC championship game against the Kansas City Chiefs.
It was a final reminder of how Gronkowski could take over any game.
Gronkowski had a memorable NFL career
Gronkowski became popular for his partying ways off the field just as much as his dominance on it. He also has said a few times through the years that he has not spent any of his NFL salary, living off his endorsement deals. Assuming that’s accurate, it allowed him to forego a $9 million base salary next season to retire.
Even though Gronkowski had a quiet regular season last year, it’s still a huge loss for the Patriots. Gronkowski became Tom Brady’s best receiving option starting in 2011, his second NFL season when he posted 1,327 yards — a record for a tight end in a season that stood until this past season — and an NFL-best 13 touchdowns. That led to Gronkowski’s first All-Pro nod. He finishes his career as a five-time Pro Bowler, four-time All-Pro and three-time Super Bowl champion.
A silver-lining for the #Patriots in the news of Rob Gronkowski's retirement: After talking to a slew of evaluators since the combine, it's clear that one of the overshadowed stories is how strong the tight end spot is. There's just a ton of talent there.— Charles Robinson (@CharlesRobinson) March 24, 2019
Betting the #Patriots have already:— Charles Robinson (@CharlesRobinson) March 24, 2019
1. Checked if Jared Cook's free agent deal is done with the #Saints.
2. Scoured #NFL rosters to see if a 2020/2021 free agent TE is available in trade before or after the draft.
3. Gone back to the film on all of this draft's TE prospects.
As he retires, Gronkowski has an argument as the greatest tight end in NFL history. He was impossible to cover in his prime, and also a phenomenal blocker. He just didn’t have the longevity of Tony Gonzalez, Antonio Gates or Shannon Sharpe, due to injuries.
But what Gronkowski did in his nine NFL seasons will be remembered for a long time.
In a statement, Patriots owner Robert Kraft said, “I look forward to honoring him in the near future as both a Patriots and Pro Football Hall of Famer.”
– – – – – – –
Frank Schwab is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter!
More from Yahoo Sports: