Tight end Rob Gronkowski said Thursday he never thought of holding out for a new contract. The now veteran tight end (even though he is only 29) had an interesting offseason. He thought about retiring (according to various reports). He thought about going to Hollywood to make action movies and he thought about wrestling. Perhaps, he even thought about becoming a police officer. Let's face it Gronkowski was tired of playing football at the end of last year. A Super Bowl loss where the offense was unstoppable did not help either. Perhaps, Gronkowski thought he had accomplished all he needed to accomplish in eight years. Was he the Sandy Koufax of football - a short run of greatness that fans wish they had seen more of. Other than Tom Brady who is a definite hall of famer from the Pats five Super Bowl teams. Gronkowski might be the automatic No. 2. Fans will debate Wes Welker, Vince Wilfork, Ty Law, Richard Seymour, Rodney Harrison, Logan Mankins (my personal favorite with his great mustache and his never being afraid to get into a fracas - Mankins loved jumping on the pile at the end of the play), Adam Vinatieri (Randy Moss can be left out of this discussion because most of his career numbers came elsewhere). But it would be tough to debate that Gronkowski belongs in the Hall of Fame given that he has been the most dominant tight end of his error, his versatility in where he can line up (put him in the slot, outside or on the line it does not matter), his ability to eviscerate defenders in the running game and forget about covering him in the red zone.
As someone who covered Gronkowski his rookie year, there was a youthful exuberance about him that was unlike most rookies. He was not scared just excited. He was 20 then and couldn't get into a local bar (assuming the bouncer was like Coach Bill Belichick and treated everyone the same - yours truly has his doubts). But Gronkowski has learned the most tired cliche that coaches say as much announcers say "in the national football league" on a broadcast - "this is a business." And so the only players left from Gronkowski's rookie year are Tom Brady, Julian Edelman, Devin McCourty, Matthew Slater, and Stephen Gostkowski. Gronkowski's locker was next to Aaron Hernandez (we all now what happened). The two talked about playing together for a long time - it lasted only three years. When Gronkowski was a rookie, there was also Randy Moss and Wes Welker at receiver. Moss was traded four games into Gronkowski's rookie season because he said he didn't feel wanted in New England. The Pats failed to resign Welker after his third season. He also watched Logan Mankins be traded in 2014. Gronkowski was asked what he learned most about himself this offseason.
"I mean, that I love the game of football. I said it earlier this summer, the game of football is amazing to play, and I'll repeat it again. What I learned is how to keep feeling good and keep going and keep enjoying the game of football."
Gronkowksi loves playing football, but he now realizes the NFL is a business (whoops I used that cliche - journalism professors of america please forgive me). Gronkowski says he is happy in Foxboro, but the question remains would he be happier on another team. Gronkowski looked strong at practice on Thursday making several impressive catches and continues to have great focus in the red area. Gronkowski was asked if feels any extra pressure because WR Julian Edelman is suspended for the first four games (because of performing enhancing drugs) and said there has been pressure ever since he arrived in New England. Eight years for any player in the NFL is a long time and particularly for a tight end who takes numerous hits. There are only eight tight ends in the NFL Hall of Fame. Retired Kansas City Chiefs and Atlanta Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez will be the ninth elected and Gronkowski will likely be the 10th. Fans must appreciate what they are seeing with Gronkowski because he is a rare talent - not likely to be seen in the near future. When Bill Belichick was with the New York Giants he had the versatile tight end Mark Bavaro and he had been searching for something similar for 10 years until he found Gronkowski. Remember tight ends Daniel Graham, Ben Watson, David Thomas, Jermaine Wiggins etc.
Now, the question is how much longer Bill Belichick can keep his prized possession happy. If this offseason taught us one thing, it's that Gronkowski is not afraid to retire. He has saved his money wisely (keeping his salary in the bank while living off his endorsement money). Gronkowski will play the rest of his NFL career on his terms and his terms only.
Notes: WR Malcolm Mitchell was the only player not at practice today. Special teams ace Matthew Slater, CB Jonathan Jones, CB Cyrus Jones, WR Kenny Britt and RB Brandon Bolden ran conditioning exercises on a separate field. They did not dress. From this vantage point, the offense looked sharp with few dropped passes. RB James White, who had the winning touchdown run in overtime in the Super Bowl win over the Falcons, looks to be an excellent shape. Despite the success of the offense last year, Chris Hogan is motivated to improve his techniques and the little things. Patriots owner Robert Kraft made an appearance at practice - signing an autograph for a disabled woman in a wheel chair. Kraft, ever the stylist, had the untucked polo shirt, sunglasses, and his signature sneakers. He spoke to Tom Brady for several minutes on the practice field. Neither Kraft nor Brady spoke to the media. Brady will likely talk this weekend. Brady received the loudest cheers when he came out for practice with the crowd chanting his last name and Brady put his hand in the air to acknowledge the crowd. K Stephen Gostkowski only missed one kick (by my count) and provided some fun for some young fans who caught his kicks after they sailed 10 yards past the uprights. Funny moment of the day occurred when the 16 month old daughter of Patriots S Devin McCourty tried to walk over to the media area. A media star was almost born. Her father told her she was too young for an interview. Her father worried that she might want a cell phone next. Yours truly is getting better at telling Devin McCourty apart from his twin Jason who is in his first year with the team. Surely, the two played some greats pranks in the past. A nice gesture by the Patriots to have the children of service members be surprised with new bikes. It is interesting walking around Gillette Stadium with numerous trucks that have pictures of Taylor Swift on on it. Swift will perform Thursday, Friday and Saturday Night at Gillette Stadium.