Johnny Knox Retires from Football Following Release from Bears

Ethan GrantAnalyst IFebruary 13, 2013

DENVER, CO - DECEMBER 11:  Johnny Knox #13 of the Chicago Bears looks into the stands before a game against the Denver Broncos at Sports Authority Field at Mile High on December 11, 2011 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images)
Justin Edmonds/Getty Images

After just three full seasons of action, wide receiver Johnny Knox has caught his last pass on an NFL field.  

Instead of continuing rehab toward a potential return, the former Chicago Bears wide receiver has chosen to put his playing career behind him. The injury Knox suffered in late 2011 continued to linger well into the 2012 season, and he has decided to give up his fight against NFL health in favor of a more stable future.

Sean Jensen of the Chicago Sun-Times reported Knox's decision on Wednesday afternoon, just one day after the Bears chose to terminate his contract (via ESPN Chicago).

Knox took one of the worst hits we've ever seen during his last NFL appearance, as Seattle Seahawks defender Anthony Hargrove hit Knox full speed as he laid out to recover his own fumble. As the two men collided, Knox's head bent back well past its normal range of motion.

He suffered a fractured vertebra on the play and had surgery the day following the injury. The original timetable was six months, but Knox was nowhere near being ready to play when Chicago's training camp kicked off. He didn't make any further strides during the regular season either.

Despite not being able to play, the Bears kept Knox on the roster and paid him a full salary in 2012, showing good faith in his ability to return one day. However, the latest diagnosis made it clear that returning to football might not be the best option, and the Bears decided on Tuesday to jump-start his path to retirement.

Per Jensen's report, the decision was one of the hardest of Knox's life:

"As an athlete, you don’t want to give up, you want to keep on fighting. That’s how I’ve always been," Knox says. "But it’s been on my heart for a while. I know how my body feels, and I know I’m not going to be the same and perform at the ability that I used to...So I’m moving on and going forward."

As a kick returner with blazing speed, the Bears drafted Knox in the fifth round of the 2009 NFL draft. The speedster from then-Division II Abilene Christian University made his mark on special teams during his rookie year, scoring a touchdown as a kick returner and making the Pro Bowl in that role.

He branched out to receiving duty during his next two seasons and will finish his career with 133 receptions, 2,214 yards and 12 touchdowns. Expected to form a great one-two tandem with Brandon Marshall, Knox never got a chance to perform in that role.

The Bears will now look elsewhere for help at wide receiver, and Knox will begin working toward a life that doesn't include the NFL. It's a sad day for Knox and particularly for the league, but it seems that the 26-year-old is valuing his long-term future more than a few more NFL paychecks.

With the injury problems facing the NFL right now, it's a wise choice.