Rob Gronkowski really is retired, at least for this season.
The former New England Patriots tight end had dangled the possibility of returning to the N.F.L. almost as soon as he announced his retirement in March, a month after he helped the Patriots beat the Los Angeles Rams in Super Bowl LIII.
Despite a long list of injuries during his nine-year career, all spent with New England, Gronkowski said in October that he loved football and would keep the door open to playing again someday. The Patriots, too, were welcoming.
The team’s owner, Robert K. Kraft, reportedly told Gronkowski after the retirement announcement that he wanted the tight end back in time for this year’s playoffs. For that to happen, Gronkowski needed to file paperwork before Week 13 of the season so that he could be taken off the team’s reserve list, but he missed the Nov. 30 deadline.
The Patriots (10-2) are tied for the A.F.C.’s best record but have struggled with a thin receiving corps this season. The team released the former Pro Bowl receiver Antonio Brown in September and the veteran Josh Gordon in October. For many years, Gronkowski was one of quarterback Tom Brady’s favorite targets.
If Gronkowski, 30, still wants to make a comeback, he will have to wait until the 2020 season, at the earliest. Dallas Cowboys tight end Jason Witten took a similar route, retiring before the 2018 season and then returning to play for the team this year after working as an ESPN analyst.
Since leaving the Patriots, Gronkowski has remained in the limelight. Among other pursuits, he became a football analyst for Fox Sports and a pitchman for a company that produces a line of cannabidiol-infused topical pain relievers. In an interview with The New York Times in August, he did not rule out a cameo in World Wrestling Entertainment or an appearance on “Dancing With the Stars.” He said he had lost about 20 pounds since retiring, and was focused on improving his health.
“I have nothing against drinking, and I believe that there’s times for celebration — 100 percent — after good days of hard work, or you win a championship,” he said. “But I’ve definitely cut hugely back on that, which I knew I needed to. I’m still really figuring out how bad it was to do it the way I was doing it. I took the hard route to find that.”