Photo: Billie Weiss (Getty Images)

Rob Gronkowski, the lout to end all louts, announced his retirement from the NFL on Sunday. The Summer of Gronk will now be year-round.

The Patriots tight end finishes his career with 521 catches, 7,861 receiving yards, and 80 total touchdowns in 115 games over nine seasons. (This is assuming he’s actually finishing his career. NBC Sports’ Peter King talked to Gronk’s agent Drew Rosenhaus, who said he wouldn’t be surprised if the muscly menace “decided to come back sometime in 2019.”) Gronk’s best season was his sophomore campaign in 2011, when he caught 90 receptions for 1,327 yards along with 17 touchdowns—the most receiving TDs that season not just by any tight end, but by any receiver. Although various surgeries to various parts of his body ate into his career, he was still one of the best to ever play at his position, and has a claim for the best ever depending on how you value the longevity and durability of former Chiefs and Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez, who was voted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame this year.

The reason it doesn’t feel crazy to put Gronkowski in the same conversation as a tight end whose career yardage almost doubles his is because of how obviously dominant he was, and how that dominance could take over a game. Take this example from Gronk’s first NFL preseason in 2010. At the six-yard line, he had Rams linebacker James Laurinaitis wrapped around his ankle, but found a way to drag that extra 240 pounds until he could escape and score.

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Throughout his career, Gronk broke tackles that would have taken down smaller, smarter players. In a game in 2011, he cut through two Skins defenders and stepped over a third before he finally stumbled to the ground.

Gronk should’ve been down at the 20-yard line on this short pass; he ended up with a touchdown.

Any team that faced the Patriots had to prioritize Gronk. Even when he wasn’t totally healthy, he was still a threat and demanded the necessary coverage from defenses. There weren’t a lot of ways to stop him, as players admitted to CBS Sports’ Pete Prisco in 2018:

“He’s like a big rhinoceros running down the field,” [safety Eric] Weddle said last week during a break from Pro Bowl practices (er, walk-throughs).

[...]

“He’s a monster,” Miami Dolphins safety Reshad Jones said. “You have to go low, or else.”

“It feels like hitting a brick,” Los Angeles Chargers cornerback Casey Hayward said. “He’s so big. That’s why they don’t have me covering him much.”

[...]

“Any way you try and get him is tough to do,” Weddle said. “There have been some times where I have hung on to him and just waited for my teammates to come.”

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The 29-year-old Gronkowski has a lot of options in his post-football career. He could wrestle, act in more terrible movies, or try to drink every beer in the world with his four equally hard-headed brothers. Whatever he chooses, he’ll surely do it shirtless.