Houston Texans All-Pro running back Arian Foster revealed that he pondered retirement this offseason in an interview with ESPN's Hannah Storm that aired Monday.
Absolutely. Any time an athlete goes through an injury like that -- a back, a neck, even knees or hips, something that puts you out for the entire season -- you kind of re-evaluate your life. You see what's really important. Is getting paralyzed more important than playing with your grand kids when you’re 50, 60 years old. People die on the football field. This is a really brutal sport. Going through an injury like that, being 27 years old, I’m young, still I’m at the prime of my career. Is it worth it to try to come back?
A bulging disk in Foster's back ended his 2013 season and required surgery. Foster told Storm how he initially felt when he went down.
"It is scary," said Foster. "Because you don’t know what it is, especially with a back. A spine injury. You can be paralyzed, that’ll change the course of your life forever. Those are the kinds of thoughts that run through your head."
Even at age 27, Foster felt as though the long-term impact he's observed from past ball-carriers taking brutal beatings at the point of contact may not be worth prolonging his professional football playing days.
Foster described an encounter he had with Houston Oilers running back Earl Campbell that resonated with him and how he perceived his own future:
I admired the way he played the game and I'm very appreciative of how he played the game. Looking at him in a wheelchair and seeing how some of the affects from football are affecting him today and you're just looking at what really matters here. I'm going to walk away when I want to. I'm going to be the best me I can be and you’re going to like what you see. That's the mindset I've taken, and that's the mindset I've carried this entire offseason.
Former NFL quarterback and current Fox Sports Net analyst Shaun King analyzed Foster's comments:
No disrespect but I wouldn't wanna play with arian foster. Either u with us or u r not.....— shaun king (@realshaunking) August 4, 2014
It appears that Foster took a pragmatic approach in weighing his options, but Texans fans have to be excited about his return to the gridiron after he played in just eight games last season. Houston's offense needs an all-purpose back like Foster as much as ever, too.
Coming off a season with a league-worst 2-14 record, the organization hired a new head coach in Bill O'Brien, and have a journeyman starting QB in Ryan Fitzpatrick. Foster's previous backup, Ben Tate, left for the Cleveland Browns as a free agent, putting Foster in line for a heavy workload.
John McClain of The Houston Chronicle hinted at this in his analysis:
Texans need Foster to be healthy and to be great back he was in 2010-12 to take pressure off Fitzpatrick.— John McClain (@McClain_on_NFL) August 4, 2014
Foster strung together three straight seasons of well over 1,000 yards, double-digit touchdowns and had at least 40 receptions in each of those years before going down in 2013. There is reason to believe that Foster can handle a feature-back workload, but it is worth monitoring how Foster responds when he first gets into a game situation.
The Texans ought to be as cautious as possible with how they handle Foster in the preseason, given the value he represents when healthy. Former New York Giants running back Andre Brown will likely serve as Houston's No. 2 back, but he's broken his left leg twice within the past two years. Otherwise, the onus will fall on rookie sixth-round pick Alfred Blue or Dennis Johnson to pick up the slack.
A lot of uncertainty looms around the Texans offense, but as long as Foster is returning to the gridiron with conviction, he should produce at a Pro Bowl level and have a strong, resurgent 2014 campaign.