Rob Gronkowski has advised his former New England Patriots team-mate Tom Brady to test the waters in free agency this year.

Brady is due to be a free agent at the end of this NFL season and, despite turning 43 in August, the six-time Super Bowl champion has suggested he wants to carry on playing.

Having played with the Patriots for his entire 20 seasons in the NFL, there is a distinct possibility that Brady is wearing a different jersey next year.

He would likely earn more money by signing for another franchise - with the Indianapolis Colts and Los Angeles Chargers among those who could be interested - and Gronkowski thinks Brady should see what is out there.

"I truly believe that he deserves the opportunity to go explore, to see what's out there, he's been playing for so long," FOX Sports' pundit Gronkowski told reporters ahead of Super Bowl LIV between the Kansas City Chiefs and San Francisco 49ers. 

"The way that he's been playing, the level that he's been playing at, he deserves an opportunity to go out there and test the market.

"Why wouldn't you? You've never done it before in your career and he's going to be a free agent for the first time ever. Good for him. Go test out the market and do what's best for himself.

"That's the decision he has to make is what's best for himself, what's best for his family, what he feels like he's going to love.

"That's all up to Tom, he's a grown man and he can make that decision on his own."

Tight end Gronkowski spent his entire nine years in the NFL with the Patriots and won three Super Bowl rings as one of Brady's most reliable weapons.

Tuesday marked the end of an incredible decade for the NFL, which will crown the champion of its 100th season in February at the end of a campaign that has seen the man who dominated the past 10 years show signs of fallibility.

The 2010s largely belonged to a sixth-round pick from the University of Michigan who turned the New England Patriots into the greatest NFL dynasty.

However, there were plenty of others who helped define a fascinating period and a plethora of exciting talents queueing up to try to ensure it is they who stand out when the world looks back on the 2020s.

Here we reflect on 10 players who made the most lasting impact on the 2010s, and assess the players most likely to have the same influence on the 2020s.


2010s

Tom Brady

Five seasons into his NFL career, Brady had already secured a remarkable legacy, as a sixth-rounder who rose from Drew Bledsoe's injury replacement to a quarterback who guided the Patriots to their first three Super Bowl titles.

He led what many consider to be best offense ever in 2007 when the Patriots went 16-0, however, when the story of the greatest quarterback in NFL history is told, his and New England's second act will be the most compelling chapter.

The 2010s proved a decade in which Brady consistently and spectacularly defied Father Time. After a heart-breaking Super Bowl XLVI defeat to the New York Giants at the end of the 2011 season, a 37-year-old Brady authored a Super Bowl MVP performance three seasons later as the Patriots won their fourth title by defeating the Seattle Seahawks. 

His stunning response to a four-game 2016 suspension for his role in the Deflategate saga was a dominant 15-game stretch in which the Patriots lost only once and completed the greatest comeback in Super Bowl history in a 34-28 defeat of the Atlanta Falcons.

Brady followed that with an MVP campaign in 2017 that may unfairly be forgotten by many due to New England's 41-33 defeat to the Philadelphia Eagles in which he threw for 505 passing yards, breaking his record from the previous year.

Super Bowl LIII was won largely on the back of the Patriots defense and the 2019 season has provided further evidence the 42-year-old is finally declining. No player can outrun Father Time, but Brady has redefined what is possible for ageing quarterbacks.
 

Peyton Manning

Manning's career appeared to be nearing its end at the start of the decade. A playoff defeat to the New York Jets marked his final appearance for the Indianapolis Colts as neck surgery ruled him out of the 2011 season and he was released in March 2012.

However, Manning landed in the perfect environment to prove he was still among the elite. His Denver Broncos spell was historic as he helmed an explosive offense that reached its apex in 2013, Manning delivering arguably the greatest season ever for a quarterback.

