Hannable: Rob Gronkowski’s 29th birthday should serve as a reminder his best days may be behind him

Ryan Hannable
May 14, 2018 - 2:06 pm

Winslow Townson/USA Today Sports

It seems like it was just yesterday Rob Gronkowski was drafted in the second-round of the 2010 draft by the Patriots. 

Eight NFL seasons later, and turning 29 on Monday, the surefire Hall of Fame tight end certainly is closer to the end of his career than the beginning. While some may quickly look to dismiss this, especially with Tom Brady playing so well into his 40s, the tight end position and specifically Gronkowski, are much different.

Just look at the beating Gronkowski’s body has taken over the years — three back surgeries since 2009, a torn ACL and MCL in 2013, a forearm fracture that required four separate surgeries in 2012, and two concussions, the most recent being last postseason.

Bodies are not designed to handle all that, and even the TB12 Method cannot change what happened in the past.

While Gronkowski is still the best tight end in the NFL, looking at how tight ends perform once they reach their 29th birthdays, it seems his best days may be a thing of the past.

Over his eight years in the league, he has four 1,000-yard seasons and five double-digit touchdown seasons. But, since the NFL merger in 1970, there have only been nine 1,000-yard seasons for players who are at least 29 years old, and just 11 double-digit touchdown seasons.

It gets even dimmer as players reach age 31. 

There’s been only four 1,000-yard seasons for a tight end 31 years or older since 1970, and Tony Gonzalez has two of them. In addition, there's only been 18 seasons where a player has recorded 800 or more yards receiving. Most of these involve Antonio Gates and Gonzalez, but there’s a big difference between these two players and Gronkowski.

In Gonzalez’s 17-year career, he missed only one game. Crazy, right? He certainly had his fair share of nicks and bruises, but nothing close to the almost 10 surgeries Gronkowski has faced. Gates on the other hand is a good example of how tough things can get once a tight end turns 30. From 2003-2009 (when he was 29), he missed only one game, but since he turned 30 he’s only played a full season only three times.

Based on past history, it was somewhat of a surprise the Patriots didn’t try and address the tight end position this offseason with getting a young, talented player in the system. 

Gronkowski is under contract for two more seasons, as his current deal expires at the end of 2019. Even if he signs an extension this offseason, as some suggest he might, come the 2020 season he will be 31 years old. 

Consider this: Say Gronkowski has the same type of offseason he did this year prior to the 2020 season. Bill Belichick would be much less likely to put up with any of it knowing he’s going to be 30 years old and his production has a good chance of not being be what it has been in his mid-20s. As the years go by, moving on from Gronkowski becomes easier and easier.

And for Gronkowski himself, it gets closer and closer to retirement. How much longer does he want to put his body through an entire NFL season?

While in most careers turning 29 years old is the beginning of people's primes, the NFL is different, and much different in Gronkowski’s case. It’s time to appreciate Gronkowski’s dominance more and more in New England because it may not be lasting much longer.

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