When you heard that the big, young, athletic quarterback with the strong arm, quick mind and ceaselessly cheery outlook quit football Saturday night because his injuries had overtaken his life, you couldn’t be blamed if you’d thought of Carson Wentz.
Andrew Luck quit football Saturday night, 15 days before his eighth season was to begin — or, his seventh, if you consider he missed all of 2017 recovering from shoulder surgery. He quit because he refused to continue to endure the “cycle of injury pain” that had consumed his life between the ages of 26 and 29, when no one should have to feel pain, most recently from a calf injury that just won’t heal. Wentz is 26.
Luck said he loved the game and he loved his teammates. He even said he loved Colts fans, moments after they’d booed him off the field because ESPN tweeted that he planned to retire (Philadelphia would be excommunicated from the league for such behavior).
Sound familiar, Philly?
Wentz has had lots of injuries, already: Wentz has been hurt every season since his senior year in college: wrist, rib, knee, back. He vastly altered his lifestyle and his diet this off-season to break his cycle of injury; to end his cycle of pain. In an ESPN story he admitted that, while injured, he fought jealousy and frustration, just like Luck.
Everyone has a breaking point.
Nobody wishes retirement, or a continued “cycle of pain,” on Wentz. He’s given no indication that he plans to leave football, but then, Wentz is a very private, very committed individual. He’s also more than a football player — just like Luck.
Luck is 29, the same age as Jim Brown when he retired to Hollywood. Luck said he wanted more from life than having 6-foot-4, 310-pound beasts like Fletcher Cox land on him five or six times a game. He wanted to live the prime of his existence, having made $93 million in salary and bonuses, without his vacation time being consumed by healing. He chose to spend the next decade, the prime of any man’s life, free of the antiseptic smells of trainer’s rooms and the stench of liniments. He wanted to be able to wake up and not fight the urge to pop a pain pill before coffee.
This, too, should sound familiar.
Kelce wonders if it's worth it: Jason Kelce, 31, has considered retiring every off-season for the past three years. His injury history is magnificent, and last season was amazing: torn knee ligament, torn elbow ligament, broken foot. He didn’t miss a game. But he lost lots of sleep and his kidneys probably filtered 50 pounds of medication. He also became a first-team All Pro and helped the Eagles win a playoff game. And he wondered if it was worth it.
“Pain in itself is a pretty depressing thing. Having to deal with it constantly, having to go through that is something that’s not fun,” Kelce said. "If you’re constantly weighing how much that is bringing you down versus all the other joys you get from the game. He’s kind of done with it."
The money factor: It doesn’t hurt, Kelce said, that, while Luck is leaving more than $63 million on the table, he already has made more than $97 million in salary and bonuses.
“He’s also made a lot of money, too. Once you get to a point where you’re comfortable financially — he’s more than set. Should be,” Kelce said. "Money definitely can be a big part of it. I’m sure that he has more than enough to be happy with."
Kelce has made nearly $27 million in his eight seasons and will have made more than $35 million after this season, but his knee hasn’t been pain-free in more than two years. Right tackle Lane Johnson is at nearly $45 million banked, which will jump to almost $60 million after this season.
“It just sucks, man,” said Johnson, who played quarterback in Texas at Groveton High, about 120 miles north of Stratford, where Luck starred. They both graduated in 2008. “I looked up to him in high school. He’s gone through a lot: Torn labrum in his bleepin’ shoulder, lacerated kidneys -- that’s a lot of (stuff). Whatever makes him happy, man. I was surprised. He’s still young.”
Nick Foles was a star high school quarterback in Texas who graduated a year before Luck, and he thought about quitting, too, after the Rams released him in 2015. Foles had earned only about $8 million in his four seasons and he’d be just 27 when the next season began. Foles’ reasons were rooted more in his soul than in his body — he wants to be a pastor one day — but his body had been beaten up plenty. But Andy Reid called and Foles went to Kansas City, then to Philly, where he achieved a bit of success.
Eagles know about retirements: Retirement has been a watchword in the Eagles’ locker room lately. Defensive end Chris Long is just 34, but he retired after last season rather than return to Philadelphia in a limited role. Josh McCown retired and was preparing to become a TV analyst when the Eagles coaxed him back onto the field. He’s 40, but he has 10 fewer starts than Luck, who made 86.
On the other side of the ledger, Darren Sproles, 36, has missed at least 10 games in three of his 14 seasons and had missed 23 of 32 Eagles games the past two seasons. Different players have different tolerances.
What will Wentz’s tolerance be?
Luck, Wentz are comparable players: Luck, at 6-foot-4 and 240 pounds, has always been the most comparable player to Wentz, listed at 6-5, 237. Their stats through their first three seasons are similar; Luck has 16 more touchdown passes but Wentz’s interception rate is 20 percent better and he’s been appreciably more accurate. They’re big, tough guys from out West — Wentz is from North Dakota — who’ll absorb the contact to gain the yardage then pop up, like a bull rider who just got thrown. They’re affable leaders who relish that role.
And, just like Barry Sanders, who was 30, Luck gave it all up. Like receiver Calvin “Megatron” Johnson, who also retired at 30, Luck didn’t want to hurt any more.
“Even Andrew probably has the same fire,” Kelce said. “That fire didn’t over-match the pain he had to endure.
It makes you wonder if Wentz will one day have to make that same, surprising decision.