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NFL players like Doug Baldwin aren’t cyborgs; broken bodies prove it


The human element emerged again this week to remind us that it remains the NFL’s ultimate X-factor.Doug Baldwin and Kam Chancellor were likely nudged into early retirement, released with “injury designations,” which is a nice way of saying that for the violent game of football, their bodies are broken beyond repair. Sure, it was expected. But the official act was significant enough. Gone are two more key cogs from that Seattle Seahawks Super Bowl era that was too short.As the 12s mourned, Telvin Smith announced on Instagram that he is hanging up the spikes – at least for the coming season – to deal with personal issues. The Jaguars linebacker was a bit vague, but he dropped some serious clues in explaining that he needed to get his “world back in order.” He mentioned the need to give time back to his family and a desire to get his body right.Here’s hoping that whatever Smith is dealing with, he gets it handled – and not just because he’s a tackling machine whose absence leaves a huge hole in the middle of one of the NFL’s best defenses.“I kind of put football to the side,” Jaguars coach Doug Marrone said on Friday as he opened a rookie minicamp. “That, to me, is an afterthought right now in concern with Telvin.”As it should be.This case doesn’t fit the profile of some creative attempt at a money grab by Smith. The team captain is due $9.75 million this season as part of the four-year, $45 million extension signed in 2017.Like Baldwin and Chancellor, Smith, 28, was a spirited player who so often popped off the screen – or if you saw him in person, energized the unit around him. He rolled with so much passion, on the field and in the locker room with his postgame ramblings, another reflection of the human element that makes a difference.Doug Baldwin’s NFL career appears to be over. (Photo: Joe Nicholson, USA TODAY Sports)Without knowing more about this mysterious twist (as of Friday, according to Marrone, even the Jaguars hadn’t been in touch with Smith), we can only guess about the issues. But clearly, for him to declare a sabbatical now – in the prime of his career, without any major injuries – it must be some serious issue.It was proper for Marrone to put out the messaging that whatever the case, the Jaguars are there to support Smith – contrasting the vibe recently from football chief Tom Coughlin. Coughlin received a remember-the-CBA warning from the NFL after he criticized Smith and star cornerback Jalen Ramsey for skipping the “voluntary” OTA sessions.Hey, let’s not forget: Football players are people, too. With families and real-world issues. With bodies that deteriorate from repeated trauma and always need more recovery. Peak performance has a shelf life.Ask Rob Gronkowski. The NFL’s most dominant tight end for several years, who turns 30 on Tuesday, retired in March after nine seasons with the New England Patriots. He contemplated quitting last year, due to a laundry list of ailments, but came back as a shell of his football persona. He managed to haul in one more huge catch in the fourth quarter of Super Bowl LIII, setting up the game-winning TD.He’s Gronk, the “Robostar,” but hardly a cyborg. He’s long seemed human enough, bringing a life-of-the-party exuberance to the buttoned-downed Patriots … and a boneheaded, cheap-shot tendency, too. In 2017, he was suspended for a game after he took a running start and speared Buffalo Bills cornerback Tre’Davious White in the back as the then-rookie lay prone on the turf.His injury history is even more human: Multiple back surgeries, dating to a herniated disc that forced him to miss an entire college season at Arizona, and as recently as a season-ending procedure in 2016. Four surgeries for a fractured and re-fractured forearm. In 2003, he tore an ACL and an MCL, and suffered a concussion — on the same play. And these are just some of the injuries we know about.Baldwin can relate. Barring a comeback, he leaves the game as a legend, having emerged from an undrafted free agent to one of the league’s most reliable clutch performers and inspiring competitors. Baldwin always seemed human enough, too, and not just because he was willing to put energy into social justice issues that undoubtedly concern more African-American players than are willing to take a stand.Beyond that, he played and expressed himself with a chip on his shoulder that earned him the moniker, “Angry Doug,” because he’d let you know if you offended him by considering him anything less than a major-league baller. Ask Cris Carter.Yet as tough as he was, Baldwin, 30, had a body with a limit, too. While Chancellor’s assumed retirement at 31, traced to a neck injury, seemed inevitable for at least a year as he was forced to miss the 2018 season, Baldwin’s case wasn’t presented as career-threatening until recently.Days before the draft, Seahawks coach Pete Carroll warned that Baldwin’s rehab from three offseason surgeries – for chronic knee and shoulder injuries, and for a sports hernia — was a “long haul.” But he seemed to agree with GM John Schneider’s contention earlier this offseason that he expected Baldwin would be ready for the 2019 season. Baldwin, after all, reported for voluntary OTAs, and Carroll maintained that the receiver was making “good progress.” But apparently, not good enough. Reportedly, Baldwin’s groin surgery was the final straw. Late last season, Baldwin, too, thought he’d be back in 2019.“If you know me,” he cautioned, “I’ve got a plan for everything.”That plan has surely changed now. That’s what the human element tends to dictate in the NFL, now in the process of breaking in a whole new crop of rookies – or fresh set of X-factors.AutoplayShow ThumbnailsShow CaptionsLast SlideNext Slide  

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