FOXBORO, Mass. — The New England Patriots’ locker room will be a very different place this season following the retirement of star tight end Rob Gronkowski.
During a meeting with reporters Tuesday on the Gillette Stadium game field, Patriots special teams captain Matthew Slater saluted Gronkowski, calling him a rare authentic personality in an increasingly inauthentic world.
“Authenticity goes a long way, especially in today’s world,” Slater said. “You see a lot of inauthentic things, you see a lot of inauthentic people, but that certainly wasn’t the case with him. He was as genuine as they come. His character remained the same from the day that he got here until the day that he left.
“Despite all the success he was able to have on the football field, he was still a fun-loving kid that just enjoyed being around football. And I think that’s the thing that I appreciated about him most — that Rob was always Rob, and you knew he was always going to come in with a smile on his face having fun.”
Slater and Gronkowski spent nine seasons together in New England, which the former called “the experience of a lifetime.”
“Just a tremendous friend,” Slater said. “(I’m) so appreciative of the way that he always treated me. From the day that he got here until the day that he left, he was so kind to me. Always made me feel like he was a friend and that we had a unique relationship.
“I’m just so thankful for the nine years spent with him. That’s something that I cherish as a man, as a fan of the game as a teammate of his. Can’t say thank you enough to him really for the experience of a lifetime getting a chance to play with him.”
Of course, losing Gronkowski will hurt the Patriots on the field, as well. New England signed veteran tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins last week but still is thin at the position entering next week’s NFL draft.
“Obviously, when you lose a player like that, a lot of guys are going to have to step up,” Slater said. “Change is inevitable for all of us. … We certainly want to celebrate what he did, and then we’ll certainly have a bunch of guys around here that’ll be ready to step up and work hard and hopefully be up to the task.”
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