He set single-season records for passing yardage (5,477) and touchdowns (55) that have yet to be broken. However, after a 43-8 Super Bowl thrashing at the hands of the Seattle Seahawks, Manning would have to wait until the 2015 campaign – during which he suffered the ignominy of being benched for Brock Osweiler – to win his second ring.

Manning regained the starting job and, despite his clearly declining abilities, won Super Bowl 50 with significant help from the Denver defense. It may not have been in the fashion many expected but, four years after his career was threatened by injury, Manning was able to go out on his own terms.

Rob Gronkowski

The Patriots' second spell of superiority owed much to their decision to draft a tight end out of Arizona with durability concerns in the second round of the 2010 draft.

New England's addition of Gronkowski paid instant dividends. He caught 10 touchdowns in his rookie season and developed into the league's ultimate red-zone weapon.

With four 1,000-yard seasons and five years with double-digit touchdowns – including a 17-score campaign in 2011 – Gronk's blend of athleticism, brute force and blocking ability saw him become the best tight end of his generation and the focal point of the New England offense.

Colin Kaepernick

Even with the dominance enjoyed by the likes of Brady, Manning and Gronkowski, no player from the past decade has transcended the sport more than Kaepernick.

A supremely athletic, gangly, long-striding dual-threat dynamo, Kaepernick exploded onto the scene in 2012, setting the record for rushing yards by a quarterback in a playoff game with 181 against the Green Bay Packers as he led the San Francisco 49ers to Super Bowl XLVII, coming within a few yards of victory in an agonising 34-31 loss to the Baltimore Ravens.

But, for all he did on the big stage, it was his actions during a preseason game that had the greatest impact on the sport, Kaepernick's life, and wider society.

His decision first to sit and then to kneel during the national anthem in 2016 to protest police brutality and racial injustice sparked both admiration and condemnation and led to a plethora of players replicating him. Though he gained plenty of supporters and attention for his cause, the movement he started cost Kaepernick his NFL career.

He has not been signed since parting with the Niners in 2017 and filed a since-settled grievance against the league, accusing the 32 franchises of colluding to keep him out of a job.

An NFL-organised workout last month fell apart at the last minute but the large crowd that attended a hastily arranged session on a high-school field the same day was indicative of his massive societal influence. That he is still unemployed remains the greatest stain on the reputation of a league obsessed with image.

Aaron Donald

In years gone by, a dominant edge rusher was often seen as the final piece of the puzzle. Now, teams are just as committed to unearthing the next Donald as they are to finding difference-making outside pass rushers.

Donald has transformed the value of interior defensive lineman by rapidly blossoming into arguably the NFL's best player. His quickness, power, intelligent hand usage and versatility have made him near-impossible to block. He can play every position on the defensive line and is devastatingly effective from each spot.

A two-time Defensive Player of the Year, Donald had 20.5 sacks in 2018 and still managed 12.5 sacks in 2019, a season viewed as a disappointment. Donald is already close to a certainty for the Hall of Fame and may well go down as the finest defensive player of his generation.

J.J. Watt

Five first-team All-Pro selections, five double-digit sack seasons and three Defensive Player of the Year awards, the most incredible aspect of Watt's career is that injuries may have prevented the NFL from witnessing his true ceiling.

Watt has been robbed of much of his prime years, only completing a full regular season once since 2015, yet his CV, which includes two 20.5-sack campaigns, is likely already good enough for the Hall of Fame. 

Firmly in the MVP discussion in 2014, Watt was the face of defensive football for much of the decade but, as the 2010s end, there is danger he will come to be partly defined by an inability to stay on the field at a time when the Texans have been most competitive. Thankfully, at 30, he still has the time and the talent to make sure that is not the case.

Adrian Peterson

Only one non-quarterback won the MVP award in the decade, and that came in 2012 when Peterson produced one of the best running back seasons in history.

Peterson rushed for 2,097 yards and 12 touchdowns, averaging an astonishing 131.1 yards per game on the ground. Off-field controversy interrupted his career and, though he enjoyed a renaissance in 2015 with a 1,485-yard campaign, he has never recaptured his unbelievable best. 

