Cardinals linebacker John Abraham leaves the field Monday night with head athletic trainer Tom Reed after Abraham suffered a concussion against the Chargers.
The Cardinals' mantra of "Next Man Up" continues to be tested.
Linebacker John Abraham, who suffered a concussion in Monday night's game, has left the team and is contemplating retirement. He had a "long conversation" with coach Bruce Arians Tuesday, Arians said, in which the 36-year-old Abraham mentioned the concussion but also that he wasn't sure of his desire to play any longer.
"When you get to that age, and for whatever reason, if that game and that atmosphere on 'Monday Night Football' didn't have you flying around or more, something is missing," Arians said. "That's basically what he reflected to me. 'There were times in that game I wasn't in it, and that's not fair to my teammates. I have to decide if this is something I really want to do.' "
The Cardinals get a roster exemption – the team is re-signing Marcus Benard to take Abraham's place – but if Abraham does not
return within five days, he can no longer play this season.
Abraham, who led the team with 11½ sacks last season, is in the final year of his contract. The latest news just adds to the tumultuous year Abraham has endured. Abraham missed the first three weeks of training camp after he put himself in a rehabilitation program. That followed a June DUI arrest in Georgia.
"I think with all the things he's gone through the last month, he's got a lot of things outside of football he's never dealt with before," Arians said. "There are some people that can help in that regard. I'm not one of them."
Arians emphasized he did not try to sway Abraham's decision either way, only that he would support Abraham in whatever conclusion to which he comes.
Sam Acho will take Abraham's spot in the starting lineup. Benard, who was close to making the roster out of training camp, will help. Arians also said he was pleased with newcomer Thomas Keiser, who provided pass-rush pressure against the Chargers and whose role will continue to get bigger.
Acho, who was a starter in front of Abraham last season before suffering a season-ending broken leg, said he felt he has returned to the same level he was playing at before his injury. The outside linebacker rotation is strong enough to absorb an Abraham loss, Acho added.
But Abraham had been a sounding board when Acho was out with an injury, and the human element of what Abraham is going through reverberated through the locker room.
"It comes down to the individual," linebacker Lorenzo Alexander said. "Everyone has different priorities in
life, different circumstances. Your mental health is one of the most important priorities you can have because without your mind, you're not going to be able to function. The game we play, it being so physical, it definitely makes guys think, 'Do I need to be out there? What about my kids? What if I get hit?'"
Just last month, when Abraham returned to the team after his rehab stint, he said he never considered not playing again.
"That would've been dumb as hell for me to do that," Abraham said. "Football has given a lot to me, the Cardinals have given a lot to me. A lot of people gave up on me after Atlanta let me go.
"I still need to get nine sacks to get (past Hall of famer Michael Strahan). I can't do that sitting on the couch."
Arians said to his knowledge, the concussion is Abraham's first. He acknowledged he didn't know if the concussion was a turning point for Abraham's wavering commitment to play, but said he got the sense it was more about being accountable to teammates.
Arians said he thought Abraham "played his tail off" against the Chargers. Acho said watching the video from the game, he thought Abraham did a good job. In the game, Abraham played 36 snaps before taking a knee to the head, causing the concussion. In the defensive statistics, which come from coaches film review, Abraham was not credited with any pressures or hits on the quarterback.
Acho did note that Abraham got off to a slow start last season, before he went on a "sack spree." Abraham has 133½ career sacks, ninth all-time in the NFL, and Arians said Wednesday he had hoped to attend Abraham's Hall of Fame induction someday as the league's all-time leader.
"Obviously we will miss his presence, miss his production," quarterback Carson Palmer said. "Someone else has to step up.
"You very rarely play on a team where it's the same 11 guys on one side of the ball, year in and year out. That's the league, that's the game we play in. Losing guys is part of it."
Still, it's another gut-punch to a defense that has absorbed them all year. Going into the Giants game this week, the Cardinals are without many key components from last season: linebackers Karlos Dansby (free agent loss) and Daryl Washington (suspension), defensive end Darnell Dockett (season-ending knee injury), safety Tyrann Mathieu (still rehabbing knee) and defensive end Frostee Rucker (calf injury).
Arians shrugs it all off, as usual. That's where the 'Next Man Up' comes in. The Cardinals will plug along whether Abraham returns or not. In the meantime, Arians said he'll give Abraham the space needed to make his decision.
"When you preach family, it's about the individual," Arians said. "I have to protect the collective, but each individual is part of it and you can't lose sight of that."