New England Patriots

Rob Gronkowski authors big play in potential farewell

After winning his third Super Bowl, Rob Gronkowski was in a mood to party. For him, it might double as a farewell from football.

Rob Gronkowski might walk away from football. Only problem is, he might not be able to walk.

After winning Super Bowl LIII in a 13-3 slog over the Los Angeles Rams, the New England Patriots beamed from his postgame podium. All this despite a third-quarter hit forced him to take a pain-relieving shot for the fourth time this season, likely rendering him gimpy at best come Monday.

No matter, the party is on Sunday night.

As he has throughout his career, Gronkowski made the big play in the crucial moment. With the game tied 3-3 with 7:36 left in regulation, Gronkowski lurched past Rams linebacker Cory Littleton and made a diving catch for 29 yards, setting up Sony Michel’s game-winning plunge on the next play. It was vintage Gronk, out-dueling three defenders — Marcus Peters and John Johnson came over to help — for the ball.

“I saw the ball, I knew I had to make the play,” Gronkowski said. “It was my turn to make a play. Julian (Edelman) was doing a great job making the plays and it was my turn. Tom (Brady) put it up there for me to go grab it, and he put it where it needed to be and I just had to go make it. It was unbelievable.”

“Incredible catch,” Brady said. “He’s an awesome player, great teammate, friend, and just so proud of everything that he’s done for our team. He just had an incredible game.”

Brady’s right. Gronkowski was awesome, totaling six catches for 87 yards on seven targets. Two weeks ago in the AFC Championship Game, he went for a half-dozen reception and 79 yards, including a clutch third-down catch in overtime on the clinching drive.

Yet for his all his success, Gronkowski must ready for the future.

Turning 30 years old in May, the four-time First-Team All-Pro has a murky future. He hasn’t played full season since 2012, and with New England’s annual forays into the postseason, his odometer is quickly maxing out. The man who ws once the athletic marvel of the NFL is now breaking down like a car that is forcing its owners to do the dreaded math; is it cost-effective to fix it or simply get a new one?

The same question will face the Patriots as they head into the offseason. New England has key free agents to pay in Trey Flowers and Trent Brown, and only an estimated $17.86 million in cap space to spread around. Releasing Gronkowski would net $9.859 million. It’s also worth mentioning that the Patriots are the least sentimental team in football. Paying out almost $12 million to an aging tight end who missed three games and notched 682 yards isn’t likely.

With boyish good looks and an outsized personality, Gronkowski won’t be without suitors in his next phase. He could wrestle. He could act. He could do daytime TV. You name it, and Gronk can answer the bell.

Except for walking on Monday morning. That might prove too much. Even for him.

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