Chiefs empathize with Andrew Luck and his surprise retirement decision

Sammy Watkins has a pretty good idea of what Andrew Luck is going through.

The wide receiver learned of the 29-year-old Indianapolis Colts quarterback’s surprise retirement Saturday night in the midst of the Chiefs’ preseason loss to the 49ers, and it immediately took Watkins back to decisions he faced during his injury-riddled tenure in Buffalo.

There were times, he said, when his persistent foot injuries forced him to think about walking away from the game. It’s not all that unlike Luck’s decision to end his own vicious cycle of injury, pain and rehab by leaving something he once loved.

“When you have several injuries, I kind of went through that whole process, of like, ‘Man, I’m getting tired of injuries. I’m about to retire,’” Watkins said Saturday night. “But those are the hard times you’ve got to fight through and know that guys are playing and everything, and everything is in that plan. Hopefully (Luck) will mentally get cleared of whatever doubts or fears, and he’ll return back.”

Watkins, 26, had a long journey back from a left foot he fractured during a workout in April 2016. He re-injured it five months later when a teammate stepped on it during a walkthrough. He missed eight games that season. Then, in January 2017, he had two screws inserted in the surgically repaired foot, and he spent the next seven months rehabbing it in his Florida home.

That gave him a lot of time to think — something he said he hopes Luck is able to do now that he’s taking time away from the game.

“I definitely had those times where you know, I’m like, ‘I’m about to retire,’” Watkins said. “Talk to my parents, talk to my wife. And then I started to see, like, oh man, there’s a bigger plan. Injuries are meant for a reason, for you to sit down and chill and relax and go through hard times.

“You get all this money and you think, ‘Oh, this is the best thing ever.’ But once you get it, you’ve got realize, you’ve got to go through phases in your life to grow you as a person, spiritually and you’ve got to be prepared. Injuries are a part of this game to help us. Not to take us away from it. I kind of took that aspect from it.”

Other than playing against Luck in his final game during the AFC playoffs in January at Arrowhead, Watkins has crossed paths with Luck a couple times. Chiefs offensive lineman Mitchell Schwartz has an even closer relationship with Luck, a former Stanford quarterback. The pair were in the same draft class, and as a Cal product, Schwartz had a front row seat to watching him develop.

“He was awesome to watch,” Schwartz said. “I think we got him once his rookie year and he torched us pretty good the next couple of times. He made everything look easy.

“It just sucks that he has gotten to that point where his body is not working well enough. I have to assume that is the reason why. I know it’s hard to go through that much rehab and get this close to playing again and have to shut it down. … For a guy like that who came back from the shoulder thing, he has shown resilience and shown the ability to push through that stuff. To get to this point shows just how bad things must be.”

Quarterback Patrick Mahomes echoed Schwartz’s sentiment.

“Knowing Andrew, he is a great football player of course, but he is also a great human being,” Mahomes said. “For him, I haven’t seen the full variety of news, but he is going to make the right decision for himself and his family.”

Luck all but ruled out the possibility of eventually returning to the NFL, saying, “I can’t see the future. But I very clearly in my mind see that I won’t.”

But Watkins hopes he’ll see the quarterback on a professional field again.

“I just know injury after injury can really ruin, you can kind of think football is against you,” he said. “But it’s a higher plan and a better plan once you get through those tough times. And hopefully he plans himself a whole year and literally refreshes and reboots himself and mentally come back and take over the league.”

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Brooke Pryor covers the Kansas City Chiefs for the Kansas City Star, where she works to give readers a deeper understanding of the franchise and the NFL through daily stories, game coverage, and player profiles. She attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and grew up in Winston-Salem, N.C.