D’Brickashaw Ferguson’s 10-year career did not come to its somewhat surprising end because of long-term brain injury concerns, the left tackle said Thursday at his retirement press conference in Florham Park.
“I’m not retiring because of CTE,” Ferguson said.
Last season, the left tackle was openly critical of the league after seeing the “Concussion” movie. He said Thursday that learning about CTE was “groundbreaking” but reiterated he did not retire because of it.
Instead, Ferguson spoke of his diminishing skills and the reality that it was going to be harder and harder for him to play at the high level he had been at for most of his career. The Jets flirted with other options at tackle this offseason, and Ferguson admitted that it was “difficult” hearing that.
“I think not to be the guy who automatically is the left tackle … was something new to me. I was taken aback,” he said. “I just wasn’t used to that. I also recognize this happens. You play your game, and then at a certain point, the game must end, right? There’s a natural progression in sports.”
The Jets have already acquired their replacement for Ferguson, having recently traded for former Broncos tackle Ryan Clady.
Ferguson recognized last year that playing well was becoming more difficult for him.
“I also recognized that playing this game at a high level, it’s not easy,” he said. “When that continues to get harder and harder and harder, you also have to ask yourself, how long can I continue to do this?”
Word first broke that the stalwart left tackle was retiring last Friday. He has started every single Jets game at left tackle since 2006, when he was selected by Gang Green with the fourth overall pick in the draft.
Ferguson spoke Thursday at the conclusion of a successful 10-year career in the NFL, but he opened his remarks by recalling a time in his life when even playing junior-high football would have seemed far-fetched. The tackle needed open-heart surgery as a nine-year old, forcing him to give up his hobby at the time of martial arts.
“I was also told I wouldn’t be allowed to participate in any contact sports for an indefinite period of time,” Ferguson said. “Now I didn’t completely understand what this meant at nine years old. But eventually it would be very clear.”
He was restricted at recess and in gym class, and had to wear a chest protector to practice karate.
“That 10-inch scar at the middle of my chest did not triumph to me,” Ferguson said. “It represented defeat. It meant I was handicapped. This had been boiling inside of me for some time where I reached the point where I could not longer accept my situation.”
Eventually, another doctor ruled that he could play sports without restrictions, and Ferguson began to play football.
“This all started because a young boy, who happened to have open-heart surgery, desperately wanted to prove his toughness, not only to himself, but to everybody, by playing football,” Ferguson said.
Ferguson’s press conference drew a big crowd, including Woody Johnson, Todd Bowles, Mike Maccagnan and plenty of his teammates. Among the players in the crowd included: Nick Mangold, Geno Smith, Antonio Cromartie, Bart Scott,
Willie Colon, James Carpenter, David Harris, Nick Folk, Lorenzo Mauldin and Brian Winters.
Johnson, who introduced Ferguson, called the left tackle “One of the finest players ever to be a Jet.”
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Free agent guard Willie Colon is still trying to play football.
“I’m getting in shape,” Colon said at Ferguson’s retirement press conference. “Trying to figure it out. If my knee doesn’t respond … I’m just going to hang it up. Right now it’s about me just getting in the best shape I can and see how it goes. Still up in the air.”
He said he would be willing to play for other teams.
“I’m working toward to get on the field, but if this doesn’t come back to me, then I have to be honest and be up here with Brick. (My press conference) would probably be at a Hooters,” he joked.
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Johnson declined to answer whether he expects Muhammad Wilkerson to report to the offseason program next week. Wilkerson has not signed his franchise tender and is not expected at this point to show up barring a sudden chance in circumstances.