With North Jersey presumably beckoning, former Baltimore Ravens left tackle Eugene Monroe called it a career Thursday in a missive written for Derek Jeter’s Players’ Tribune.
Titled “Leaving the Game I Love,” the 29-year-old former first-round pick cited what is becoming an all-too familiar narrative from the NFL’s standpoint: concerns over his future health and the looming specter of CTE.
“I’m only 29 and I still have the physical ability to play at a very high level,” Monroe wrote. “So I know that my decision to retire may be puzzling to some. But I am thinking of my family first right now — and my health and my future. The last 18 years have been full of traumatic injuries to both my head and my body. I’m not complaining, just stating a fact. Has the damage to my brain already been done? Do I have CTE? I hope I don’t, but over 90 percent of the brains of former NFL players that have been examined showed signs of the disease.
“I am terrified.”
Terrified or not, Monroe’s high-profile advocacy of medicinal marijuana, a substance that remains banned under the NFL’s collectively-bargained substance-abuse policy, factors into his situation.
Monroe is correct in that he certainly could play for many teams that could use an upgrade at left tackle, but his unemployment in late July was not entirely one-sided: Organizations were certainly concerned about his extracurricular activities.
It’s also fair to speculate if Monroe would have come to the same conclusion had the Ravens not drafted Ronnie Stanley in April and kept him on the roster at $6.5 million for 2016.
“I’m going to miss the excitement of being part of something that so many people love so much,” Monroe admitted. “An emotional roller coaster gets underway at the beginning of every NFL season. Passions and emotions run as high in the league as they do in any other profession.”
Make no mistake, Monroe’s stance on marijuana contributed to his falling out with Baltimore despite the fact that Ravens coach John Harbaugh called it a pure football decision.
The New York Giants, who have a significant question mark at left tackle, reportedly showed a strong interest in Monroe, but the veteran is probably a lot like another New York left tackle who called it quits earlier this offseason, with plenty of time left before his expiration date: D’Brickashaw Ferguson.The former Jets star likely would have played in 2016 if the organization continued to pay a premium, but when the Jets broached a haircut, he simply tapped out while expressing concerns about his long-term health.
Professional football will always be a trade-off and a cost-benefit analysis with the highest of stakes, one’s future health. How many millions is the cut-off for taking that chance? That’s up to the individual and will differ in each circumstance.
“My wife used to joke about the ‘little things I forget,’ but now she’s more concerned about things like me putting my phone in the freezer and then tearing up our house looking for it,” Monroe wrote. “Things like that were just a joke around the house until this past winter, when my four-year-old daughter said, ‘Daddy you don’t remember anything!’ Since then, she’s said it a few more times.”
In the cases of Monroe and Ferguson — players who have made significant money for years — continuing only on their terms becomes a much more viable option.
Monroe, who wants to fight to end the NFL’s marijuana ban, has plenty of alternatives to fill the void of competition.
“Even though my football career is over, I plan to continue to be a vocal advocate for medical marijuana research, particularly as it relates to CTE,” Monroe penned. “More steps need to be taken to curb the overuse of opioids in NFL locker rooms, and I won’t rest until something is done.”
John McMullen is a national football columnist for FanRagSports.com and TodaysPigskin.com. You can reach him at [email protected] or on Twitter @JFMcMullen — Also catch John each week during the NFL season ESPN South Jersey, ESPN Southwest Florida, ESPN Lexington, KDWN in Las Vegas, and check @JFMcMullen for John’s upcoming appearances on YAHOO! Sports Radio, FOX Sports Radio, as well as dozens of local radio stations across North America.