Just when you thought things couldn’t get worse for the San Francisco 49ers in the 2015 offseason, fate throws yet another curveball. This time, it was in the form of yet another retirement.
Right tackle Anthony Davis, who had been battling injuries in 2014 but had been a mainstay for the 49ers’ offensive line, announced that he was hanging up his shoulder pads today, in a move that cripples an already-flailing line that lost guard Mike Iupati to free agency. He is now the fourth 49ers player to retire this offseason, joining LBs Patrick Willis and Chris Borland, and DE Justin Smith.
Davis explained his decision to retire in a written statement released earlier today:
After a few years of thought, I’ve decided it will be best for me to take a year or so away from the NFL. This will be a time for me to allow my Brain and Body a chance to heal. I know many won’t understand my decision, that’s ok. […] I hope you too have the courage to live your life how you planned it when day dreaming to yourself growing up. Your Life is Your dream and you have the power to control that dream. I’m simply doing what’s best for my body as well as my mental health at this time in my life.
From what I gather, the retirement may not be permanent: if he is serious about what is effectively “taking a break” from football, he could return in a couple years. Though, the likelihood of that – or that he would return to Santa Clara – is less than likely. Furthermore, in what has amounted to an unbelievably awful offseason for 49ers fans, you can imagine the reaction from the Faithful was … well … less than enthused.
While some are understanding of his decision to walk away, others are – as expected – jumping to conclusions about the connection between the exodus of 49ers players and how the front office of Jed York and Trent Baalke have operated this offseason. Between the messy breakup with former head coach Jim Harbaugh, to the bungled head coaching search that ended with the in-house hire of Jim Tomsula, to a head-scratching NFL Draft that had the team taking a punter in the fifth round, many 49ers fans have been burning York and Baalke in effigy for months.
However, I can only look at this “rash of retirements” – if there ever has been such a thing on a single professional sports team – as the worst case of organizational bad luck anyone has ever seen, rather than a result of front-office turmoil.
For example, no one expected Willis would walk away from the game, when it was thought that he had so many good years left. Then again, no one knew that Willis thought he had no more “good years” to give to his team and to the game. Fate can be cruel, as it was to Willis and the 49ers. That isn’t on the heads of York and Baalke.
As for Smith, the man was 35 years old, simply didn’t have the energy to give one more season to the team. The writing was on the wall that he was done with the game long before it was official. If anything, Smith’s retirement was simply a case of terrible timing.
Then, there has been the public focus on the detrimental effects of concussions in high-contact sports like football. If you look at two of the 49ers’ four retired players – in this case, Davis and Borland – their main reasoning behind walking away was a fear of succumbing to such negative effects. After all, Borland apparently suffered a concussion before his rookie season even got started. And, when faced with the awful truth about life with CTE and other concussion-related illnesses, he wasn’t about to have any of that.
It’s the same with Davis. Look at his words again:
This will be a time for me to allow my Brain and Body a chance to heal. […] I hope you too have the courage to live your life how you planned it when day dreaming to yourself growing up.
It’s hard to ignore that Davis must have seen a part of himself in Borland when the latter decided to retire. Much of the sports fan public already believed that retirements from players like Borland and 27-year-old Pittsburgh Steelers LB Jason Worilds would have a lasting effect on the league. Unfortunately for the 49ers, that meant another loss of a promising young veteran, who understandably decided his health and well-being was more important than the game. Ultimately, that wasn’t the 49ers’ fault – that was the fault of the ever-changing culture of the game.
In any case, the San Francisco 49ers are without one more veteran player, and the media and 49ers skeptics alike are given one more reason to believe they will be among the cellar-dwellers of the NFL come the end of 2015. And, after an offseason like this – tough for any die-hard football fan to endure – it’s getting more difficult by the day to defend the team from this belief.
Good luck, 49ers. Apparently, you’re going to need it this season.