Retirement from the NFL looks to be the most likely path for running back Jahvid Best after the Detroit Lions finally released him this week.
A tragic but very serious set of concussions has kept him from playing for the Lions for the better part of the past two years, and it's very likely that his extensive history of head injuries will ensure no other NFL teams to take a risk on him moving forward.
The Lions announced the release of the former first-round pick Wednesday, via their official site.
In a statement, Best thanked the Lions for the opportunity, finishing with, "I'll always be a Lion."
Best might have meant that line in a figurative sense, but it's very possible his only career NFL team will remain as the Lions.
Such a reality would result from his concussion history, which dates backs to college.
Best was dealing with relatively recent head injuries when he entered the league in 2010—before the NFL had begun putting together a serious effort to improve concussion awareness. It would seem ludicrous for an NFL team in 2013 to pick a running back with a severe concussion history in the first round, but the Lions actually moved up in the 2010 draft to snag the playmaker from the University of Cal.
During his final season in Berkeley, Best suffered two concussions in one week. The second and most damaging came during a terrifying sequence that left Best unconscious on the field and later put him in the hospital.
You can view the play in which Best was hurt below:
Clearly, Best falls from an air-bound position of roughly five feet and lands on the back of his head. His helmet is forcibly removed, and it's equally obvious and frightening that Best loses consciousness upon landing. The video also shows Best being stretchered off the field.
The incident came in November 2009, roughly two months from the end of the season, but Best didn't take another collegiate snap. He missed the final four games before declaring for the 2010 NFL draft.
Intrigued by his 4.3-second speed, the Lions picked Best with the 30th overall pick.
While it briefly appeared he was putting his concussion history behind him as a member of the Lions, another set of head traumas was right around the corner.
After a healthy and encouraging rookie season in which Best ran for 555 yards and caught 58 passes for 487 yards, the Lions were optimistic that they had finally found their answer at running back. While undersized, Best featured elite quickness and versatility for the position. He was also a perfect fit for the Lions pass-heavy and uptempo offense.
Early in 2011, however, that entire premise came crashing back to earth.
In August, Best suffered his first documented NFL concussion during a preseason game against the Cleveland Browns. Six weeks into the regular season, Best banged his head off the turf against the San Francisco 49ers and was diagnosed with another concussion.
The October head injury ended his 2011 season and, quite possibly, his NFL career. Best hasn't played another down of football since.
The Lions eventually placed him on season-ending injured reserve to end 2011 and for all 2012, while holding out hope that he could return in 2013. But when it became obvious that Best wasn't going to return, the Lions all but turned the page when they signed veteran running back Reggie Bush in free agency.
If he wants to continue playing, Best might face a long wait. In today's culture of ultra-sensitivity in terms of head injuries, the rest of the 31 NFL teams are unlikely to take a chance on Best at any time in the near future.
In fact, the NFL is already providing examples of teams avoiding players with a history of concussions.
Former Indianapolis Colts receiver Austin Collie has suffered at least three major concussions since entering the NFL in 2009, with the latest coming during last year's preseason. The Colts finally let Collie walk as a free agent in March, but he's been unable to find a new team on the open market. Keep in mind, Collie was once believed to be developing into one of the game's better slot receivers.
The Jacksonville Jaguars also released receiver Laurent Robinson earlier this offseason. He had signed a five-year, $32 million deal with the club just one year prior, but a series of four concussions in 2013 forced the Jaguars to act. Like Collie, Robinson has been left on the free-agent scrap heap this offseason.
For better or worse, concussions have become the NFL's version of the plague. Teams are avoiding those with a history of the ailment at all costs.
Best, who hasn't played in almost two years, should be no different.
While a dynamic, game-changing player when healthy, Best should have no reservations about hanging up his cleats and protecting his future health. As a vested veteran, he'll qualify for ongoing health-care coverage from the NFL—which should provide him a strong basis for continued recovery from his 2011 head injury.
There's simply no reason to risk another concussion and the lingering or future effects that may accompany it. Best may not even have that choice, as the NFL could all but "retire" him on its own.
Either way, a once promising NFL career appears to be over far too soon.
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