He has, however, succeeded in remaining effective enough to stretch his career well into this thirties and achieved his long-held ambition of passing Walter Payton on the all-time touchdowns list with his 111th score.

Drew Brees

While Manning and Brady took the majority of the acclaim and, in the latter's case, the titles in the 2010s, Brees has enjoyed consistency unmatched by most quarterbacks and racked up a plethora of records.

Brees led the league in passing yards five times in the decade and broke Brett Favre's all-time pass completions and passing yardage records in a 2018 season where his New Orleans Saints were a controversial non-called pass interference penalty away from the Super Bowl.

Week 15 of the 2019 season saw him break Manning's record for career passing touchdowns with his 540th. His arm strength may have declined but, Brees is still poised to enter his third decade in the league upholding the remarkable standard he has met since arriving in New Orleans.

Odell Beckham Jr.

The man who produced perhaps the defining play of the decade, Beckham has not quite hit the heights he once promised.

However, his scarcely believable one-handed catch against the Dallas Cowboys on November 23, 2014, is one of the NFL's indelible images. Falling backwards as Brandon Carr attempted to drag him down, Beckham arched his back and plucked the ball out of the air with his fingertips before tumbling into the endzone.

Whether through remarkable catches, arguments with coaches or an on-off relationship with a kicking net, Beckham has made the headlines throughout the decade and will surely continue to do so in the 2020s.

Antonio Brown

Brown's status as one of the players of the decade was already secured prior to his tumultuous 2019.

He made the unlikely journey from Pittsburgh Steelers sixth-round pick to a premier NFL receiver. Boasting incredible speed, agility and ability to make spectacular contested catches in spite of his smaller stature, Brown racked up four seasons of at least 1,400 receiving yards, including a 1,698-yard year in 2014. 

Yet for all his on-field exploits, Brown may well end up being most remembered for a 2019 offseason in which he forced an exit from the Steelers, left the Oakland Raiders without playing a snap after a series of controversies and was then cut by the New England Patriots after allegations of sexual assault. Despite an outstanding on-field career, Brown ends the 2010s with an asterisk against his name. 

2020s

Patrick Mahomes

No quarterback has taken the league by storm in their first season as a starter in the manner that Mahomes did in 2018.

Mahomes threw for over 5,000 yards and 50 touchdowns as the Kansas City Chiefs just missed out on the Super Bowl, defying belief with his ability to make plays on the move from a variety of arm angles.

After returning from a knee injury, Mahomes looks back to his best in 2019 and, with one of the best offensive minds in the league as his head coach in Andy Reid, he is primed to secure his place as the NFL's pre-eminent gunslinger in the 2020s.

Lamar Jackson

While Mahomes may be the most spectacular thrower to grace the NFL, Jackson is well on his way to cementing a reputation as the best running quarterback of all time.

Jackson and the Ravens have dominated the NFL in 2019 with a near-unstoppable offense. Defenses have found it almost impossible to decipher whether he is going to throw or run, with defenders frequently embarrassed by his elusiveness when he does the latter.

The only quarterback to throw for 3,000 yards and rush for 1,000 in a season, Jackson has already surpassed the achievements of Atlanta Falcons legend Michael Vick. He broke Vick's single-season quarterback rushing record by racking up 1,206 yards in 2019.

The final campaign of the 2010s could end with Jackson lifting the Lombardi Trophy. If he continues on this trajectory, the 2020s will see him become the greatest dual-threat quarterback of all time.

Trevor Lawrence

A pre-ordained NFL superstar since his high school days, the Clemson phenom has lived up to the massive hype in college and is effectively a lock to be the first overall pick in the 2021 draft.

Composed, mobile and possessing a cannon for an arm, several NFL teams in need of a quarterback will likely already be considering tanking 2020 to have a shot at landing Lawrence.

