Draft King Analysis|
March 16, 2015
Lou Pickney, DraftKing.com
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A nightmare offseason managed to get worse today for the San Francisco 49ers with the unexpected, abrupt retirement of inside linebacker Chris Borland.
Borland, 24, was a third-round pick out of Wisconsin last May by the 49ers. He cited long-term health concerns involving repetitive head trauma in making his decision. In a statement made to Outside the Lines, Borland said, "From what I've researched and what I've experienced, I don't think it's worth the risk." He went on to note that, in his estimation, the time to take action is before symptoms arise.
It's noteworthy that Borland claims he has had only two diagnosed concussions in his life, and none since his sophomore year of high school. This is a notable departure from the usual scenario for players who have to hang up their cleats for concussion-related reasons.
In his lone year of NFL play, Borland recorded 107 tackles and a sack last fall for San Francisco, which is especially impressive considering he only played in 14 games and only started in eight of them. As ProFootballTalk.com noted tonight, Borland joined Steelers LB Jason Worilds and Titans QB Jake Locker as players who retired this off-season before the age of 30.
For San Francisco, losing Borland puts their already reeling defense into a potential free-fall. He's actually the second inside linebacker to retire from the 49ers this month, joining Patrick Willis, who ended a distinguished career after just eight seasons citing lingering injury problems and the desire to avoid the fate of players who opted to grind out their final few seasons and faced long-term adverse severe physical ramifications.
Two weeks ago, the 49ers using a top pick on Miami ILB Denzel Perryman or Mississippi State ILB Benardric McKinney would have seemed ridiculous. Now? It might be the best move the team can make. With the high expectations set during the tenure of head coach Jim Harbaugh, who left for the top spot at the University of Michigan, coupled with a deluge of departures by key players, the new administration in San Francisco has a very challenging task awaiting.
As for the larger picture, players retiring before the league is finished with them isn't exactly brand new. But a player with no known major injuries who excelled as a rookie walking away from the game after one season as a pro is highly unusual. I would suggest that the majority of the guys who come into the league can't make that kind of move for financial reasons.
At the same time, you can't put a price tag on your health. However, this sort of action is likely going to be the exception rather than the rule, not unlike Chris Nowinski retiring from pro wrestling at the age of 24 despite having made it to the main roster of WWE.
The list of top-tier free agents in dwindling, as you would expect it to as we near the one-week mark since the official start of unrestricted free agency in the NFL. DL Vince Wilfork signed with the Texans, and it will be interesting to see how much gas he has left in the tank. New England isn't shy about parting ways with stars before they fade, which in turn keeps them from paying for past results instead of future projections. If Wilfork thrives, he along with J.J. Watt and Jadeveon Clowney could make opposing offenses miserable this fall.
It was amusing to see the media (both traditional and social) go into fits today with the Philadelphia Eagles bringing in QB Tim Tebow for a tryout. If it was Chip Kelly trolling his critics, bravo. If not, there's no harm in doing your due diligence on unsigned NFL veterans. It's said to be unlikely that the Eagles will sign Tebow, but if nothing else now they have a better assessment of what he has to offer.
Former Panthers DE Greg Hardy remains unsigned as of this writing. He's a huge risk/reward, an elite talent at a position craved by NFL teams with a very public history of domestic violence. If the 49ers sign him, will they get more of a pass than they would have otherwise with so many players leaving/retiring? If he goes across the bay to Oakland, how will the reaction be? Plenty of questions still to go with him.
Cleveland signing former Packers CB Tramon Williams to a three-year deal would seem to extinguish any remaining doubt on if they might use one of their two first-round picks on a corner. I suspect the Browns will be in deal-making mode on night one of the draft in late April, though that's not exactly a bold statement or a hot take considering they have chaos at QB and a pair of first-round picks.
The Browns also signed former Miami DL Randy Starks today, presumably to fill a spot at 3-4 defensive end. Starks was one of several players to be jettisoned from the Dolphins as the team scrambled to make cap room to sign DT Ndamukong Suh, and signing him knocks another need spot off the board for Cleveland.
I plan to redo the 2015 NFL Mock Draft on here this week, and at this point I still don't anticipate projecting any running backs in the top 32 spots. I like Todd Gurley. I like Melvin Gordon. But there is an uncertain reality that the NFL of today is a far different place than the league where three of the top five picks were running backs just ten years ago.
San Francisco 49ers: Chris Borland Retires at 24
Additional insight about his decision and why he made it.
Philadelphia Eagles: Would Tim Tebow Be Good Fit for Eagles?
Insight on Tebow's tryout today with Phiadelphia.
Dallas Cowboys: When Will Cowboys Draft a Running Back?
Dallas prepares for life after DeMarco Murray.