It seemed as if we had seen the last of Gronkowski’s 6-foot-6 frame lining up at tight end when he retired after nine seasons with the Patriots in 2019. But though he sat out last season, Gronkowski, 30, never formally retired. And the lure of playing again with Brady, now with the Buccaneers, proved too great.
The team on Sunday agreed to send a fourth-round draft pick to the Patriots in exchange for Gronkowski and a seventh-round pick.
Gronkowski did not spend the last year quietly working in his garden like some retirees. (That’s not too surprising from someone who in 2016 hosted a cruise on the Gronk Party Ship, dancing shirtless deep into the night.)
Here’s what Gronk has been up to.
2019: The Last Catch, CBD Pitchman, Hints of Return
Feb. 3 Gronkowski goes out on a high note, catching six passes for 87 yards in the Patriots’ 13-3 Super Bowl victory over the Rams. “I’ll tell you this,” Gronkowski says, “it was the most satisfying year I’ve ever been a part of. How we came together, the obstacles we had to overcome, the grind from the beginning of training camp to now, it’s just surreal.”
March 24 Gronkowski announces his retirement at age 29. He had hinted for several years that the grind of the league was wearing down his body. “It’s 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,” he says in a statement.
Aug. 27: With the N.F.L. season approaching, Gronkowski says he does not miss football, tearing up while talking about the pain the sport inflicted on him over the years. Yet he does not completely rule out a possible return, saying only that he “didn’t see it in the foreseeable future, in like a week or a month.”
He also says: “In my 20s I used to go out all the time and go hard. I mean — come on — I’m not hiding it. But I’ve definitely cut hugely back on that.”
He made the remarks at a news conference promoting a cannabis-based pain relief lotion.
Oct. 8 Gronkowski makes his debut as a football analyst for Fox Sports. He gets strong reviews for not attempting to hide his goofy personality to blend in with the typically buttoned-down commentators. In one of his more remarked-upon comments, he compares his former teammate Julian Edelman to a squirrel: “Whenever he gets a chance, he gets that nut just like he gets a first down.”
Oct. 25 Gronkowski hints that a possible return to the league would be contingent upon it allowing players to use marijuana products. “I don’t want to be banned from playing the sport I love because I’m using a product that anyone can buy right off the shelf at their local pharmacy,” he says at a news conference.
2020: “The Masked Singer,” Pro Wrestling, N.F.L. Return
Feb. 2 For the first time in four years, the Patriots fail to make the Super Bowl, losing to the Kansas City Chiefs in the A.F.C. championship game. Earlier in the week, Gronkowski is spotted partying with fans in Miami.
On the same day. Gronkowski makes his debut on “The Masked Singer,” performing “Ice Ice Baby” in a white tiger costume. He continues in future episodes with “Good Vibrations” and “We Will Rock You” before being eliminated in ninth place on April 1 after his performance of “I’m Too Sexy.” He somehow finishes ahead of Dionne Warwick and Chaka Khan.
March 15 Though there is no indication that Gronkowski is a factor, the N.F.L. and its union agree to loosen the rules on players using marijuana. Players who test positive will no longer be suspended, and testing will be limited to the first two weeks of training camp.
April 5-6 Gronkowski, who often spoke of his love for professional wrestling, hosts WrestleMania 36, and also wins a title there. On Saturday, Mojo Rawley foils Gronkowski’s efforts to win the 24/7 belt, but on Sunday, Gronkowski jumps from his announcer’s platform to pin Rawley and claim the title.
Monday Gronkowski participates in a freewheeling, sometimes ribald interview on “Watch What Happens Live” on Bravo and hints at a return. “I’m feeling good right now, I’m happy where I’m at. And you just never know, man. You just never know. You never know. I’m not totally done.”
Soon after, he makes it official.
Wednesday Brady posts a video of himself blowing a horn. Gronkowski runs up, looking a little winded and says, “A little tired, but Gronk reporting.” Buccaneers fans, already excited about the coming season, have another reason to cheer.