Regardless of whether he joins the league's elite or spectacularly fails, how Lawrence performs at the highest level is certain to be one of the most compelling storylines of the 2020s.

Kyler Murray 

The Arizona Cardinals took a significant risk in giving up on Josh Rosen to select a quarterback for the second successive year and pick Murray first overall.

Despite another losing season for Arizona in 2019, Murray's development as a rookie should provide great encouragement for the Cardinals, whose fans were treated to a series of dazzling displays from the former two-sport star, who was drafted ninth overall by MLB's Oakland Athletics in 2018.

Murray's decision to eschew baseball for the NFL was the most intensely debated issue of last year's draft. However, a year into his career, the dual-threat star has gone a long way to silencing the doubters and more two-sport athletes will follow his lead if he continues to excel.

Saquon Barkley

The second overall pick of the New York Giants in the 2018 draft, Barkley's career will, for many, settle the argument over the value of selecting a running back that high.

With a remarkable 2018 followed by an injury-affected 2019, it is the 2020s that will see Barkley provide the answer to whether it is worth using premier draft capital on a tailback in a league dominated by the passing game.

Those with a passion for analytics have largely already decided it is not. However, Barkley – regarded as the best running back prospect since Barry Sanders – has the talent to make a spectacular impact on the ground and in the passing game and prove them wrong.

George Kittle

Already cemented as the successor to Gronkowski as the NFL's premier tight end, Kittle is a bona-fide superstar with everything in his armoury to compile a Hall of Fame CV in the 2020s.

Kittle broke the record for single-season receiving yardage by a tight end in 2018 and in 2019 has proven himself the most valuable player for a San Francisco 49ers team two wins from Super Bowl LIV.

A freakish athlete and monstrous blocker whose sheer refusal to be tackled has seen him become the top yards-after-catch threat, Kittle produced one of the defining NFL images of the 2019 season as he carried three New Orleans Saints defenders with him on the game-clinching play of a Superdome shootout. Defenders across the league can expect to regularly receive the same treatment in the new decade.

Michael Thomas

The most astonishing aspect of Thomas breaking Marvin Harrison's record for receptions in a single-season is that the Saints star did so while still only 26.

As the focal point of arguably the NFL's most consistently potent offense, the sky is truly the limit for Thomas, who finished his record-breaking 2019 with 149 catches for 1,725 yards. 

He did so despite being subject to extremely tight coverage on seemingly every snap. Thomas rarely has the benefit of separation, but the 2020s could be the decade in which he separates himself from his contemporaries and becomes an all-time great receiver.

The Bosa brothers

There is a history of success between siblings in the NFL, and Joey and Nick Bosa are well on their way in joining Peyton and Eli Manning and J.J. Watt and T.J. Watt as two of the best brothers to play in the league.

Joey, selected third overall in 2016, has 40 sacks through four seasons for the Los Angeles Chargers, establishing himself as a dominant pass rusher, and Nick needed only one year to join him.

In his maiden season with the 49ers after being picked second overall, the younger Bosa racked up 80 quarterback pressures, the most ever by a rookie, according to analytics website Pro Football Focus.

He is among the favourites to win Defensive Player of the Year and, providing they avoid injury, the two best edge rushers in the 2020s may well be from the same family.

Jamal Adams

Though much of the focus for those of a Jets persuasion is on the growth of Sam Darnold, Adams is just as crucial to their hopes of crawling out of the doldrums.

The heart and soul of New York's defense, Adams is a ferocious, hard-hitting safety who could quickly vault to superstar status should the Jets become one of the AFC's best.

Reportedly close to being traded to the Dallas Cowboys during the 2019 season, Adams is in the perfect market to become one of the faces of the league if Gang Green can wrest AFC East superiority from Brady's Patriots.

The Jets are a franchise starved of success since the days of 'Broadway Joe' Namath. 'Broadway Jamal' may not have the same ring, but he can expect similar levels of hero-worship if the Jets return to postseason relevance.

