Gronk doesn't put retirement talk to bed

ATLANTA — Give Rob Gronkowski credit, the man can defend against retirement questions a lot better than he can defend against Miami receivers. Unlike his quarterback, though, he refused to close the door on the possibility that he’s just days from his final NFL game.

Gronkowski and Tom Brady held down the two most popular podiums at Monday’s Opening Night to Super Bowl LIII, each claiming the attention of dozens of reporters and cameras. Each knows exactly the part to play to satisfy their Brand, to play their part in the ongoing, multi-year performance of The Patriot Way.

For his part, Gronk fulfilled his role as Axe Body Spray In Human Form, gyrating before his media session and playing the role of partying uberbro during it.

Brady, on the other hand, was the epitome of benevolent badass, the perpetual champion who could afford to throw a little love down to his critics, scuttling around so far below.

“What do we do with the haters?” he asked in response to a little kid’s question. “We love ‘em. We love ‘em. We love ‘em back, ‘cause we don’t hate back.” That’s the kind of generosity of spirit you can afford when you’ve got five rings. Gronk probably would’ve recommended getting them drunk.

But here’s the crucial difference between the two: Brady insisted on Sunday that there was “zero” chance he’d retire after the Super Bowl, win or lose. Gronkowski, though, refused to give any kind of assurance he’d be back next season.

“As of right now, that’s one of the last things I’m thinking about,” Gronkowski said. “I love playing the game. … A few weeks down the road, you relax, you get some downtime, enjoyment time and you just see where you want to go with it.”

That’s not even within shouting distance of “yes, I’ll be back in 2019,” Gronk.

Pressed on what’s involved in the calculation, Gronkowski bobbed and wove. “I haven’t got that far,” he told Yahoo Sports, his Belichick-trained feet firmly beneath him. “This is a huge week, Super Bowl week. That’s the last thing I’m thinking about. Just gotta keep on grinding.”

Compare that with Brady, who told ESPN’s Jeff Darlington there was “zero” chance of him retiring after Sunday, no matter what goes down:

Of course, when you’re playing as well as Brady, why even consider retirement? He wasn’t in contention for an MVP; Drew Brees and Patrick Mahomes saw to that. But Brees and Mahomes are watching this Super Bowl from the same perspective as you, and Brady’s gearing up for yet another run at a Lombardi Trophy. He threw for 4,355 yards and 29 touchdowns against 11 interceptions, quality numbers even for a guy 10 years younger.

Thing is, he piled up those numbers without a lot of help from his bruising tight end. Gronkowski had a down year by his standards, compiling only 682 yards receiving — fourth on the team — and three touchdowns. He remains a difficult matchup for any single defender — the Kansas City Chiefs secondary will be having nightmares about No. 87 until September — but was his relatively unreliable production an anomaly or the new normal?

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Scenes from Super Bowl LIII Opening Night
ATLANTA, GA - JANUARY 28: New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (12) as seen through a sea of cameras and people is interviewed during Super Bowl Opening Night for the New England Patriots on January 28, 2019 at State Farm Arena in Atlanta, GA. (Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
ATLANTA, GA - JANUARY 28: Los Angeles Rams cornerback Aqib Talib (21) and New England Patriots free safety Devin McCourty (32) are interviewed during Super Bowl Opening Night on January 28, 2019 at State Farm Arena in Atlanta, GA. (Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
ATLANTA, GA - JANUARY 28: New England Patriots offensive tackle LaAdrian Waddle (68) holds up a Chinese Flag is interviewed by Chinese mediacduring Super Bowl Opening Night for the New England Patriots on January 28, 2019 at State Farm Arena in Atlanta, GA. (Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
ATLANTA, GA - JANUARY 28: New England Patriots running back Sony Michel (26) is interviewed during Super Bowl Opening Night for the New England Patriots on January 28, 2019 at State Farm Arena in Atlanta, GA. (Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
ATLANTA, GA - JANUARY 28: New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski (87) is interviewed during Super Bowl Opening Night for the New England Patriots on January 28, 2019 at State Farm Arena in Atlanta, GA. (Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
ATLANTA, GA - JANUARY 28: New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (12) during Super Bowl Opening Night for the New England Patriots on January 28, 2019 at State Farm Arena in Atlanta, GA. (Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
ATLANTA, GA - JANUARY 28: Los Angeles Rams running back Todd Gurley (30) is interviewed during Super Bowl Opening Night for the Los Angeles Rams on January 28, 2019 at State Farm Arena in Atlanta, GA. (Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
ATLANTA, GA - JANUARY 28: Los Angeles Rams quarterback Jared Goff (16) is interviewed during Super Bowl Opening Night for the Los Angeles Rams on January 28, 2019 at State Farm Arena in Atlanta, GA. (Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
ATLANTA, GA - JANUARY 28: Los Angeles Rams nose tackle Ndamukong Suh (93) is interviewed during Super Bowl Opening Night for the Los Angeles Rams on January 28, 2019 at State Farm Arena in Atlanta, GA. (Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
ATLANTA, GEORGIA - JANUARY 28: Head coach Bill Belichick of the New England Patriots and girlfriend Linda Holliday talk with the media during Super Bowl LIII Opening Night at State Farm Arena on January 28, 2019 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
ATLANTA, GEORGIA - JANUARY 28: Dont'a Hightower #54 of the New England Patriots talks to the media during Super Bowl LIII Opening Night at State Farm Arena on January 28, 2019 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
ATLANTA, GA - JANUARY 28: Los Angeles Rams head coach Sean McVay and Los Angeles Rams quarterback Jared Goff (16) during Super Bowl Opening Night for the Los Angeles Rams on January 28, 2019 at State Farm Arena in Atlanta, GA. (Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
ATLANTA, GA - JANUARY 28: Los Angeles Rams wide receiver JoJo Natson (19) during Super Bowl Opening Night for the Los Angeles Rams on January 28, 2019 at State Farm Arena in Atlanta, GA. (Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
ATLANTA, GA - JANUARY 28: A Genaerl View of the floor at the State Farm Arena after the Los Angeles Rams were introduced during Super Bowl Opening Night for the Los Angeles Rams on January 28, 2019 at State Farm Arena in Atlanta, GA. (Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
ATLANTA, GA - JANUARY 28: New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (12) and Los Angeles Rams quarterback Jared Goff (16) and the Vince Lombardi Trophy during Super Bowl Opening Night for the Los Angeles Rams on January 28, 2019 at State Farm Arena in Atlanta, GA. (Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
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Gronkowski has one more year and $9 million remaining on his current contract. On the other hand, he’s taken plenty of hits over the course of his career. Plus he’s got a world of post-football options just waiting for him, most involving a beach, thumping music and varying degrees of sobriety.

Gronkowski nearly retired last season rather than play for the Lions, and there’s no indication that this year has given him any more fire to return for another run, even one in red, white and blue. So while Brady soldiers on — he was nine years into his run with New England before Gronk showed up, and he’ll probably be there long after Gronk’s gone — the freakiest tight end ever to play the game could be at the end of his string.

Patriots fans may want to take a long, loving look at the Brady-to-Gronk connection on Sunday. It just might be the final time they see the big lug in a Pats uni.

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Jay Busbee is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Contact him at jay.busbee@yahoo.com or find him on Twitter or on Facebook.

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