Sunday I went into my corner to process my thoughts about the stunning retirement of Andrew Luck and its implications for the NFL as a whole and the New York Giants in particular.
There is another side to Luck’s retirement which puts why it was so surprising into stark focus: He left the NFL “early,” but he did so coming off a great season and reasonably healthy. That’s a luxury that few players are afforded.
I could only fine one similar example recent Giants’ history, and that was Tiki Barber before the 2007 season. While Tiki was 31 when he retired — which is a lot older for a running back than a quarterback — he was healthy and coming off of his fifth straight season with at least 1,200 yards and arguably the second most productive season of his career.
Since 2007 there have been plenty of notable Giants who have retired before hitting their expected expiration date, but none have done so while healthy.
- In 2010 the Giants lost safety Chad Jones before his career ever got started when he nearly lost his leg in a car accident.
- In 2011 Rich Seubert retired at age 31 — the same age as Barber and just two years older than Luck — following a brutal knee injury in the final game of the 2010 season.
- In 2013 Steve Smith (playing for the Los Angeles Rams (then the St. Louis Rams)) finally called it quits at age 27 after suffering a bad knee injury early in the 2010 season.
- David Wilson had his career ended by a neck injury five games into his second season (age 22). Wilson racked up 1,925 all-purpose yards on just 132 touches in his rookie year.
- Chris Snee retired following the 2013 season at age 31 after missing most of the season with a hip injury and dealing with an elbow injury.
- Kenny Phillips retired following the 2015 season, but he last played significant time in the 2012 season after being diagnosed with a degenerative knee condition in 2009.
- Terrell Thomas ultimately retired in February 2015 (age 30), but his final game was played in 2013 (age 28) after coming back from tearing the same ACL twice in 2011 and 2012.
- Victor Cruz retired at age 30 following the 2016 season. He suffered his own catastrophic knee injury six games in to his age 28 season (2014), and while he was able to come back and play again, it was clear that he was not the same player.
Looking at that list, one almost has to wonder what the Giants would have looked like if so many careers hadn’t been cut short by injury. It’s also clear why the letters “NFL” stand for “Not For Long” for many players. Careers are short for most players, many of whom simply aren’t quite good enough to beat the odds and stick in the NFL for more than a couple years. But for others their careers are cut short by the nature of the game and looking at the list of Giants who didn’t play nearly as long as they (and we) would have liked, Andrew Luck is fortunate that his ability and position afforded him the opportunity to end his career on his own terms.