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Reed pulls plug on NFL career marked by tantalizing talent and endless injuries

A Twitter post recently sparked all sorts of discussions about the question it posed: "You can pick ONE athlete ever to have an injury-free career (from beginning to end), who are you choosing?"

A popular answer was Bo Jackson, the two-sport superstar whose highlight-filled career was cut short after a severe hip injury suffered during a 1991 NFL game. Others frequently mentioned included Ken Griffey Jr., Penny Hardaway and Bobby Orr.

All things considered, Jordan Reed wouldn't necessarily warrant a high ranking on most people's lists. However, fans in Washington, San Francisco and elsewhere would hardly be blamed for wondering what could have been for the oft-injured tight end.

Reed, who starred at New London High School, said Tuesday he was retiring after seven seasons in the NFL, not counting the 2019 season he missed entirely after suffering a concussion in a preseason game with Washington. In walking away from the sport at age 30, Reed cited the "lingering effects" of his brain injuries.

Reed, who played last season for the 49ers, told USA Today that he was enduring frequent spells of blurry vision. He said the fallout from his concussions, of which the documented number is seven, "made the choice easy" regarding retirement.

"It really came down to being able to be a healthy person for my family," he said. "Being there for my children is what's most important to me. Dealing with a lot of injuries and concussions, I'm just physically not able to continue playing football anymore."

Reed, whose injury history goes back to his days as a Florida Gator, didn't just suffer damage to his brain. He also missed time with ankle, chest, foot, hamstring, knee, shoulder and toe issues.

Over the course of an NFL career that began as a third-round pick by Washington in 2013, Reed never played all 16 games and only once got to 14. That relatively healthy season, in 2015, saw Reed notch career highs with 87 catches for 952 yards and 11 touchdowns, even with two games missed.

That was always the thing with Reed: When he was on the field, he showed terrific pass-catching talent. The kind of talent that gets the hopes up of NFL franchises and fans alike.

Cruelly, it was not to be. The head-shaking cycle repeated itself last season, his first and only in San Francisco, when he got an early chance to shine in the injury-related absence of all-pro tight end George Kittle. In Week 2, Reed caught seven passes for 50 yards and two touchdowns against the New York Jets. In Week 3, against the Giants, he injured his knee and was out for the next five games.

Reed retires with 355 NFL catches for 3,602 yards and 28 touchdowns. In his one playoff appearance, a 35-18 Washington loss to the Green Bay Packers in 2016, he was targeted a whopping 17 times and racked up nine catches for 120 yards and a score.

At that point, Reed was looking like not only Washington's top offensive option but one of the better receivers in the game. His body wouldn't let him return to the heights of the 2015 season, however, and by the 2019 training camp he was happy just to be able to tout a lack of "setbacks" in the offseason.

His form that summer sparked hopes in Washington that Reed could again be the focal point of the team's passing attack. That optimism lasted until his preseason debut, in Washington's third exhibition game, when his first catch resulted in a brutal hit from the Atlanta Falcons' Keanu Neal. The safety was fined by the league for his helmet-to-helmet collision, but the considerable damage was done and Reed was lost for the regular season.

With Washington subsequently undergoing a regime change under new head coach Ron Rivera, Reed was released in February 2020. Several months later, he reunited with San Francisco head coach and former Washington offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, who said, "I think everyone's aware of Jordan's ability. When he's been healthy, he's played at an extremely high level."

A few weeks later, Reed said he "definitely thought about hanging it up after last season" but asserted, "I love the game of football. I still have the drive to keep playing."

On Tuesday, Reed told ESPN that when last season ended he was "pretty sure I was going to keep playing — I was feeling good about where I was at."

"But then I had some lingering effects," he continued, "and sought out professional help to get diagnosed. They told me it was not a good idea to keep playing. I agreed with them."

"I'm OK with it because I know the reason why I'm making the choice is for family and my children, so I can be there for them," Reed added. "It's just time."

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