BOSTON (CBS) — When Rob Gronkowski announced his retirement in late March, the news was met with a collective “Yeah, suuuuure” from a large contingent of football fans. A mere 10-month vacation and not a full-on retirement was assumed to be Gronkowski’s course of action by many.

But according to a new report, anybody holding their breath for a Gronkowski return to the NFL may want to exhale. That wait might never end.

Sports Illustrated’s Albert Breer reported that Gronkowski played with a bulging disc in his back last year. Breer said that the injury did eventually heal, but such an issue could prove to be a major hurdle if the 30-year-old did end up considering a comeback.

“One reason why Gronkowski scuffled through 2018 was a mid-season battle with a bulging disk in his back,” Breer wrote. “By the end of the year, it was no longer a factor. But I’m told that knowing how close he might have been to a fourth back surgery, and the implications that could have down the line, was one factor in his decision to retire. So just logically, it’d be hard to imagine that concern would go away at 30 years old. Or, at the very least, would be one mental hurdle he’d have to clear if he were to come back again.”

Gronkowski was listed as questionable from Weeks 4-12 with an ankle injury. Gronkowski did not play in the Patriots’ Week 7 win at Chicago, when he was listed on the injury report with both ankle and back ailments. He was also inactive in Week 9 vs. the Packers and Week 10 vs. the Titans, both times being listed for the back and ankle injuries.

Ian Rapoport of NFL Network reported at the time that Gronkowski’s back “locked up on him” at practice during the week prior to the Bears game.

Gronkowski caught just 47 passes for 682 yards and three touchdowns during the regular season, a significant drop-off from his 69 recpetions for 1,084 yards and eight touchdowns a year prior. In three postseason games, he did manage to catch 13 passes for 191 yards, including a diving 29-yard catch in Super Bowl LIII to set up the only touchdown of the game.

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