FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – For the most part during his NFL career, the offseason has typically been a time of relaxation and recuperation for Rob Gronkowski.
This year was marked by his deepest contemplations yet about whether he wanted to keep playing football.
In the aftermath of last season’s Super Bowl loss to Philadelphia, the 29-year-old Patriots tight end insinuated he was considering retirement. Those thoughts lingered throughout the winter until he finally announced via Instagram in April that he would return for his ninth NFL season.
Gronkowski and Tom Brady skipped voluntary workouts last month. Brady, who will turn 41 in August, reportedly opted to spend the time with his personal trainer. Gronkowski was said to have joined his quarterback.
But both were on the field with the team Tuesday for the first time this Tuesday as New England opened its three-day, mandatory minicamp. Gronkowski said after some “long-hauling seasons” and back-to-back Super Bowl runs, retirement “definitely was in the mind.”
“I had to do what I had to do, where I felt good enough to get my body prepared, to get my body right again, see where my body was at and see where my mind was at,” he said. “I’m glad to be back out here. I feel like I definitely made the right decision coming back out.”
Gronk said his decision to skip OTAs was so that he could train “on my own.”
“It went good,” he said. “I think it was a good decision.”
Brady was not made available to the media following practice. Coach Bill Belichick said he wasn’t bothered by either player’s decision to miss OTAs, saying, “It’s a voluntary program. So that’s what it is.”
Both players seemed excited to be on the field, with Brady yelling at himself after failing to connect on a pass, and Gronkowski letting out several gleeful yelps following catches.
That doesn’t mean is right in Gronk’s world. After leading the team last season in receptions (69), receiving yards (1,084) and receiving touchdowns (eight), he clearly wants to see his value reflected in his contract.
He renegotiated his current six-year, $54 million deal prior to last season, reaping incentives that pushed his compensation over $10 million in 2017. Those bonuses aren’t included for this upcoming season, in which he’ll make $8 million in base salary.
Asked Tuesday if he was in the process of getting his contract redone, Gronk smiled before saying, “I don’t know. I’m trying to.”
Would he like to see that happen before the start of the season?
“Who wouldn’t?” he said simply.
Those desires aside, Gronkowski insisted he remains on good terms with Belichick.
“Yeah. Yeah. For sure,” he said.
Belichick said he believes both Gronkowski and Brady remain dedicated to the team despite their earlier workout absences.
“They’ve always been that way ever since they’ve been on our team,” Belichick said.
While he’s excited about 2018, how long Gronkowski wants to play beyond that remains an open question.
“No, I haven’t (thought about it),” he said. “But I definitely know I want to keep going and play this year. Feeling good and just put all that rest behind me … just focus on getting better.”
Gronk said overall he’s in a good place.
“I feel like I’m just going to do what’s best for myself and take care of myself, “ he said, “because if I can’t take care of myself, I can’t take care of anyone else and I can’t help out the team.”
No brace for Edelman
Another key Patriots player back on the field is receiver Julian Edelman, who sat out last season after suffering a right knee injury a week before the final exhibition game.
Edelman has no medical restrictions and participated fully in Tuesday’s workout. He wasn’t wearing a brace on his surgically repaired knee and said he didn’t plan to wear one during the regular season.
“It was tough to watch it all on the sideline last year,” he said. “To come out here and just to do little things, strap on the helmet, puts in perspective how lucky you are to get to play the game.”
Subscribe to The Spokesman-Review’s sports newsletter
Get the day’s top sports headlines and breaking news delivered to your inbox by subscribing here.