ProFootballTalk: Will others follow in Chris Borland’s footsteps?

In light of Chris Borland choosing to retire after one season in the NFL, Mike Florio wonders if Borland is just the first of many that will decide that football’s reward is simply not worth the risk.

 

49ers haven’t addressed Borland’s signing bonus

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A fairly sizable item of business remains pending between the 49ers and retired linebacker Chris Borland.  It relates to his $617,436 signing bonus, and whether the 49ers will ask for partial reimbursement of it.

The 49ers have the right to recover 75 percent of the bonus ($463,077), which technically represents advance payment for four full years of performance.  Borland fulfilled one of those years, then chose to stop playing football.

The team has not yet addressed the question of whether they will be seeking repayment, a topic that undoubtedly will trigger criticism if the 49ers choose to seek the money.  It’s also a subject that wasn’t addressed in the ESPN interview of Borland, either on air or online.

Complicating matters are the comments from Borland’s father indicating that Chris playing only one year in the NFL was always a real possibility.  If Chris Borland knew he possibly would be staying for only one year when he signed his contract and didn’t disclose it to the team, it wouldn’t be unreasonable for the 49ers to expect reimbursement.

PFT Live 3/17: Greg Jennings

Mike Florio breaks down the news of Chris Borland’s retirement after one season in the NFL with the help of Matt Maiocco and Robert Smith. Mike talks to free agent WR Greg Jennings about his future in the NFL and gets an update on the Patriots’ offseason moves from Tom Curran.

 

 

 

Tim Ryan unfairly attacked for Chris Borland comments

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The news that Chris Borland is retiring from the NFL at the age of 24 has dominated the football conversation today, and it’s led to some thoughtful discussions about the risks and rewards of playing the game. But it’s also led to some nasty attacks and petty insults from those who live to find something to be outraged about.

No one has taken more unfair criticism today than Tim Ryan, the former NFL player who has been ripped apart for comments he made about Borland on KNBR in San Francisco. Multiple websites have reported that Ryan called Borland a “quitter,” and people on Twitter are calling for the 49ers to fire Ryan from his job as an analyst for the team’s preseason games.

One problem: Ryan never called Borland a “quitter.” And Ryan praised Borland repeatedly during his interview on KNBR. You can listen to the full interview right here, or just read some of these things Ryan said about Borland:

“Big props to Chris. I’ve got a lot of respect for him. The selfish side of me is pissed that the 49ers are losing another quality player. . . . Chris was and still is fantastic.”

“The risk isn’t worth the reward for some guys. You may call that superior intelligence because I never would have made that decision, but that cat [Borland] has got a little more intelligence than I do.”

“More power to him, man. Smart guy, gonna have a great life.”

Everyone who wants to find something to be outraged about, however, is ignoring all those things Ryan said and focusing instead on Ryan’s use of the word “quit.” (Ryan did not use the word “quitter” to describe Borland, even though many people have wrongly attributed that word to him.) It’s important to listen to the full context of Ryan’s use of the word “quit.”

Ryan used that word only when asked to compare Borland to fellow 49ers linebacker Patrick Willis, who also retired this offseason. Ryan prefaced his statement by talking about how much he loves Borland, and then said that he sees a distinction between choosing to “quit” and choosing to “retire.” In Ryan’s view, the word “retire” — in football or any other field — is reserved for people who have had a long, sustained career, whereas the word “quit” is generally used to mean a person who leaves a job after a short time. Ryan wasn’t knocking Borland, he was merely saying that what Borland is doing is fundamentally different from what Willis did.

Ryan’s exact words were, “This isn’t punitive on Borland, and I love the guy and I want to see him play. Patrick Willis retired. Chris Borland quit.”

It’s a lot more fun to attack Ryan for calling Borland a quitter than it is to point out that Ryan never actually called Borland a quitter and said “I love the guy” before pointing out that “quit” and “retire” mean two different things. Look up the two words in the dictionary and you’ll see that Ryan is correct — the word “retire” means to withdraw from a job “usually because of age.”