Rob Gronkowski admits a playing comeback is "always an option" but has no plans to come out of retirement for the 2019 NFL season.

A three-time Super Bowl champion during his stellar career - one spent entirely with the New England Patriots - Gronkowski triggered speculation he could be set to return when he scheduled an announcement for Tuesday.

The 30-year-old will not be seen on a football field this season, though, instead revealing via social media that he will be hosting a major Super Bowl party in South Florida.

"I'm bringing the FIESTA to Miami with GRONK BEACH BIG GAME WEEKEND," he tweeted, along with a video where he explains further details of the event.

However, the clip included a line from Gronkowski that suggested he may not be done with playing just yet, as – dressed in pads and holding a helmet – he said: "Okay, maybe we call an audible – but just for this year..."

A second-round pick by the Pats in 2010, the tight end revealed to ESPN that he continues to stay in shape, just in case he wants to get back on the field at some stage in the future.

"I'm 30 years old. I'm young. I still stay fit, still watch the game whenever I can, still enjoy it. I'm feeling good, but you know, one year off could possibly be the case. Or maybe two years off, man," he said.

"It's always an option in the back of my head. It's not like I'm not staying in shape and not doing anything. I'm never stressed over it."

Gronkowski retired in March after helping New England win Super Bowl LIII. He posted 521 receptions and had 79 touchdowns in his nine seasons with the franchise.

The Pats have not struggled in his absence this term, improving their record to 9-1 with a hard-fought 17-10 victory over the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 11.

From post-game news conferences to next-day media availabilities, here are the 10 best Week 6 quotes from players and coaches around the NFL:

 

— Atlanta Falcons head coach Dan Quinn stressed the importance of his team taking advantage of their next two home games to get back on track: "I'd say more than anything, we get a chance to fight in front of our home fans. There's no moral victories, there's no things of that such other than finding our ways to fight to get our football team the wins that we need to get. That's really all we’ll think about and all we'll focus our time on."

— Philadelphia Eagles coach Doug Pederson on next week's NFC East showdown with the Dallas Cowboys: "Anytime Dallas loses it helps, because here's the thing — I know the sky is falling outside. … Has it been perfect or beautiful or all of that? No. But all we need to do is try to be 1-0 this week, beat the Dallas Cowboys, we're in first place."

— Not only were the Los Angeles Chargers embarrassed on "Sunday Night Football," Pittsburgh Steelers fans also took over their stadium, and the team were not happy: "I don't know what that was. Don't do that at our own stadium," Melvin Gordon said after the game. "It already felt like it was their stadium … I don't understand that."

— Detroit Lions safety Tracy Walker had some harsh words for the officiating crew after the team's Monday loss to the Green Bay Packers: "Extremely pissed off right now," Walker said. "It is what it is. Disappointed. Hurt. We had that game."

— Packers kicker Mason Crosby on his first Lambeau Leap after sealing his team's win: "That was special. It's something I've always wanted to do."

— Cowboys owner Jerry Jones spoke candidly about coach Jason Garrett on 105.3 The Fan radio: "If I totally disagreed with [Jason] Garrett's philosophy, he wouldn't be the head coach."

— Carolina Panthers coach Ron Rivera gave a sincere injury update on quarterback Cam Newton: "I think people need to understand that the young man has done everything we've asked. I'm trying to stay true to what I told him. We're not going to put that kind of pressure on him. So, until we have it confirmed with our doctors and stuff like that, we're going to continue to do what we're doing."

— Jay Gruden on life after being fired by Washington Redskins: "Pretty quiet ... Bored out of my mind."

— NFL competition committee chairman Rich McKay declined to discuss whether pass interference replay is really working this season:  "I don't think we would give a summation of whether a rule that's been in place for six weeks is working or not working," McKay told reporters. "We want to get the egregious ones, and we want to get them overturned."

— Less than a week after leaving the door open for a potential NFL return, Rob Gronkowski appears to have shut it again: "I'll give an answer. When I retired, I retired for a reason: because I needed to step away," Gronkowski said. "So it would be a no. There it is."

