Two weeks ago, hearts across “Pats Nation” broke when New England Patriots’ tight end Rob Gronkowski announced his retirement from the game of football.
In his nine seasons wearing the Patriots’ jersey, Gronkowski has become a NFL fan-favorite with his goofy off-field persona and on-field antics.
The average NFL retirement age is 35-years-old, so it would appear that the 29-year-old Gronk has at least six more seasons left in his career. Patriots fans, and sports fans in general, think Gronk should stick around for a few more seasons, but Gronk’s decision to retire at the opportune moment should be the standard in the NFL.
It’s no secret that Gronk has had quite the impressive career. Gronk retires as the tight end leader in yards per game (68.3), touchdowns per game (0.69), and yards per target (9.9). He’s broken a variety of NFL regular and postseason records, won three Super Bowls, and appeared in four Pro Bowls. He’s a household name, thanks in part to his myriad of endorsements that include Dunkin’ Donuts and Monster Energy.
There’s an old saying that you shouldn’t overstay your welcome at a party, but in recent NFL history, that saying should also apply to the football field. In an age where players follow the biggest contracts and guaranteed playing time, a move like Gronk’s is rare. Franchise mainstays are switching teams late in their careers so they can prolong them. The result is a whole generation of declining football stars pathetically attempting to force their careers to last as long as humanly possible.
There is no better example than legendary Green Bay Packers quarterback Brett Favre. After 16 seasons with the Packers, starting every game from 1998 to 2007, Favre went to the New York Jets for a season and then to Green Bay’s rival, the Minnesota Vikings, for two more years before ultimately retiring. Had Favre retired after those 16 years as a Packer, he could’ve gone out with a bang, respected and revered as a great and loyal teammate. Instead, he tried to hang onto a non-existent career and lost the respect of, not only “cheeseheads,” but an entire nation of NFL fans.
Favre tried desperately to hold onto his career, and that decision tainted his legacy. The name “Brett Favre” will forever conjure the image of the washed-up quarterback who couldn’t come to terms with the end of his career and now stars in questionable Wrangler jeans ads.
Gronk’s retirement comes at the opportune moment in his career. His welcome on the football field is far from over — he undeniably has at least a few more years to play the game. But doing so would increase the risk of retiring an injured liability that was forced out by his team. He’s been no stranger to injury, suffering from a torn ACL and MCL, as well as various herniated disks. The likelihood that his body could hold up and stay healthy for the duration of future seasons is low.
Gronk also secured his third Super Bowl Championship this year with the Patriots’ victory over the Los Angeles Rams. Ending his career now ensures he goes out on a high note.
There’s nothing worse than watching the pitiful demise of the career of a once-great player. The NFL runs the risk of becoming nothing more than if its stars continue to take desperate measures to prolong their careers. Current and future players should look to Rob Gronkowski as the example for a retirement decision done right. Go out on a high note and take control of your own destiny. Don’t let the guys in the front office do it for you.