Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski announces retirement on Instagram

Rob Gronkowski, the New England Patriots tight end whose larger-than-life personality complemented his status as one of the NFL's most potent offensive weapons, announced his retirement Sunday in an Instagram post.

"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 wrote in his post. "I will be retiring from the game of football today."

"Thank you for everyone accepting who I am and the dedication I have put into my work to be the best player I could be," the 29-year-old added. "But now its [sic] time to move forward and move forward with a big smile knowing that the New England Patriots Organization, Pats Nation, and all my fans will be truly a big part of my heart for [the] rest of my life."

A second-round draft pick by the Patriots out of the University of Arizona in 2010, Gronkowski quickly became a fan favorite in New England for his thunderous spiking of the football after one of his many touchdown receptions. His arrival also coincided with the second wave of franchise success under head coach Bill Belichick and starting quarterback Tom Brady. The Patriots made at least the AFC Championship in each of Gronkowski's last eight seasons with the team and reached five Super Bowls, winning three of them.

In his final game, Gronkowski caught six passes for 87 yards in the Patriots' 13-3 victory over the Los Angeles Rams in Super Bowl 53. The last catch of his NFL career was a 29-yard gain that set up the only touchdown of the game, a two-yard plunge by rookie running back Sony Michel.

Brady reacted to Gronkowski's retirement in a comment on the Instagram post: "Love u man!! The [greatest of all time]!! Couldn't be a better person or teammate!!!!" In his own Instagram post, the six-time Super Bowl winner said it was " an honor and privledge [sic] to play with [Gronkowski] these past nine years."

"You accomplished so much and our team was almost unbeatable when you were on the field!" Brady wrote. "Your fun-loving, inspiring, and positive energy made an impact on everybody you came into contact with! Not just that, but for as great as a player you are, you are a better teammate and person. The NFL was a better place with you in it! But I have no doubt you will be a success in anything you do!!! Love you pal!"

Patriots wide receiver Julian Edelman tweeted that Gronkowski was "The other [greatest of all time]," a reference to Brady.

"In the nine years that I have known Rob Gronkowski, I have never known him to have a bad day," Patriots owner Robert Kraft said in a statement. "He always has a youthful exuberance about him and is a joy to be around ... As great a player as he was, he is an even better person and ambassador of the game ... While Patriots fans are certainly going to miss seeing him play, he will be a Patriot for life and celebrated as a three-time Super Bowl champion."

In a separate statement, Belichick said it had been "a pleasure and a privilege to coach Rob Gronkowski the past nine years.

"From his rookie year until his final season and through countless times in between, Rob was a major reason why we won games and championships," Belichick went on. "His elite combination of size, skill, intelligence, toughness and ability to perform in pressure situations set him apart ... In the ultimate team sport, Rob was a great, great teammate."

"Rob will leave an indelible mark on the Patriots organization and the game as among the best, most complete players at his position to ever play," the head coach concluded.

Gronkowski will finish his career with 521 regular-season catches over nine NFL seasons for 7,861 total yards (an average of 15.4 yards per reception) and 79 touchdowns, the third-most by a tight end in NFL history behind only Antonio Gates (116) and Tony Gonzalez (111). His 12 career postseason touchdown receptions are the most by a tight end in NFL playoff history and his 81 career postseason catches are the most among tight ends.

Brady and Gronkowski hooked up on 78 TD passes, the second-most between a quarterback and a tight end in NFL history behind only Philip Rivers and Gates (89) and the fifth-most between quarterbacks and all pass-catchers.

Despite his powerful build and soft hands, Gronkowski was dogged by a series of injuries that cost him approximately a season-and-a-half of eye-popping stats.

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In 2013, Gronkowski tore the ACL and MCL in his right knee after a direct hit from Cleveland Browns safety T.J. Ward and only played in seven games that year. In 2016, Gronkowski only played in eight games before suffering a herniated disc in his back and was forced to watch from the sideline as the Patriots rallied from a 25-point deficit to stun the Atlanta Falcons, 34-28, in Super Bowl 51.

In 2018, Gronkowski was limited to just 682 receiving yards on 47 catches and just three touchdowns, raising speculation that he would retire after the season.