At this point, you might be thinking that I’m defending Ryan only because he’s a fellow member of the NFL media, and we all stick together. Well, you’d be wrong. I have only had one personal encounter with Ryan in my life, and that came when he and I butted heads because I criticized him for leaving Calvin Johnson off his All-Pro team in 2012. I have no brief for Ryan.

But I am in favor of fairness and accuracy. Ryan deserves that, and he hasn’t received it.

PFT Live: Greg Jennings surprised by Chris Borland retirement, but understands

Admitting to three concussions in his NFL career, Greg Jennings gives his take on Chris Borland’s early retirement saying he respects his decision, but it won’t impact the WR’s decision to continue playing.

PFT Live: Tucker on Borland retirement: Not ‘game-changing’

Ross Tucker says anyone claiming that Chris Borland’s retirement at age 24 means nothing is missing the mark, but on the flip side, Tucker believes calling it a game-changer for the NFL is an overstatement.

PFT Live: Borland retirement consequence of facts available

Mike Florio gives his take on the early retirement of 49ers’ Chris Borland at age 24 and says what the linebacker is doing in the natural consequence of the information that has become readily available.

Borland’s family knew all year his first season could be his last

AP

Chris Borland told his family from the beginning that he might play only one year in the NFL.

Borland, the Defensive Rookie of the Year candidate who shocked the football world by announcing that his rookie season would be his last, has been telling his loved ones that from Day One. Mike Garafolo of FOX Sports reports that Borland told his family before the season started that his career might only last a year, and as a result his parents and all five of his siblings made a point of getting to the games so they could see his career while it lasted.

It’s unclear whether Borland also told the 49ers or his teammates that he was thinking of walking away after a year. There were no indications heading into last year’s NFL draft that Borland was planning such a short career. The 49ers drafted him in the third round.

Borland’s dad told Garafolo that he’s proud of his son for making the decision that was right for him.

“I think maybe it’s one of those affirming things as a parent, you know, that maybe somewhere along the line you accidentally did something right,” Jeff Borland said. “Chris has had a great network of friends and family, beginning with his sister and brothers. So when it came time to make the decision, the support for his decision was unanimous and very positive. And I think maybe that helped him do it.”

Borland made a decision few would make, but from all accounts it was the right decision for himself and his family.

PFT Live: Greg Jennings, Ross Tucker, PFT Planet calls and tweets

AP

Linebacker Chris Borland’s decision to retire after one year with the 49ers has been the story of the day in the NFL and we’ll be discussing it on Tuesday’s edition of PFT Live.

Ross Tucker of NBCSN will join Mike Florio on the show and they’ll discuss Borland’s choice “to do what’s best for my health.” While Borland made a decision for himself, the reaction to it has made it out to be a commentary on the state of football in general and they’ll talk about that as well.

Wide receiver Greg Jennings, who was just released by the Vikings, will also drop by the show and let us know where he might be headed next.

We also want to hear from PFT Planet. Email questions at any time via the O’Reilly Auto Parts Ask the Pros inbox or get in touch on Twitter at @ProFootballTalk to let us know what’s on your mind.

It all gets started at noon ET and you can listen to all three hours live via the various NBC Sports Radio affiliates, through the links at PFT, or with the NBC Sports Radio app. You can also watch a simulcast of the first hour of the show by clicking right here.

Free agent pass-rusher Greg Hardy visiting Cowboys today

AP

Word of the Cowboys potential interest in a troubled player popped up just as Tim Tebow was working out for the Eagles.

Now, the Cowboys may work in an official visit while the rest of the football world is talking about Chris Borland.

According to Nick Eatman of the team’s official website, free agent defensive end Greg Hardy is visiting Valley Ranch “in the next few hours.”

Cover is good, considering signing the former Panthers pass-rusher comes with plenty of controversy of his own.

He had 15.0 sacks in 2013, but played one game (for $13.1 million) in 2014 while on the commissioner’s exempt list because of a domestic violence charge.

Those charges were ultimately thrown out, clearing Hardy in the court of law. Now all he has to worry about is the court of Roger Goodell justice, and a looming suspension seems to have had a chilling effect on his market.

