PHOENIX — New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski announced his retirement from the NFL on Sunday. His next stop will be Canton, Ohio, and the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
“There’s never been a more dangerous tight end than Gronk, an intimidating presence who’s been an outstanding receiver and blocker,” said John McClain, the longtime NFL columnist from the Houston Chronicle who has a Hall of Fame vote. “The Patriots won’t be as much fun to watch without him. I think he’s a lock to be voted into the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility.”
ESPN’s Sal Paolantonio, who also has a Hall of Fame vote, agrees.
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“He has to be in the first-ballot conversation. He has the numbers, but his big-game brilliance and dominance set him apart,” he said. “We just put Tony Gonzalez in first ballot. Gronk, in my view, was more dominant.”
Those eligible for the Pro Football Hall of Fame must have last played at least five seasons before they can be considered, so that means Gronkowski’s first chance will come in 2024.
Of all the platitudes that were directed toward Gronkowski following his announcement Sunday, Patriots coach Bill Belichick’s comments about his place in the history of the game were most notable.
“Rob will leave the game as among the best, most complete players at his position to ever play,” said Belichick, who enters his 45th NFL season in 2019.
The key words are “most complete,” as Belichick has long coveted the “combination” tight end who is equally as effective as a blocker and pass-catcher. His gold standard at the position has been Mark Bavaro, who starred with the New York Giants from 1985 to 1990. Bavaro wowed Belichick with his ability to line up against greats such as Hall of Famer Reggie White and hold his own as a blocker, while also dominating the inside part of the field as a pass-catcher.
So when Belichick had mentioned Gronkowski alongside Bavaro in recent years for his dual impact, he couldn’t have delivered a higher compliment.
Belichick’s point has long been that if a tight end doesn’t block well, he’s really more of a big receiver. And if a tight end has limited impact in the passing game, he’s a glorified offensive lineman.
But a true complete tight end?
That type of player truly helps create mismatches that can be impossible to defend, and the 6-foot-6, 268-pound Gronkowski transcended the game in that area. One of the lasting images of Gronkowski will be him rumbling toward the end zone with multiple defenders hanging on for the ride — a perfect snapshot of his rare mix of size, power and athleticism.
As for whether he winds up as a first-ballot Hall of Famer, the length of his career figures to be part of the discussion. He turns 30 in May. According to Elias Sports Bureau research, Jim Brown and Gale Sayers are the only Hall of Famers elected in their first year of eligibility to never play an NFL game in their 30s.
But the only players in league history with more touchdown catches before turning 30 are Hall of Famers Randy Moss and Jerry Rice, according to ESPN’s Stats & Information research.
That’s lofty company to keep.