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Bucs' Rob Gronkowski retires, leaves door open for NFL return

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Bucs' Rob Gronkowski retires, leaves door open for NFL return
Star tight end Rob Gronkowski (L) spent his entire 11-year NFL career as Tom Brady's teammate. File Photo by Kevin Dietsch/UPI | License Photo

June 22 (UPI) -- Tampa Bay Buccaneers tight end Rob Gronkowski will retire from the NFL for a second time, he announced on social media.

Gronkowski announced his decision Tuesday on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook. His agent, Drew Rosenhaus, later told ESPN that he "wouldn't be surprised" if he came back in the middle of the 2022 season or in 2023.

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"I will now be going back into my retirement home, walking away from football again with my head held high knowing I gave it everything I had, good or bad, every time I stepped out on the field," Gronkowski wrote. "The friendships and relationships I have made will last forever, and I appreciate every single one of my teammates and coaches for giving everything they had as well.

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"From retirement, back to football and winning another championship and now back to chilling out, thank you to all."

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Gronkowski, 33, was a five-time Pro Bowl selection, a four-time All-Pro and a four-time Super Bowl champion. His 92 receiving touchdowns are the third-most among tight ends in NFL history and rank 30th all-time. His 9,286 receiving yards are the fifth-most among tight ends.

Gronkowski totaled 55 catches for 802 yards and six scores in 12 starts last season. He scored seven times in 16 starts in 2020, when he won a Super Bowl in his first season with the Buccaneers.

"Rob is a true professional who left it all on the field for us the past two seasons and helped establish a championship culture in our building," Buccaneers general manager Jason Licht said in a news release. "He played a crucial part in our Super Bowl LV championship season in 2020 and battled through a number of injuries last year while on the way to one of the most productive receiving yardage seasons in his 11-year career.

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"It is always difficult to see a great player walk away from the game when he is still enjoying that kind of success, but the overwhelming emotions I feel today are gratitude and respect for one of the greatest tight ends who ever played the game.

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"While his on-field accomplishments will surely earn him a gold jacket and a place in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, it is his humble attitude and team-first approach to the game that truly defined his career."

The second-round pick in the 2010 NFL Draft spent his first nine seasons with the New England Patriots. He led the NFL with 17 touchdowns in 2011. He retired from the NFL in 2019, but opted to return for the 2020 season. The Buccaneers acquired the star tight end and a seventh-round pick that off-season in exchange for a fourth-round pick.

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Gronkowski spent his entire 11-year NFL tenure as a teammate of star quarterback Tom Brady.

"Teammate, friend, brother, just a few of the words that come to mind when I think of Gronk," Brady wrote on Instagram. "Nobody has ever embodied the idea of 'leaving it all out on the field' like Rob has throughout his entire career.

"Every single snap, I knew that no matter how many people you put in front of him, he was going to get to his spot. Even more important is the person he was off the field. Focused when he had to be, and fun the rest of the time. Having Gronk in your locker room was every NFL player's dream. I'm proud of all that we've accomplished together, and even more excited for all you have ahead of you."

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The Buccaneers will report to training camp on July 25. They will start the regular season with a game against the Dallas Cowboys on Sept. 11 at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.

"It would not surprise me if Tom Brady calls him during the season to come back and Rob answers the call," Rosenhaus told ESPN. "This is just my opinion, but I wouldn't be surprised if Rob comes back during the season or next season."

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