We dive into the biggest headlines from around the NFL in the latest edition of NFL news and notes.

 

Three things that matter

Bennett suspended for Week 7

Eyebrows were raised when the New England Patriots defensive end was absent from practice on Tuesday, and it was later reported he was banned for one week due to conduct detrimental to the team.

Michael Bennett, an 11-year veteran who was traded to New England in March, later addressed the situation and clarified the origin of the ban.

"On Friday, I had a philosophical disagreement with my position coach that has led to my suspension. I apologise to my team-mates for any distraction this may have caused," he told ESPN.

Bennett has played on just 35.7 per cent of the Patriots' defensive snaps this season and will not be able to return until Week 8 against the Cleveland Browns.

Kitchens confident Mayfield will be healthy after bye

Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield injured his hip in Sunday's loss to the Seattle Seahawks on a scramble, but his head coach shut down any doubt regarding his availability for the team's matchup against the Patriots after their bye week.

"He'll be in better shape physically and he'll be in a better place mentally, too," Kitchens told reporters.

The Browns held Mayfield out of practice on Tuesday as a precaution, but Kitchens assured there's "no doubt" he will be 100 per cent ready to face New England in Foxboro on October 27. 

Hicks hits IR with elbow injury

Chicago Bears defensive tackle Akiem Hicks initially suffered the injury in the team's Week 5 loss to the Oakland Raiders in London. He will now miss the next eight weeks at least, though Bears coach Matt Nagy left the door open for him to potentially return later this season. Hicks had six tackles, one sack, one fumble recovery, and one tackle-for-loss through four games before getting hurt.

The move comes one day after the team placed right guard Kyle Long on injured reserve as he continues to deal with a hip injury. It is certainly not ideal with Chicago slated to host the 5-1 New Orleans Saints in Week 6.

Two things that don't matter

Controversial Lions-Packers ending discussed at league meetings in Florida

Nothing can be done at this point, but the NFL appeared to at least acknowledge the magnitude of the mistakes made Monday night as NFL vice-president of operations Troy Vincent noted the second hands to the face call on Detroit Lions defensive lineman Trey Flowers is "not something that you want to see called."

Vincent added he would reach out to Lions owner Martha Ford and general manager Bob Quinn to personally relay the message.

The league's allowance of instant replay to review pass interference this season was also discussed, though NFL competition committee chairman Rich McKay declined to discuss whether it is actually working.

"I don't think we would give a summation of whether a rule that's been in place for six weeks is working or not working," McKay told reporters.

Gronkowski dismisses idea of NFL return

There has been speculation over whether the former tight end will return to the NFL, but Rob Gronkowski recently gave his most definitive answer yet.

"I'll give an answer. When I retired, I retired for a reason: because I needed to step away," Gronkowski said. "So it would be a no. There it is." 

Gronkowski had left the door open for a potential return to the field when he made his debut as Fox's newest NFL analyst last week, though he appears to have shut it again.

"I never say no, because I've said no, and everyone's like, 'Yeah, he's kidding. He's coming back,'" Gronkowski said. "But it's a no. In my mind, that's how it is. It's a no.

"I'm very satisfied where I'm at. I say it all the time: I would have never left the game if I was going to be itching every single day. I've said that before, many times.

"I had those thoughts, too. 'Would I be missing it?' And I just knew that it needed to be done. I'm very satisfied where I'm at."

One video you have to see

There were plenty of feel-good moments in Week 6.

Tuesday's tweet of the day

Antonio Brown is trying to stay relevant after he filed a number of grievances with the Patriots and Raiders.

Tom Brady will not attempt to persuade former New England Patriots team-mate Rob Gronkowski to come out of retirement.

Tight end Gronkowski retired during the offseason and has since moved into the media, starting work as an NFL analyst for Fox.

