If Rob Gronkowski intends on staying retired, the best indication that he's holding to that plan is that he has visibly lost weight. He told NFL Media's Rich Eisen recently that he's down to 250 pounds from a playing weight that hovered in the 260-270 pound range.
But you can't blame the people who believe Gronk will be back, eventually.
Soon after Gronkowski retired, his agent Drew Rosenhaus indicated that he wouldn't be shocked if his superstar client decided to return at Tom Brady's behest. And in his chat with Eisen, Gronkowski joked that if Brady asked him to return he'd tell him, "Call me when you get to the playoffs." (That'd be a little late since NFL rules say Gronkowski would have to make a decision by Dec. 1. But still.)
Then there's this: Gronkowski and Brady met at UCLA to throw the football around on Monday. Is that a telltale sign Gronkowski wants to take the early portion of the 2019 season off before making his way back? Not necessarily. Brady spends a fair amount of his time in Southern California. Gronkowski was in town for a charity event. They're pals. But their workout won't quiet the throngs of Patriots fans clamoring for the tight end's return.
With Gronkowski's name in the headlines again, it makes sense for us to focus on him for our next Great Patriots Debate: What's the best catch he's ever made?
Until he comes back — if he comes back — memories are all we'll have left of the guy's playing days, and there are a few that immediately spring to mind.
For me, if we're talking purely about the acting of catching the football, the first is a regular-season snag in Foxboro that had Brady cursing up a storm in disbelief. Call it The "How the [Bleep] Did You Catch That?" Catch. When Gronkowski left his feet for a pass over the middle, reaching back for the football with his left hand and deftly securing it, he put his next-level athleticism and hands on display. How many pass-catchers — never mind tight ends — could have pulled off a similar feat?
If we're adding Gronkowski's vicious running style after the catch to the equation, then the play he made in Washington in his second season has to be way up the list. That was a historic year for Gronk, and by the time he made his human-wrecking-ball catch-and-run in early December, he had already cemented himself as one of the best in the league at his position. On that particular snap, he made a diving grab, got up before being touched, carried two defensive backs like children for five yards, shook them off, took another hit, and somehow kept his balance long enough to pick up 15 additional yards.
If we're talking about Gronkowski's ability to take over a game, and if we want to highlight his rare catch radius, then look no further than what he did during "The Gronk Drive" in Pittsburgh in 2017. It came toward the end of the regular season and looked like the game that would determine the AFC's top seed for the playoffs. We all remember Gronk's two-point conversion that he plucked away from poor Steelers safety Sean Davis. We remember him pointing and laughing at Davis as the young defensive back picked himself up off the ground. It was the exclamation point to a drive during which Gronkowski racked up 70 yards on three catches in addition to the two-point play.
But do you remember the shoe-string grab he made for 17 yards on that drive? That season was the one in which Gronkowski was very open about how he'd altered his training methods. He spent more time with Alex Guerrero. He believed he was more flexible, and he looked like Gumby when Brady dropped back from the Pittsburgh 25-yard line on first-and-10 and threw low to Gronkowski just beyond the sticks. The 6-foot-6 behemoth bent down and swallowed it up when it was just a few inches off the turf. CBS play-by-play man Jim Nantz was in awe. "What an amazing catch. That size? C'mon!"
There are other catches worth noting, like when Gronkowski put the Bills on a poster late in 2017 with a one-handed touchdown catch in the front corner of the end zone. Or when he threw Bears defensive back Ryan Mundy off of him in the open field and rumbled for a 46-yard score in Week 8 of 2014.
But any conversation around the word "best," to me, has to account for the stakes.
That's why his takeover in the 2015 AFC Championship Game against the Broncos stands out, despite the loss. Same goes for his performance in the second half against the Eagles in Super Bowl LII. His touchdown catch against the Seahawks in Super Bowl XLIX has to be considered one of his best, as should the one when he "Mossed" Chiefs safety Eric Berry late in last season's AFC title game.
The No. 1 catch of Gronkowski's career, though? I'd argue it came with 7:46 left in Super Bowl LIII, at the Rams 31-yard line. That's when Brady looked to him for a diving 29-yard completion that set up an easy go-ahead touchdown to give the Patriots a 10-3 lead.
"I just knew it was going to come to me," Gronkowski said after. "I just understand how we work as an offense, understand the play-calling. We've been together for how many years now? Tom and I, McDaniels and I. Everyone. I knew it was going to come to me, and I knew I had to make that play."
It wasn't the most athletic play of his career. It didn't involve him embarrassing anyone with his brute strength. It wasn't punctuated by a spike. But his last catch (for now, at least) was his best.
Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Celtics easily on your device.