After Borland retirement, NFL says football has never been safer

AP

The retirements of Jason Worilds, Jake Locker and Patrick Willis took the NFL by surprise, but didn’t require the league to issue a statement in defense of the game of football. The retirement of Chris Borland was different.

Borland, the 49ers linebacker whose retirement at age 23 has taken everyone by surprise, felt like a more alarming incident to the NFL. And so the league has issued a statement on the matter.

The statement from Jeff Miller, the NFL senior V.P. of health and safety policy, began by showing respect for Borland before turning to a defense of the game.

“We respect Chris Borland’s decision and wish him all the best,” the statement said. “Playing any sport is a personal decision.

“By any measure, football has never been safer and we continue to make progress with rule changes, safer tackling techniques at all levels of football, and better equipment, protocols and medical care for players. Concussions in NFL games were down 25 percent last year, continuing a three-year downward trend. We continue to make significant investments in independent research to advance the science and understanding of these issues. We are seeing a growing culture of safety. Everyone involved in the game knows that there is more work to do and player safety will continue to be our top priority.”

The NFL’s claim that football has never been safer will be met with some skepticism: Players are indisputably bigger, stronger and faster than they were decades ago, so doesn’t that mean the hits they take must be harder than they were decades ago?

The flip side is that players are getting better medical treatment today, and more rules are in place to protect players from the most dangerous kinds of hits. The league’s data showing a decline in concussions is significant.

But Borland’s retirement has to worry the NFL. If it didn’t, the NFL wouldn’t have felt the need to respond.

On the field, Borland is the 49ers’ biggest loss

AP

The response to the surprise retirement of 49ers linebacker Chris Borland at the age of 23 has focused mostly on what it means to the NFL off the field. To the 49ers on the field, it’s a huge loss.

The 49ers have lost some of their best players this offseason: Frank Gore and Patrick Willis are two of the all-time great players in franchise history, and Gore left in free agency while Willis retired. Also departing are guard Mike Iupati, cornerbacks Chris Culliver and Perrish Cox and linebacker Dan Skuta.

But none of those losses will hurt like Borland. Willis is 30 years old and had an $8 million cap hit this year. Gore is 31 years old and the 49ers would have had to pay him more than $4.5 million to out-bid the Colts for his services. Iupati, Culliver, Cox and Skuta all left for contracts that the 49ers decided they didn’t want to beat.

Borland is a young player with a very inexpensive contract: The 49ers could have kept him on his rookie deal for the next three years and paid him just $800,000 a year. Borland’s retirement will free up only $700,000 of cap space for the 49ers this season. Willis’s retirement will free up $8 million of cap space. It will be a lot easier for the 49ers to find someone who can contribute like Willis for $8 million than it will be to find someone who can contribute like Borland for $700,000.

The 49ers will be a very different team this year than they were last year, from the departure of Jim Harbaugh and most of his coaching staff to the departures of longtime team leaders like Gore and Willis. But as the 49ers try to shake off the rough year they’ve been through and build themselves back into contenders, no loss will hurt more than the loss of Borland.

Walking away from NFL early didn’t hurt Colts WR Jerry Richardson

AP

For all this morning’s wailing and gnashing of teeth about the decision of 49ers linebacker Chris Borland to retire after one season, there’s a legitimate discussion to be had about football players using their short careers as platforms for the future.

And perhaps no NFL player has done better for himself than Panthers owner Jerry Richardson.

Richardson was a promising wide receiver for the Baltimore Colts, and caught a touchdown in the 1959 Championship Game as a rookie. He was the roommate of quarterback Johnny Unitas, and every sign was that Richardson could have kept on playing for several years.

But it wasn’t medical concerns, it was a fight over $250 that sent Richardson out of the league during the 1961 preseason. Going into his third year, he wanted a bump over his $9,750 salary, the Colts wouldn’t budge, so he packed up his stuff and moved back to Spartanburg, S.C. to start a hamburger stand.

As it turns out, it was a good choice for Richardson, who had invested his $4,674 title game bonus check, the first step toward owning a business valued at $1 billion.

Hopefully, Borland’s story turns out as well. The sad reality is that many NFL players lose sight of the fact that their playing days are a chapter in their stories and not the whole book. Richardson learned that lesson, and put his feet into the message.

