Sports | April 22, 2020 7:00 am

Rob Gronkowski Was Tired of Bill Belichick, Not Football

The 30-year-old tight end's mutiny to the Buccaneers was a long time coming

Rob Gronkowski of the Patriots in 2013. (Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images)
Rob Gronkowski of the Patriots in 2013. (Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images)
Getty Images

Less than a year ago in August, former New England Patriots star Rob Gronkowski told a roomful of media members in New York City that he needed to retire from the NFL because playing pro football had taken the joy out of his life.

“I was not in a good place,” an emotional Gronkowski said through tears. “Football was bringing me down and I didn’t like it. I was losing that joy in life. I really was. I was fighting through it. I knew what I signed up for and I knew what I was fighting through. I knew I had to fix myself.”

Now, following yesterday’s news that Gronkowski was traded to Tampa Bay so he could come out of retirement and reunite with Tom Brady, it’s pretty clear it wasn’t the physical demands of football that sucked the joy out of the 30-year-old’s life — it was the mental strain of playing for Bill Belichick’s Patriots.

It now appears that Gronkowski had a calculated plan to get himself out of Belichick’s clutches in New England and, once Brady left for Tampa, he put it into action. Make no mistake: though it may have seemed like it came out of nowhere, Gronkowski’s mutiny to the Buccaneers was a long time coming.

Writing yesterday for The Boston Herald, Karen Guregian reported that Gronkowski has been planning to return to the gridiron to reunite with Bradyever since he announced his retirement following New England’s win in Super Bowl LIII over the Rams. The only stipulation to Gronkowski’s planned return was that Brady would not be playing in New England when he did it.

“As the story goes, Gronk wanted in on Brady’s new team, and the only person standing in the way of that happening was Bill Belichick,” Guregian wrote. “Gronkowski basically had Belichick over a barrel. If Belichick traded him someplace else, Gronkowski made it known he would stay retired. Returning to the Patriots wasn’t an option.”

Why wasn’t it an option?

Only Gronkowski can say for sure, but it certainly seems reasonable that he had grown tired of playing for a taskmaster who prioritized winning over fun to the point that he called the 68-year-old a “Grinch” back in October.

“He’s always trying to take away the fun sometimes ’cause it’s all business,” Gronkowski said on FOX. “Taking away the fun and then here I come, you know, all jolly, I’m Santa Claus. Ho ho ho.” A Santa Claus who walked away from a $10-million contract with the team that gave him three Super Bowls because he could apparently no longer handle the draconian demands of the man at the helm.

“I could play right now if I wanted to play. Hands down,” Gronkowski told the room in August. “I can run fast right now. I’m feeling good. Physically, I could do it.” Mentally, and perhaps even spiritually, was another matter — at least until Tampa Bay became an option.

Now that he’s back in the league, the history books will show that Gronkowski didn’t retire from the NFL as much as simply quit playing for the coach that took a chance and drafted him in 2010 out of Arizona, choosing Brady and pirate ships over Belichick and Super Bowls.

As beloved as he is in New England, Gronkowski is pretty naive if he thinks Patriot fans will look back kindly on his choice to walk away from the winning he experienced under Belichick — even if it was stressful — to go play for the losingest franchise in NFL history, whether Brady is there or not.

After all, Brady wasn’t offered a contract by Belichick and really had no other choice than to leave the Patriots if he wanted to keep playing. Gronk, on the other hand, lived up to his status as the reigning WWE 24/7 Champion, made a hidden heel turn, and tapped out.