This is our second episode of previewing the upcoming NFL Draft, and in this show Steve Balestrieri and Derek Havens look at potential defensive prospects for the Patriots.
In this episode, we focused on the retirment of Rob Gronkowski with the Patriots, and what it means for the team moving forward. We also talked about several topics in the Patriots Fourth And Two Roundtable.
This is our first episode of previewing the upcoming NFL Draft, and in this show,Steve Balestrieri and Derek Havens look at potential offensive prospects for the Patriots.
Well, folks, he did it. He’s calling it a career at 29.
Listening to his body, Rob Gronkowski put out a message on Instagram on Sunday saying that he is retiring from the NFL after eight seasons, all with the Super Bowl Champion Patriots. After years and years of this surgery and that surgery, of this shortened season and that shortened season, Gronk is walking away. One has to wonder if he will become the next biggest movie star, the next biggest YouTube sensation, the next biggest anything he puts his mind to.
But one melancholy element remains. Gronk will never play for the Patriots again. Gronk likes to party, but that thought is as sobering as it gets.
Kansas City fans will say Tony Gonzalez. Charger fans will throw the name Antonio Gates into the fray. The Cowboys will offer up former ESPN broadcaster/returning tight end Jason Witten. Heck, Chicagoland will strike back with “Ditka!” Other teams will throw in their entry for the tight end GOAT.
Patriot fans will yell “Gronk” loudly, strongly, and quite often.
Are they right?
Gronkowski is 104th all time in receiving yards (Gonzalez is 6th, the next tight end is Witten at 21), and is 130th in total receptions (Gonzalez is 2nd, Witten is 4th, Gates is 17th). So by the numbers, the case is a weak one. Gronkowski missed a lot of playing time due to injury, and he doesn’t have the longevity of the other gentlemen.
But many NFL experts not only see Gronkowski as a future Hall of Famer, they see him as a first ballot enshrinee. If that be the case, Gronk enters some very rarefied air, some very select company, and this might help support a ground swell to make him the tight end GOAT.
Gronk is not yet 30. Only two other former NFL players became first ballot Hall of Famers without ever playing a game into their 30s. The other two players? Jim Brown and Gale Sayers. That right there has to put Gronk in the discussion.
Numbers aside, when healthy, who was Tom Brady’s number one go-to guy over the last two decades?
Troy Brown? Wes Welker? Julian Edelman?
Or was it Gronk?
If Gronkowski does indeed become the tight end GOAT in the eyes of the majority of NFL experts, it will have to be based on subjective analysis, not stats-based. The stats don’t support him. But watching him play either does, or perhaps does.
Gronkowski was the guy who could always get you that first down. He could do it even being held by one defender. Sometimes being held by two defenders.
His athleticism for a guy his size is freakish. He could physically do things a guy his size can’t normally do. He was strong, fast and quick. He had great hands, one of the best pair of hands of the present day and the past decade. He could make wideout-type circus catches. He was uncoverable. He was a matchup nightmare. He would eat linebackers all day long. Just listen to Scott Zolak during Super Bowl XLIX: “A linebacker? In man-to-man coverage? All day long, baby!”
Then there’s his blocking skills. How often do you hear the praises of the blocking skills of Gonzalez, Gates and Witten being extolled? If you do, go ahead and tweet your claim. Gronk was one of the best, if not the best, blocking tight end of his day. And that goes along with all the aforementioned skills he has become legend over.
What the Patriots will miss most is his clutch. His final catch as a Patriot encapsulates the clutch element of Gronk perfectly.
It was a lob pass down the left seam late in the fourth quarter of Super Bowl LIII. It went for 29 yards and it put the Patriots at the Rams’ 2-yard line, first and goal. Sony Michel scored the game’s only touchdown on the next play.
The Last Catch. Brady laid it in there, as perfectly as the GOAT quarterback usually does. Gronk had linebacker Cory Littleton draped all over him (but not holding him). Brady’s pass was pinpoint perfect. Gronk extended his arms, caught the ball, then fell perfectly so as not to fumble or to have the catch overturned on replay as “not finished”. The catch set up the first Red Zone play of the game for either team, with 7:03 left in the contest. In what was the tightest defensive struggle in Super Bowl history, the Last Catch will probably go down as Gronk’s greatest.
