Rob Gronkowski Isn't Retiring, Will Return for 2021 Season: 'I'm Feeling Good'

Mike Chiari@mikechiariFeatured ColumnistMarch 10, 2021

Tampa Bay Buccaneers' Rob Gronkowski warms up before the NFC championship NFL football game between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Green Bay Packers in Green Bay, Wis., Sunday, Jan. 24, 2021. (AP Photo/Matt Ludtke)
Matt Ludtke/Associated Press

Tampa Bay Buccaneers tight end Rob Gronkowski said Tuesday that his return from NFL retirement will last at least one more season. 

In an interview with TMZ Sports, Gronk made it clear that he will be back in 2021:

"I'm back, man," Gronkowski said. ... "I will be back playing football, man. I love the game of football. I loved playing last year. I had a great time."

The tight end added he is already back in training to get ready for the new season: "Let me tell you, I was a little bit sore first day of training, but it bounced back like that. I'm feeling good."

Gronkowski's return to football was a successful one in 2020, as he played a big role in the Bucs beating the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl LV.

Gronk is set to become a free agent this offseason, but it is difficult to envision him leaving Tampa and playing with a quarterback other than his close friend Tom Brady.

The 31-year-old Gronkowski spent the first nine seasons of his career alongside Brady as a member of the New England Patriots. During that time, Gronk established himself as one of the best tight ends in NFL history with 521 receptions for 7,861 yards and 79 touchdowns, plus five Pro Bowls, four First Team All-Pro selections and three Super Bowl wins.

Gronkowski retired at the conclusion of 2019 after suffering numerous injuries in previous years, but after healing up and watching Brady sign with the Bucs, Gronk was reinvigorated and traded to Tampa.

While Gronkowski got off to something of a slow start in 2020, he became a key part of the offense and finished with 45 catches for 623 yards and seven touchdowns in 16 regular-season starts.

He took a back seat to wide receivers Mike Evans, Chris Godwin and Antonio Brown at times, but Gronkowski still managed to put up solid numbers and was a big-time contributor as a blocker when he wasn't catching the football.

Gronkowski has long had a penchant for turning up his game during the playoffs, and he did that once again this past postseason. He was especially dominant in the Super Bowl, catching six passes for 67 yards and two touchdowns as the Buccaneers won their first Super Bowl since 2002.

Assuming Gronkowski re-signs with the Bucs for 2021, they may have some decisions to make at the tight end position, especially if they want room to sign free agents at other positions.

Cameron Brate acted as the No. 2 tight end behind Gronk throughout the 2020 season and performed well with 28 receptions for 282 yards and two touchdowns during the regular season, plus an impressive 14 catches for 175 yards and one touchdown during the playoffs.

O.J. Howard is the other tight end of significance on Tampa's roster, but he missed 12 games last season, plus the entire playoff run with an Achilles injury.

The 2017 first-round pick looked pretty good in four games with Brady, as he recorded 11 catches for 146 yards and two touchdowns, but his season ended before it ever really got started.

While Brate is signed through 2023, Howard can become a free agent next offseason, so perhaps the Bucs will move Howard in a trade to ensure they have the funds necessary to retain Gronkowski, as well as some of their other key free agents.