Ahead of the game between his old team and the New York Giants last Thursday, the 30-year-old said on television he would need to be "feeling it big time" to make a playing comeback.

In his absence, tight ends Ryan Izzo and Matt Lacosse have combined for only nine receptions for 169 yards and one touchdown for the Pats, but quarterback Brady feels Gronkowski is now "at a different phase of his life".

"I'm so happy that he's enjoying his time, his life. He seems to really be doing a lot of great things," Brady said during his weekly appearance on WEEI, a Boston sports radio station.

"He knows how I feel about him. I want what's best for him. He's the only person that can make those decisions. I don't lobby for those things.

"He's given a hell of a lot to our team already over a long period of time, and I think people should be very appreciative for what he's brought to the team and what he's brought to the region.

"I think he's just a very special guy. He's at a different phase of his life."

Patriots owner Robert Kraft sparked speculation over a return recently when he said Gronkowski had yet to file his retirement papers. Kraft added that he would "pray and hope" that the three-time Super Bowl champion may yet play again.

New England are 6-0 this season and sit first in the AFC East. They make the trip to divisional rivals the New York Jets in Week 7.

Former New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski has joined FOX Sports as an NFL analyst, the broadcaster announced on Tuesday.

Gronkowski in March retired following nine seasons in the league, all spent with New England, despite only turning 30 last May.

A second-round selection of the Patriots in 2010, he finished his career with five Pro Bowl selections, four first-team All-Pro honours and three Super Bowl victories.

Gronkowski will make his first appearance in his new role on Thursday, when his former team the Patriots host the New York Giants in Week 6.

"I'm extremely excited to be joining FOX Sports," Gronkowski said. "For the past 25 years, they've offered viewers top-notch NFL programming from the field to the booth to the studio.

"Their deep talent roster is unmatched, which was important for me as I embark on this new chapter in my life because I'll be able to learn from the best in the business."

Gronkowski is New England's all-time leading touchdown scorer and is tied for the second-most receiving scores in postseason history.

He is also the NFL's postseason leader among tight ends in catches (81) and receiving yards (1,163).

Rob Gronkowski has opened up on his decision to retire from the NFL and how the physical and mental impact of the game brought him to that point.

The former New England Patriots tight end, speaking at a summit advocating for players to be allowed to use CBD oil for pain, fought back tears when he said he explained his exhaustion after Super Bowl LIII.

"I want to be clear to my fans. I needed to recover. I was not in a good place. Football was bringing me down, and I didn't like it. I was losing that joy in life," Gronkowski told the crowd, in quotes published on ESPN.

Gronkowski surprised many when he retired from the NFL in March at the age of 29. He said a thigh injury he sustained during the Super Bowl against the Los Angeles Rams was what pushed him over the edge.

"I got done with the game and I could barely walk," he revealed.

"I slept five minutes that night. I couldn't even think. I was in tears in my bed after a Super Bowl victory. It didn't make that much sense to me. And then, for four weeks, I couldn't even sleep for more than 20 minutes a night. I was like, 'Damn, this sucks'. It didn't feel good," Gronkowski said.

"It was one of the biggest, deepest thigh bruises I've ever gotten."

Gronkowski also noted that the thigh bruise was so severe he had internal bleeding in his leg.

His decision to discuss the physical and mental strains of football coincides with Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck's decision to walk away from the game at 29 for similar reasons. However, Gronkowski claimed he is happy with where he is in life.

"I truly believe going through those tough times, nine years — off the field, on the field — has brought me to this point and I believe I'm on the right path in my life," he said.

"It's a purpose to have passion in my life, to have joy in my life. And then to inspire optimal health within myself, I need to do that in order to get to a peak and then I can bring it to other people, because I know [in] the NFL, players are dealing with that kind of stuff, they're dealing with pain. I was. And I needed to walk away because I needed to do what was best for myself."

As for coming out of retirement, Gronkowski admitted he is not completely saying no, but added that mentally, he is unable to get back into the game at this point.

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