Marcus Mariota

Andrew Luck deserves praise for seeking happiness with NFL retirement

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USATSI

Andrew Luck deserves praise for seeking happiness with NFL retirement

There are moments in each of our lives where it comes time to decide whether or not you’ll be true to yourself, to the person you are and the life you want to live. 

Most people don’t make decisions based solely on what they feel in their hearts. They take into account what others think about them and the vision others in their life have for them and who they are. They don’t choose themselves. They choose to live a life with more questions than answers. Of "what ifs" and what "could bes." 

Andrew Luck is not most people. 

The 29-year-old former Stanford star stunned the world Saturday when he retired from the NFL, citing his four-year struggle with injuries. 

Immediately the criticism came, fast and hard from the worst parts of the internet. 

Luck was “soft” and “not a competitor.” FOX Sports' Doug Gottlieb blamed the millennial frame of mind for Luck -- a generational talent  -- stepping away from the Colts because “rehab was too hard.” 

Colts fans booed Luck as he left the field following Indianapolis’ preseason game against the Bears. A decision they surely already regret. 

Then Luck stood in front of the media, his coach, general manager and owner and opened himself up.

He explained how the injuries he’s sustained — a lacerated kidney that left him peeing blood, a torn labrum in his shoulder, at least one concussion, a partially torn abdomen, torn rib cartilage and the now mysterious ankle/calf injury — had robbed him of something he probably thought he’d never lose. 

“For the last four years I’ve been in this cycle of injury, pain, rehab, injury, pain, rehab’” Luck said while getting choked up. “It’s been unceasing and unrelenting both in season and off. And the only way out I see is to no longer play football. 

“It’s taken my joy of the game away. I’ve been stuck in this process. I haven’t been able to live the life I want to live ... I’ve come to the proverbial fork in the road and I told myself that if I ever did, I would choose me in a sense.” 

Luck has always loved football, and while it outwardly defined him to the public, he never was just a football player. 

In 2011, Luck stunned the football world by passing up being the No. 1 overall draft pick to return to Stanford, finish his degree and try to lead the Cardinal to a national championship. 

Upon making his decision, his father, Oliver Luck, called the criticism of his son’s choice “a Rorschach test for people’s values systems.” 

Those words ring true of his son’s decision to retire as well. 

The criticism of Luck as “soft” and not wanting to work through his rehab comes from a sect of people who saw Luck show more courage behind that podium than he ever did while taking a beating on the gridiron. They know they couldn’t be as true themselves as Luck was. 

For most of his conscious life, Luck loved football. He found joy in throwing passes to Chris Owusu and Zach Ertz at Stanford. He took pride in representing the city of Indianapolis. He loved Colts receiver T.Y. Hilton and said last season was the most fun he’s had on a field. He excelled at the game in a way few ever have. 

Then he woke one day and found the thing that he loved so much no longer brought him joy, ecstasy or fulfillment. Instead, it brought him pain and anguish. 

Luck showed introspection and vulnerability few are truly able to. He looked inside himself and decided it was time to stop hurting. Time to give himself to something else, whatever that may be. He saw a multitude of different paths his life could take from this point on and they didn’t include throwing a football or being pummeled to the ground. 

Everyone has moments in their life where they are unhappy with their career, relationship, lifestyle or overall path in life. Where the thing they once poured their heart into has become toxic to their well being. They tell themselves they’ll change, cut ties with that thing or person and set their life on a course toward happiness and fulfillment. 

But that’s easier said than done. 

Those criticizing Luck know they lack the strength and courage to make that kind of choice. It’s easier to have an excuse for why you’re unhappy and give yourself a false hope that you could change it in a moment's notice. To step back and examine your life and dreams and tell yourself that should no longer be the path you walk -- that takes uncommon strength and bravery. 

After the Colts beat the Titans to close the 2018 season and clinch a playoff berth, Luck met Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota at midfield — Mariota missed the game with a nerve issue he battled all season — and Luck offered him some words of encouragement. 

“He kind of told me to keep fighting through it,” Mariota said, via Titans.com. “That it’s a journey and not to worry about the ups and downs and to just learn from it and get healthy as quickly as possible.”

