Foxborough, MA– Nine years ago, the New England Patriots drafted Rob Gronkowski into the tight end position, deeming him as the heir apparent to the tight end legacy of Benjamin Watson, who was probably the best tight end the Patriots ever had. Gronk blew that door wide open over the course of his nine seasons in the NFL, becoming not only the greatest tight end in the Patriots' history, but the greatest tight end the league had ever seen.

Yesterday, though, Gronk brought his era as a dominant player to an end when he announced his retirement via Instagram, where he wrote, "Cheers to all who have been part of this journey, cheers to the past for the incredible memories, and a huge cheers to the uncertainty of what's next." At 29 years old, Gronk is retiring fairly early, but he was such a behemoth on the field and so prone to injuries that it makes sense for him to call it a career because it can be hard to tell how much of a beating one's body can take.

View this post on Instagram

It all started at 20 years old on stage at the NFL draft when my dream came true, and now here I am about to turn 30 in a few months with a decision I feel is the biggest of my life so far. I will be retiring from the game of football today. I am so grateful for the opportunity that Mr. Kraft and Coach Belichick gave to me when drafting my silliness in 2010. My life experiences over the last 9 years have been amazing both on and off the field. The people I have meet, the relationships I have built, the championships I have been apart of, I just want to thank the whole New England Patriots organization for every opportunity I have been giving and learning the great values of life that I can apply to mine. Thank you to all of Pats Nation around the world for the incredible support since I have been apart of this 1st class organization. Thank you for everyone accepting who I am and the dedication I have put into my work to be the best player I could be. But now its time to move forward and move forward with a big smile knowing that the New England Patriots Organization, Pats Nation, and all my fans will be truly a big part of my heart for rest of my life. It was truly an incredible honor to play for such a great established organization and able to come in to continue and contribute to keep building success. To all my current and past teammates, thank you for making each team every year special to be apart of. I will truly miss you guys. Cheers to all who have been part of this journey, cheers to the past for the incredible memories, and a HUGE cheers to the uncertain of whats next.

A post shared by Rob Gronkowski (@gronk) on

In the wake of his announcement, an outpouring of support from past teammates, NFL legends, and fans alike could be seen on social media, including statements from Patriots like Tom Brady and Julian Edelman and former teammates like Danny Amendola and LeGarrette Blount.

During his peak, Gronk was revolutionary. He was like a human cheat code and a not-so-secret weapon as he absolutely dominated every defensive player who dared to cover him. Gronk exceeded ten touchdowns in five different seasons and caught 79 of them in total, in addition to 521 total catches for 7,861 yards. In the post-season, Gronk caught 81 passes for 1,163 yards and 12 total touchdowns. All of these are records for a tight end in NFL history. (Not to mention, Gronk won three Super Bowl titles during his tenure with the Patriots.)

Not only was Gronk an absolute force of nature on the field, but he was also one of the most fun NFL players to watch off the field because of his many antics and proclivity for fun. He was a transcendent NFL star who changed the game forever. As one of the best Patriots ever, arguably the best tight end ever, an incredibly fun superstar, and an all-time teammate, Gronk will go down in sports history, and he will certainly be enshrined in Canton, Ohio. From the bottom of our hearts, thank you for nine incredible seasons, Rob Gronkowski!