Tight end John Carlson makes a catch during Monday's Phase 2 work. Tuesday, Carlson retired from the NFL.
Darren Fells hadn't yet talked to fellow tight end John Carlson, so he wasn't sure why exactly the veteran decided to retire from the NFL Tuesday, a move Fells called a "huge surprise."
"John was the leader in the room," Fells said. "Losing him definitely takes a chunk out of the tight ends room. Mentally and physically he was helping us on and off the field, learning and getting through the year.
"I never would have thought I'd be considered the veteran in the room. So I am definitely going to try and step into that role."
It's the second straight year the Cardinals have lost a tight end to retirement. Last year in the middle of
Carlson, who was going into his eighth year, didn't make it to training camp, but he had been a daily attendee of the Cardinals' strength and conditioning program and was on the field Monday when the team opened up Phase 2 on-field workouts. In a statement released by the team, Carlson did not indicate a specific reason for his decision.
"After much thought and consideration, my wife Danielle and I know that this is the best decision for us," Carlson said. "I was blessed to play seven seasons in the NFL for three tremendous organizations – the Cardinals, Vikings and Seahawks. I will always treasure the experiences and relationships made during that time but I'm also very excited about the next phase of my life and what's ahead."
Carlson signed as a free agent before the 2014 season. He had 33 receptions for 350 yards and a touchdown in his only season as a Cardinal, playing in all 16 games. He had at least one reception in every game. He was originally drafted by Seattle and also played in Minnesota before coming to Arizona. He had dealt with concussion issues before signing with the Cardinals, but was healthy in 2014 as the Cards' top tight end.
The timing does not help the team, not with the draft just completed. The current crop of available veteran tight ends is, not surprisingly, thin, with guys like Jermaine Grisham and Zach Miller sporting decent résumés but also injury histories.
"It's definitely a surprise," defensive end Calais Campbell said. "He's a great player and a great guy to be on the team with, a great friend. But in this business, once you kind of lose that confidence and the health, I mean, I don't know what's going on or why, but I know he's had injuries throughout his career and that probably takes a toll. People think about the long-term effects on your body, so I get it. He will be missed. Wish we still had him."
Carlson's retirement drains any experience the Cardinals had left at the position. Fells is now the veteran of the group, with his one season on the active roster last year (10 games, five starts) after spending 2013 on the practice squad. The Cardinals are expecting big things out of second-year tight end Troy Niklas, who played only seven games as a rookie because of injuries.
The Cardinals drafted Louisville's Gerald Christian in the seventh round of the draft, and also have Ted Bolser and Ifeanyi Momah on the roster.
"I don't know if it's really hit me yet," Niklas said. "None of us really saw it coming. We're just going to miss him. Personally, he's helped me so much, learning the offense. He's been a great teammate and mentor-like, helping me get into the NFL. I was looking forward to playing with him again this season."
Coach Bruce Arians has repeatedly talked in glowing terms of Niklas and what he can become as a tight end, and that was before Carlson made his decision. Now, the emergence of Niklas would seem paramount.
"I don't think it really changes much," Niklas said. "I have high expectations for myself regardless because of how last season went. I have a chip on my shoulder, wanting to prove I can stay healthy and play at this level. It sucks John isn't going to be with us and we'll miss him, but I guess we have to move on."