[RELATED: Jon Gruden surprised, not shocked, by Luck retiring from NFL]

Eight months later, Luck’s football journey ended with an emotional press conference at Lucas Oil Stadium. He no longer found joy in football and so he said goodbye. It was painful, but it also gave him great clarity. 

He saw a vision for his life that didn’t include being in pain. He saw a better existence, one unburdened by the anguish the game he once loved has caused him. 

No matter your place on Earth, everyone struggles with being able to cut out parts of their lives that have become toxic to their well being. The search for true happiness and fulfillment is a journey we all share. 

I hope Andrew Luck finds it. I’ll be rooting for him. 

NFL preview 2019: Derek Carr, three other possible MVP sleepers in AFC

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NFL preview 2019: Derek Carr, three other possible MVP sleepers in AFC

With training camps getting started, hope once again springs eternal in the NFL.

Tom Brady and the defending Super Bowl champion New England Patriots are primed to defend their crown, but a pack of worthy challengers is frothing at the mouth for the chance to take down the king.

Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes sits atop the NFL's other throne as The Shield's reigning league MVP. The dynamic signal-caller once again is viewed as the favorite to take home the hardware, and while the like of Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, Baker Mayfield, Carson Wentz, Andrew Luck and Philip Rivers are viewed as the most likely to take the crown from Mahomes, the AFC has a few other young passers who are lying in wait.

When looking at possible MVP sleepers in the AFC, I made sure to look only at players that had odds at 80-to-1 or higher, as listed by Westgate Las Vegas. With the framework set, here are four potential MVP sleepers who reside in the AFC.

Derek Carr, QB, Raiders

The Case For: Carr has the arm talent and the leadership qualities to be an MVP. We saw that in 2016 when he led the Raiders to a 12-3 record before fracturing his fibula in Week 16. With a wealth of offensive talent around -- including Antonio Brown and Tyrell Williams, -- and a full year of Jon Gruden's system under his belt, it wouldn't be hard to see Carr returning to his MVP-caliber form in 2019. If he puts up big numbers while helping the Raiders navigate a tough early-season schedule, he should be in the mix.

The Case Against: There was little about the Raiders' offense in 2018 that would tell you a turn around is coming. The offensive line struggled and the running game was relatively non-existent. This is a make or break year for the Carr-Gruden relationship and there's a chance it just won't work.

Deshaun Watson, QB, Texans

The Case For: Despite a shaky offensive line, Watson completed 68.3 percent of his passes while throwing for 4,165 yards, 26 touchdowns and nine interceptions. He also rushed for 551 yards and five scores. If the Clemson product can get some protection, he could put up big numbers and lead the Texans to another AFC West title. The recipe for an MVP campaign is there for Watson.

The Case Against: The offensive line is atrocious. Watson might spend more time running for his life than looking downfield for the streaking DeAndre Hopkins. If the Texans can't keep Watson off his back, there will be no MVP delusions in Houston.

Marcus Mariota, QB, Titans

The Case For: When he's been healthy, Mariota has put up good numbers. That was with an offense designed for the 1940s with one offensive weapon. Mariota enters a make-or-break year for him with the Titans with two new wide receivers in rookie A.J. Brown and former Buccaneers Adam Humphries. If new offensive coordinator Arthur Humphries can tailor the offense to Mariota's strengths, the possibility for a breakout season is there.

The Case Against: Look, he hasn't been able to stay healthy. If Mariota can't stay on the field, then his chance at winning the MVP and the Titans' playoff hopes go in the trash can.

[RELATED: How Raiders' defense stacks up against AFC West rivals]

Lamar Jackson, QB, Ravens

The Case For: Jackson rushed for 556 yards in the seven games he started last season. If you extrapolate that over a 16-game season, it amounts to 1,271 yards. That would be more than the 1,039 yards Michael Vick rushed for in 2006. If Jackson has improved his passing and leads the Ravens to the playoffs, he could very well be an MVP sleeper.

The Case Against: As the Los Angeles Chargers showed in the AFC Wild Card Game, it's easy to stop Jackson if he's only able to move the chains with his legs. If the Louisville product hasn't made big strides with his accuracy and pocket presence then he won't be in the MVP conversation.