Rob Gronkowski is on his way to Tampa Bay.
The Patriots perennial Pro Bowl tight end on Tuesday was traded to the Buccaneers for a reunion with quarterback Tom Brady.
The Patriots sent Gronkowski, who retired after the 2018 season, and a seventh-round pick (No. 241 overall), in exchange for a fourth-rounder (No. 139 overall).
Gronkowski’s agent, Drew Rosenhaus, said the tight end will play under the terms of his existing contract, which is a base salary of $9 million.
“Rob could have come out of retirement, and become reinstated, and put the Patriots in a tough situation cap-wise. But he decided not to do that. He decided to be patient and really allow this to work out,” Rosenhaus told ESPN.
In nine seasons in New England, Gronkowski and Brady became one of the most prolific passing combinations in NFL history.
Gronkowski caught 521 passes for 7,861 yards and 79 touchdowns. He also was a prime postseason performer, collecting 81 passes for 1,163 games and 12 touchdowns as the Patriots won three Super Bowls.
In addition, Gronkowski was one of the most devastating run-blocking tight ends the game has ever seen. When the Patriots shifted to a smash-mouth offensive style during the late stages of 2018, Gronkowski’s crushing blocks to open holes for Sony Michel and Rex Burkhead were one of the main reasons the running game was successful.
Gronkowski, who will turn 31 in May, said at the Super Bowl in Miami in February that he would “never say a complete no” to a comeback because of his love for football and competing.
“If I ever come back and I feel I have that passion, that strong passion for a continued time, not just one day or one hour, like, ‘Oh man, I need to play football again,’ ’’ Gronkowski said at the time. “I’m talking like a continued passion for about a good week or good month or so. Then I would think about truly returning to football. As of right now, I’m all set where I’m at, but I already know that I’m a young guy, and I still love to stay in shape and compete. So, if that passion, that fire, ever comes back, then that’s when I would come back to football.’’
That fire apparently has returned.
Following his retirement, Gronkowski became a pitchman for CBD, joined Fox as an analyst, and recently became a professional wrestler. Earlier this month he became the current WWE 24/7 champion when he pinned his friend, Mojo Rawley, at Wrestlemania.
Gronkowski, who had multiple back surgeries, knee surgeries, and concussions during his career, played the entire 16-game NFL schedule only twice, his first and second seasons.
He was clearly not at full strength in 2018, when his open-field running was slower that what opponents had become accustomed to. Gronkowski had 47 catches for 682 yards that season. He made an additional 13 catches in the playoffs, none bigger than his 29-yard catch that set up the winning touchdown in New England’s 13-3 win over the Rams in Super Bowl LIII.
Gronkowski’s retirement left the Patriots shorthanded at the position, and they were never able to make up for his production in 2019.
The Patriots were poised to trade Gronkowski to the Lions for a second-round pick before the 2018 season but the tight end balked at the deal, threatening to retire if he couldn’t continue to play with Brady.
“Yeah,’’ Gronkowski said after the Patriots lost to the Lions in Detroit Sept. 23, 2018. “It happened. Brady’s my quarterback. I’m not going anywhere without Brady.’’
Now he won’t have to.