And while the medical concerns are easiest to see, the lack of financial sophistication many players have — for which the college system that produced them shares the blame — is nearly as troubling.

Jameis Winston’s decision to stay home undermines draft road show

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Chris Borland’s stunning decision to not play football after one year in the NFL has trumped Jameis Winston’s decision to not show up for the draft.  Albeit very different circumstances, both create potential problems for the league.

In 2015, the NFL will take the draft on the road, swapping a certain Roger Goodell boo-fest in New York City for a likely Roger Goodell boo-fest in Chicago.  But the road show suddenly has less sizzle, given the news that the likely first overall pick in the draft will be staying home.

The league’s reaction to the decision can best be summarized in this tweet from NFL Media employee Albert Breer:  “League obviously wants all the top guys in Chicago. But says ultimately, ‘It’s up to the individual player if he wants to go.'”

The logic is undeniable.  With the NFL now treating the draft like the Super Bowl and shopping it to the highest bidder, the city submitting the highest bid will want the biggest names to attend.  Which means the NFL will want them to attend.

But the NFL can’t make them attend.  The NFL can offer free travel and lodging and air time on ESPN and NFLN, but the league can’t yet mandate that they show up because they’re not yet employees and even if they were this isn’t an actual game.

That’s where the league’s logic leads to an undeniable conclusion.  If the NFL will be taking the draft on the road and relying on enough highly-regarded draft-eligible players to show up at the draft in order to make it something other than the Commissioner surrounded by a bunch of guys in suits on a fancy stage, maybe the NFL should offer the highly-regarded draft-eligible players compensation for their participation in the annual late April/early May episode of the ultimate American reality show.

Surely, everybody else who’s there to present the draft is getting paid to do it.  So why aren’t the stars of the show getting paid, too?

They haven’t been paid yet because the NFL has been able to sell attendance at the draft as an honor for the player, not as a service to the league.  So whenever a player decides to pass on the honor, the NFL shrugs, confident that enough other players will have the sense to accept an invitation to work without getting paid.

At a time when more and more people are waking up to the reality that college football players are being exploited, receiving far less for their efforts and sacrifices than they generate in revenue for the NCAA machine, maybe the time has come for highly-regarded draft-eligible players to wake up to the fact that this supposed honor has greater value to the NFL than it does to the players.  If none of them show up, the draft will still generate plenty of interest on TV.  But who will want to actually attend it, and what city would ever want to host it?

This doesn’t mean highly-regarded draft-eligible players should refuse to attend the draft.  But they should realize that the NFL has a strong financial interest in their collective decision to be there.  Shouldn’t the highly-regarded draft-eligible players share in the revenues that their presence helps to generate?

Jake Plummer: Staying in game when heart’s not in it dangerous

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There was already a small-but-growing trend of NFL players walking away in their primes, with last week’s decisions of Patrick Willis, Jason Worilds and Jake Locker to leave the game for varying reasons.

But when 49ers linebacker Chris Borland chose to step away from the game last night, it shined a new light on the decisions players have to make as it pertains to their current and future happiness.

Former Cardinals and Broncos quarterback Jake Plummer understands, having retired at the age of 32.

“My heart wasn’t in it, and you can’t play this game without 100 percent heart and soul into it,” Plummer told Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic. “If you try, you are going to get hurt and you’re also cheating the game, your teammates. And that’s the beauty of the football, it’s a team game.

“People ask me all the time if I miss it and I say, ‘You’re damn right I miss it. I’ll miss playing it until the day I die.’

“But, God, I wouldn’t go back to playing with what my life holds now, my family, my kids.”

While Plummer had a much longer run than Borland, there was also a clear financial component that could have forced him back. The Buccaneers traded for his rights in 2007, and he had to repay them $3.5 million to stay away.

“Everybody has different things going on in their lives, and football ranks differently for everyone,” Plummer said. “For some guys, it’s the most important thing in their lives, and for other guys, it’s three or four notches down. It’s hard to say what guys are weighing [retirement] on. But I applaud them if that’s what they feel in their heart.”

Whether the decision was made with the heart or the head, the growing number of such calls has to be a concern to the league.