Episode from the podcastNew York Jets Life Podcast

Episode 57 - NFL Draft Class - OL Edition

Released Thursday, 14th April 2016
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A lot of time is spent talking about NFL players behaving badly or embarrassingly -- we almost got through a weekend without Johnny Manziel opining on partying, for instance -- but D'Brickashaw Ferguson retired as the New York Jets' left tackle over the…, and it's worth taking a few minutes to read his farewell letter to fans. It is as impressively done as his career was.

There are those who tried to squeeze Ferguson into the group of players who have retired early because of health concerns, but it is clear from Ferguson's own words that his decision to walk away after 10 years was far more nuanced than any straight-line narrative. A first-round draft pick in 2006 -- the first by former general manager Mike Tannenbaum, who selected center Nick Mangold later in that round to form the bedrock of what was once one of the NFL's best lines -- who played every game and all but one snap in his career and never missed a practice, Ferguson knew what those who watched closely had detected, too. His play had begun to slowly erode, and it was harder and harder for him to compete at the highest level.

"I never wanted to define myself by the size of a potential contract, but rather by my ability to compete with the best that the game could offer," Ferguson wrote. "Though I was successful in accomplishing that feat largely throughout my career, the difficulty in playing at such a level began to increase."

At 32, Ferguson had made nearly $70 million, a very nice nest egg for a player with a curious mind who wanted to pursue other goals and who had to decide whether he wanted to swallow a substantial pay cut from the Jets. Would he have continued to play if no pay cut was requested? Maybe so. But the Jets are in a salary-cap bind this offseason, unlike last season, when they were flush with cash, and Ferguson's declining play opened the door to the Jets' financial considerations.

There is something Ferguson does have in common with the wave of young players retiring long before they are retired by teams: He made an informed decision -- in Ferguson's case, about his remaining ability and his only team's willingness to pay for it -- with a substantial monetary cushion beneath him. That is what the league and the NFL Players Association should want for all players.

It's possible that Ferguson got more notice over the weekend for retiring than he ever got nationally during his playing days. And little more than 24 hours after Ferguson retired -- and only a few days after Greg Hardy gave an interview to ESPN that should have reminded every talent evaluator to look elsewhere -- the NFL got a reminder of the ugly episodes and fumbling responses that defined the 2014 season. An arbitrator ruled that the powers given to the commissioner in the collective bargaining agreement extend to include putting players on paid leave as part of the exempt list, a key feature of the revamped personal conduct policy the NFL created in the wake of the Ray Rice-Adrian Peterson-Hardy tumult.

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