New England Patriots' Rob Gronkowski tries to break free from...

New England Patriots' Rob Gronkowski tries to break free from New York Giants' Kenny Phillips on Nov. 6, 2011. Credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS/Charles Krupa

Rob Gronkowski retired after the Patriots’ 2018 season, citing an assortment of injuries that took much of his joy away from playing football. But the fun-loving All-Pro tight end has decided to return to the NFL — in Tampa, where his favorite quarterback, Tom Brady, now plays.

The Patriots agreed to trade Gronkowski and a seventh-round pick in exchange for Tampa Bay’s fourth-round pick in this week’s draft, according to Gronkowski’s agent, Drew Rosenhaus. 

Gronkowski, who will turn 31 on May 14, previously said on numerous occasions that he didn’t have any interest in returning to play because of the injuries that had piled up — the most recent being a thigh contusion that limited him in 2018. But he has remained close with the 42-year-old Brady, who last month signed a two-year, $50 million free-agent deal with the Buccaneers.

“Rob Gronkowski is one of the best tight ends in NFL history and he plays the game with the type of passion and desire that sets him apart,” Buccaneers general manager Jason Lichtenstein said in confirming the trade Tuesday night. “Rob has played his entire career alongside Tom Brady and their accomplishments speak for themselves. Together, they have developed the type of chemistry on and off the field that is crucial to success.” 

In 2018, the Patriots had a trade worked out that would have sent Gronkowski to the Lions, but it fell apart because the tight end refused to agree to the deal.

“Yeah, it happened,” Gronkowski told reporters about the trade talks early in the 2018 season. “I wasn’t going anywhere without Brady.”

Gronkowski now joins a team that is filled with quality offensive playmakers, including wide receivers Mike Evans and Chris Godwin and tight ends O.J. Howard and Cameron Brate. The Bucs are likely to part ways with Howard, a former first-round pick, now that Gronkowski is on the roster.

Gronkowski was a second-round pick of the Patriots in 2010 and had a career-high 17 touchdown receptions the following year. He is considered a lock for the Hall of Fame after finishing his nine-year career in New England with 521 catches for 7,861 yards and 79 touchdowns.

Gronkowski was a four-time All-Pro first-teamer and was selected to five Pro Bowls. In his final season with the Patriots, he had 47 catches for 682 yards and three touchdowns after producing more than 1,000 receiving yards in three of the previous four seasons. Gronkowski was exceptional in the playoffs his final season, though, coming up with 13 catches for 191 yards, including a six-catch, 87-yard performance in the Patriots’ 13-3 win over the Rams in Super Bowl LIII.

Gronkowski recently participated in the WWE’s WrestleMania 36, winning the promotion's 24/7 championship on April 5 in Orlando.  

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