NEW YORK — The thing about Rob Gronkowski’s retirement from the NFL is that few people are taking it seriously.
“I wouldn’t bet against him coming back,” Boomer Esiason said Tuesday at a CBS Sports media event.
“I have a hard time believing that Tom [Brady] and Gronk haven’t talked, just from the standpoint of, ‘Let’s see how this thing unfolds, and to stay in shape,’ ” former Steelers coach Bill Cowher said.
Former Vikings receiver Nate Burleson was even more blunt.
“He’s coming back,” Burleson said. “By Week 6, he’s going to get the itch. In Week 7, Brady’s going to say, ‘Want to play catch?’ And by Week 8, Rob will be like, ‘Yeah, I’m coming home.’
“I see it. I feel like Miss Cleo. That’s the future.”
Gronkowski has done a good job of staying away from football since retiring from the NFL in March after nine seasons. He has lost between 15 and 20 pounds, trading weights for yoga. He spent the spring and summer traveling with his girlfriend, appearing in commercials and promotional events.
While the Patriots are sweating away in training camp, Gronk has scheduled an announcement in New York Aug. 27 to “unveil his next chapter,” per a press release. It almost certainly won’t be that he is returning to football.
“I’m excited for him and the choices he’s making,” Brady said Monday on WEEI. “To see him regain his outward spirit has been fun to see. He’s enjoying himself, and I think everyone who knows him wants the best for him, and I think he’s enjoying his time right now.”
But few people believe that Gronk won’t at least strongly consider coming out of retirement this fall, especially if the Patriots offense is struggling a little bit, and the tight end position hasn’t been figured out.
The Patriots didn’t make any major moves at tight end this offseason, instead signing 38-year-old Ben Watson and unproven Matt LaCosse. Watson will be suspended for the first four games, and LaCosse is currently out with an ankle sprain.
Gronk himself stoked the buzz in July when he participated in a throwing session with Brady at UCLA.
“They just happened to be in the same city at the same time,” Cowher said. “It’s funny how that worked out.”
Gronk’s body has taken a beating over nine NFL seasons, but he’s still only 30 years old and in good health. His retirement may really have just been a way for him to get out of training camp and the first few weeks of the season.
“He doesn’t need training camp,” Cowher said. “He knows the terminology. The biggest thing will be getting in football shape. But what’s football shape if you’re only playing 25-30 snaps a game?
“I would not discount him coming back at any point in the season, particularly given how it unfolds initially, and just to see where they are at the tight end position.”
Eagles right tackle Lane Johnson said it wouldn’t be hard for Gronk to put his weight back on.
“Fifteen pounds isn’t really that much — maybe take you two weeks to really get it back on,” Johnson told the Globe in July. “But as far as getting in shape, that’s a different story. Going back to route running, it’s just something you haven’t done in a while.”
If Gronk does decide to come back, it probably needs to be a month before he actually wants to hit the field.
“The Patriots never rush anybody,” former Giants quarterback Phil Simms said. “They would practice him like three weeks before they let him play. They’re notorious: ‘Yeah, one more week of practice, you got to prove it one more time.’ ”
Gronkowski is coming off a down season by his standards, catching just 47 balls for 682 yards and three touchdowns in 13 games in 2018. But he found the fountain of youth in the playoffs, playing almost every snap and coming up with big catches against the Chiefs and Rams.
There is a little debate about the role Gronk would have if he did come back.
Esiason said he thinks Gronk could come back at his lighter weight and still dominate as a receiver.
“Even if he came back around 250, who’s going to cover that guy?” Esiason said. “He’s a beat-up 30, but that doesn’t mean he can’t play 25 plays a game, all in the red zone.”
Burleson believes the Patriots would use Gronkowski as a receiver only, and not as a blocker. They only need Gronk to play 25-30 snaps a game instead of 60-70.
“He can be a skinny tight end, and I think that’s why he’s going to come back,” Burleson said. “You know how much longer he can play? You remove him from that box, that chaos where he’s picking up blitzes and double-teams and chips by linebackers, now you can spread him out, put him one-on-one. He almost might be better because he’s going to be faster, and lighter, and quicker and more agile.”
But former Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo said Gronk can still be an effective blocker at a lighter weight.
“He’s plenty big and strong enough. Fifteen pounds isn’t going to change a whole lot,” Romo said. “There might be one defensive end that’s tougher to block now, but overall agility, quick twitch, for a guy his size, that’s what matters the most. He’ll be fine.”
Still, there are reasons for Gronk to stay retired. He probably is lucky to escape the NFL without serious injuries. He also has three Super Bowl rings, and was savvy with his millions earned from salary and endorsements.
“I don’t know what else he wants to accomplish in the sport,” Johnson said. “He’s already a Hall of Famer. I don’t know what else you want to accomplish other than getting your body beat up. You can always get more money, but I think he’s pretty set from that standpoint.”
There’s also the possibility that the Patriots offense rolls along fine without Gronk, and his presence could upset the balance.
“What it will be is, ‘Where are we with everything else? Is this disruptive? Does this add to what we’re trying to do? What is his role?’ That is the biggest thing,” Cowher said.
Whatever his “next chapter” will be, it won’t quash the un-retirement rumors.
“I think he may regret retiring early, especially with Brady still playing,” Esiason said. “I think he’ll realize TV isn’t paying him that much money, because he’s no longer ‘The Gronk.’ And I hope for all of our sakes that he does come back, because he’s a great football player.”