The Last Catch is what Joe Average NFL Expert, one with no ties to New England, should look at as Exhibit 1 of why Gronk should be the tight end GOAT. No, he can’t match Gonzalez, Gates or Witten on numbers. But Gronk has three Super Bowl rings, three more than any of those gentlemen combined. Call that Exhibit 2. Or 1A.
Exhibits 3 through 521 (his career catch total) should cast a better light on Gronkowski. What we have borne witness to these last eight years has been tight end masterpieces. Great catch after great catch. Miraculous catch after miraculous catch. Clutch catch after clutch catch. On and on. You’ve seen them all. And you’ve loved every one of them.
Replacing Gronk will be impossible. Had Aaron Hernandez not made some tragic life choices, he might still be around. The last previous “great” tight end was Ben Coates. He was replaced. Someone will come in and play tight end for the Patriots. But replace Gronk? Uh-uh.
The Patriots have been blessed with terrific players over the last 20 years. Ty Law will head for Canton this summer. Five years from now, Gronk probably will also.
And you the Patriot fan will head there, cheer your heart out for him when he gets his bust, and reflect on his greatness, something you’ve enjoyed so much since 2011.
But you need to calcify what you know. This is not the last time this next sentence will be typed, allowing for name substitution.
You will never, ever, see a player like Rob Gronkowski ever again.
It’s funny, moments like these are ones that you’re never really ready for.
With news floating out there that Gronkowski might have been returning in 2019, the idea that the Patriots would be without him this season seemed hard to fathom.
After all, his final reception of the year ended up being one of the most crucial of the game during the Patriots Super Bowl win over the Rams. With the score knotted at 3-3 in the fourth qaurter and New England driving, Gronkowski caught a 29-yard pass on a 2nd-and-3 from the Rams’ 31-yard line, hauling in a diving reception at the Los Angeles’ 2, just short of the goal line. One play later, rookie running back Sony Michel took the ball in for the touchdown. Putting the Patriots up 10-3 in a lead they wouldn’t relinquish as they won their sixth Super Bowl Championship.
Following the win, Gronkowski was all smiles and it seemed like the euphoria around this victory might have been enough to bring him back for one more run.
On Sunday night, he put the chances of that to rest after announcing his retirement on Instagram.
For any fan who has watched Gronkowski over the course of his career, you couldn’t have asked for a better player. He made an immediate impact from the time he was drafted in 2010 and his larger-than-life persona was apparent both off the field and on it, with the happy-go-lucky tight end always smiling in front of the camera while quietly working hard behind the scenes.
Both Bill Belichick and his teammates have always talked about his incredible football I.Q., along with the effort he put in day in and day out on the practice field. But what really made Gronkowski unique was how much of a complete player he was. Not only was he a dangerous threat in the passing game, he was a dominant force as a blocker and he seemingly took just as much enjoyment making a key block as he did in spiking the football after scoring touchdowns.
That’s rare in this day and age. Most players tend to focus more on their numbers and less on doing the little things, but Gronkowski was a complete player and took pride in doing all of it.
One of the biggest questions now will be where he’ll end up in his place in NFL history, with many wondering if he’ll someday end up in Canton. He leaves the game with the NFL record in receptions (81), receiving yards (1,163) and receiving touchdowns (12) by a tight end in playoff history. He’s also scored more touchdowns (79) than any other player since 2010, which given that he had several injury-shortened season over that span, is astounding.
The injuries are likely what played a role in the veteran announcing his retirement. He’s had knee injuries, several back surgeries, ankle injuries, his forearm injury, to name a few. Each time he went down, fans penciled him in for the following season likely not realizing the tremendous amount of rehabilitation and pain that went along with making it back to the football field.
