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Chris Borland retirement: Trying to figure out what is next

Chris Borland retired this week after deciding he did not want to risk long-term brain trauma. With more information out there regarding brain health, will we eventually start to see the talent pool decline, resulting in lower quality football?

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

The news that Chris Borland is retiring hit us all like a ton of bricks. Borland put together a pretty amazing rookie season before an ankle injury put him on injured reserve for the final two games of the season.

Borland made it very clear why he is retiring in an article with ESPN's Outside the Lines. Borland said he suffered what he thought was a concussion during training camp. He continued through it because he was trying to make the team. A concussion likely would not have resulted in him getting cut at that point, but when you are a rookie who is viewed by many as an overachiever, there is that concern that an injury will cut short your opportunity.

Borland says he feels "largely the same", but he is choosing to be proactive. His belief (and it makes a lot of sense) is that if he waits until he is feeling concussion-related symptoms, it might be too late to prevent future brain issues. Borland mentioned how he told his parents before the preseason finale that he thought his playing career might be cut short. After the season, he consulted concussion researchers and former players to get a better handle on the subject. He said part of the reason he waited this long was so that he could inform family and friends, including some members of the team, as well as do some additional research.

In discussion his decision, Borland specifically mentioned guys like Mike Webster, Dave Duerson and Ray Easterling. All three were diagnosed with CTE (it can only be diagnosed after death), and Duerson and Easterling both committed suicide. Webster went through a ton of problems before his own death. This is just one of the most notable:

Plenty of NFL players have made it through life without any extensive problems, and retirements this offseason have involved more than just concussion-related concerns. That being said, it is easy to get a little uneasy with the future of the NFL following something like this. I am not here to say the NFL is going away in short order, but when a potential star is walking away after only one season, and apparently without really feeling the effects of concussions yet, it says something.

Of course, there are plenty of differing opinions on this.

Every player is entitled to do what they feel is best for their own future. Bobby Wagner wants to play until he is effectively forced out of the league, and that is fine. Given how popular the NFL is, my guess is there are more players thinking like Wagner than like Borland. The issue of brain trauma is out there, but this is still a league where plenty of players will try to hide injury symptoms to stay on the field.

I don't think the NFL is going anywhere anytime soon, but this is still something to consider when thinking of the future of the league. The biggest concern for some is that rules changes will eventually turn the game into some version of flag football. While a more relaxed version of the game is a possibility, another possibility is a simple decline in quality of the game as it currently looks. It might take a couple generations before we really see it, but would it be all that surprising to see the talent pool decline in the future?