By Brad Hubbard | @bradhubbard
There were several surprising retirement announcements in the last few days. First, the San Francisco 49ers Patrick Willis followed by Tennessee Titans quarterback Jake Locker, former Titans cornerback Cortland Finnegan and Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Jason Worilds. Common factor, all under the age of 31 and could still command top dollar. It came as a surprise but it shouldn’t be, especially in the age of CTE.
Patrick Willis could, and probably will, be considered for induction into the pro football hall of fame. He’s been that good. In fact he’s been the cornerstone of the 49ers for the eight years that he’s been in San Francisco. Through thick and thin, he’s been the constant.
Willis said goodbye to the 49ers and the NFL on Tuesday in a surprise to just about everybody. Reason, his feet and not being able to play at a high level. Later in the day came news that Jake Locker was walking away from the game, only four years removed from being a top 10 pick in the NFL Draft. Locker, like Willis, had been suffering from constant injuries. Unlike Willis though, Locker played 30 games and never lived up to the franchise quarterback tag that people branded on him when he was drafted.
Finnegan and Worilds are two more players who could have commanded top dollar on the free agent market but chose instead to walk away. Finnegan after a nine year career and Worilds at the age of 27. Worilds reason is a bit more interesting, he wants to devote more time to his religion (he is a Jehovah’s Witness). Finnegan did leave us with a great / not-so-great moment, when he and Houston Texans wide receiver Andre Johnson got into a fight during a game.
While each player has their own reason for walking away from a high profile, lucrative career you have to believe that the reports about CTE had to play a part in their decision. What is all the money and glory for if you can’t remember what you did and enjoy your life after football?
Other players have retired at a young age such as former Steelers running back Rashard Mendenhall. He wrote an interesting piece for the Huffington Post last year as to why he left the game at the age of 26. He is currently pursuing a screenwriting career in Southern California.
Could this be a new trend in the game? Players leaving after five, six, seven years? Cashing out while they are up? Convincing themselves that to go any longer would cost more than it’s worth? Time will tell but it is a distinct possibility.