The most memorable example of that was when he took a significant hit against the Broncos in Denver in 2015, with the tight end screaming and writhing around on the ground after he went down. What was tough about that moment is the reaction likely stemmed from the knowledge of having been through it in the past, with the obvious fear of his season ending and another offseason of rehab clearly on his mind during the time from when he hit the turf, to when the cart finally took him off the field.
Gronk’s injury scare in 2015 was a reminder of how tough it was on him.
Fortunately, it was just a scare and he avoided disaster. But it was a reminder that he’s only human and the frustration fans voiced at times about his injury history was nothing compared to what he endured personally each time he dealt with one.
Seeing him struggle this past season was a shocking reminder that all of those big hits he sustained over the years had seemingly finally taken their toll. He caught just 47 passes for 682-yards during the regular season, while still averaging 14.5 yards per reception. Of those 47 passes, 34 went for first downs and moved the chains.
In the playoffs, he was big. He was third on the team in receptions with 13 catches for 191-yards, including 4 receptions for – how fitting – 69-yards. The best players step up in key moments and even as hampered as he was, the fact he was able to come through when it mattered most is really a testament of just how good he really was.
Gronkowski’s final reception was a memorable one.
However, he wasn’t just a terrific player, he’s also a terrific person. Behind the scenes, he was known to spend a lot of time at children’s hospitals and other charities, giving up a lot of time to help put smiles on the faces of each person he spent time with. He’s taken his fair share of criticism over the years when it came to his fun-loving ways (his party bus was a target of that), but he was never involved in any off-the-field incidents and never garnered any negative attention.
He’s been pretty care free, with fans even seeing him pounding beers during championship parades. Some took it too far, even believing it was O.K. to treat him like an animal while firing cans at him during the most recent championship parade, causing him to suffer a pretty good cut on his eye. As usual, he took it in stride, despite the fact there were some of his teammates who seemingly took it harder than he did.
For Gronkowski, he goes out the way a player can only hope. He leaves the game with his final moments seeing him raise the Lombardi Trophy, knowing that he made the key play that helped his team get there. He leaves with the love and adoration of every player in the locker room and countless others who played with him and even the respect and appreciation from many more around the league. Opposing players might dislike the Patriots, but very few seemed to have anything negative to say about the veteran tight end.
But the biggest takeaway from this news is the fact it closes the door on an era of a player we’ll likely never see again, which will probably take a little while to sink in. Players like Gronkowski are rare and it’s even more surprising for a player of his caliber to have made it through his entire career with one football team. Fortunately, Patriots fans were able to see end enjoy every moment of his incredible career and as hard as it will be not to see #87 out there next season, every one of them should be thankful for the impact he had during this run.
While everything eventually comes to an end, it’s safe to say there won’t ever be another Rob Gronkowski. Whatever he decides to do next should be fun to watch, whether it be acting, professional wrestling, or whatever lies ahead as he walks away from the game.
But whatever he does next, it won’t be anywhere near as much fun as it was seeing him on the field. One thing you can likely bet is he’ll hit it just as hard as he has everything else, so here’s hoping he has a blast in retirement. He’s definitely earned it.
In this episode, Derek Havens and Steve Balestrieri share their views on the beginning of Free Agency for the Patriots.
In this episode of Patriots Fourth And Two, we started the show by talking about Tom Brady, as there are rumblings of a potential contract extension for him. After that, in the Patriots Fourth And Two Roundtable, we discussed several topics that involved the approach of Free Agency. To end the show, we talked about our thoughts on the Combine.
In this episode, we continued our look at the offseason as we talked about several topics in the Patriots Fourth And Two Roundtable. Later on, we previewed the upcoming NFL Combine. However, to start the show, we shared our thoughts on the allegations involving Robert Kraft.
In this episode, co-hosts Derek Havens and Steve Balestrieri started the show by taking a final look back at the Super Bowl. Later on in the show, they started looking forward to the Patriots offseason.
In this episode we talked at length on how the Patriots won the Super Bowl. You will hear our thoughts on how the Patriots defense changed for this game, and also how offensively they got it done late in the game.