Rob Gronkowski, the dominant tight end who helped lead the New England Patriots to three Super Bowl titles in nine seasons while cultivating a goofy, frat boy persona off the field, announced his retirement from the N.F.L. on Sunday.
In an Instagram post, Gronkowski, 29, widely considered one of the most talented tight ends to ever play, thanked the team and its fans for drafting his “silliness” back in 2010 and acknowledged the uncertainty of what will come next for him.
“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,” he said. “But now its 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 rest of my life.”
Gronkowski did not say why he was retiring, or what he planned to do next. But according to a report on NFL Network, Gronkowski agreed to a deal with a film or television company before the Super Bowl.
Becoming a television or movie personality is not a complete surprise; he seemed to enjoy performing on camera, dancing and hamming it up on things like a Gronk Party Ship in 2016 filled with fans and entertainers on a cruise ship from Miami to the Bahamas. He danced shirtless and appeared to egg on patrons to have sex.
There also were a series of injuries that put in question how much longer he could play. He had hinted the past two seasons that he was considering leaving the N.F.L. because of the wear and tear on his body, which led to missed games because of an ankle sprain, a broken forearm, an infection, a herniated disk in his back, a torn A.C.L., a sprained knee, an injured hamstring and a pulmonary contusion, among other injuries.
Gronkowski — should this truly be the end — will finish his career with 521 catches, 7,861 yards and a Patriots-record 79 receiving touchdowns. He was named to the Pro Bowl five times and was first-team All-Pro four times, taking full advantage of his size and speed to find mismatches on any given play.
His team made the Super Bowl in five of his nine seasons, winning three times, but he was not on the field for the Patriots’ dramatic comeback win over the Atlanta Falcons in Super Bowl LI because he was recovering for back surgery.
When he was on the field, though, he was nearly always the go-to receiver for Tom Brady, with the two combining for thrilling plays in the closing minutes of countless games.
“What an honor and privilege to play with you these past nine years @gronk!,’’ Brady wrote on Instagram. “You accomplished so much and our team was almost unbeatable when you were on the field!”
Last season, Gronkowski earned nearly $9 million in salary and bonuses. He was able to finish his career on a high note, helping the Patriots — the only team he has played for — beat the Los Angeles Rams in Super Bowl LIII.
Drafted in the second round (42nd over all) of the 2010 draft, Gronkowski used his hulking 6-foot-6 frame to excel as a receiver and a blocker. He also used his size to run over defenders and, at times, confront them. He was fined four times, including once for taunting a player, once for unnecessary roughness and once for his role in a brawl at the end of Super Bowl XLIX.
Because of his age and his injury history, much of the talk coming into this year’s Super Bowl was about whether Gronkowski had fallen off as a player. That idea was brushed aside by Aqib Talib, a cornerback for the Rams and a former teammate of Gronkowski’s.
“You all haven’t put on shoulder pads and helmets and lined up against Gronk in your life. I do,” Talib said. “So believe me when I tell you, any day he can explode and go crazy.”
Just as Talib predicted, Gronkowski played a huge role in the Patriots’ win, with six catches for 87 yards. Two of his catches, which went for a combined 47 yards, set up Sony Michel’s 2-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter, all but deciding the game.
As dominant as he was on the field, Gronkowski was equally larger than life off it, frequently standing out among the businesslike Patriots, led by Coach Bill Belichick, with his love of partying and his frequent sophomoric humor, delivered with an exaggerated wink.
Gronkowski’s fun-loving personality was candy to his fans. But it came as the N.F.L. was battling the perception — in the wake of several high-profile players being suspended for domestic violence and sexual abuse — that it cared little for how women were treated.
Given his size and sense of humor, it was perhaps appropriate that Gronkowski is also a professional wrestling fan and friends with performers including Mojo Rawley. Gronkowski helped him “win” a Battle Royal in 2017. From time to time, speculation has surfaced that WWE was interested in offering Gronkowski a contract.
His wrestling cameos might have been a prelude to a new career on screen. Already, he has appeared in the television series “Entourage,” “Family Guy” and “MVP.” He has also appeared in movies, including “The Lit Party,” “You Can’t Have It” and “American Violence.”