Chris Long, the tattooed, quarterback-harassing defensive end who racked up sacks in the St. Louis wasteland for most of his NFL career but finished his third act with multiple Super Bowl victories, announced his retirement on social media Saturday night.
Long posted a picture of his hand holding a Solo red plastic cup with the Virginia mountain horizon in the background with the following message:
“Cheers. Been a hell of a journey. Eleven years and I can honestly say I put my soul into every minute of it. Highs and lows. I’ve seen them both and appreciate the perspective. Gratitude and love to those who lifted me up.”
The 34-year-old Long, who played his last two seasons in Philadelphia, confirmed his retirement via text message. He had spoken openly about the possibility during a long, wide-ranging interview with The Inquirer last month. In March, he said the Eagles couldn’t guarantee him the same amount of playing time he had in 2018.
“At 34, with my experience and what I’ve done, and still believing in myself and playing at a high level, it’s too hard on my body, on my family, on everybody else to go through it for a role that’s far from perfect,” Long said. “I told them this maybe a month ago, I said, ‘Hey, listen, just plan like I won’t be back.' ”
The Eagles have subsequently brought Vinny Curry back to play behind starters Brandon Graham and Derek Barnett and drafted Penn State’s Shareef Miller in the fourth round.
Long entered last season as the third edge rusher, but a mid-season injury to Derek Barnett increased his snaps. His production increased and he finished the season with 6½ sacks and 20 quarterback hits.
Long’s announcement drew instant reaction from around the NFL world and beyond. Eagles guard Brandon Brooks wrote, “NOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!! Gonna miss you bro,” on Twitter. Texans defensive end J.J. Watt wrote, “Congratulations brother, hell of a run.” CNN’s Jake Tapper, a noted Eagles fan, wrote, “We will miss you … you’re one of the greats both on and off the field.”
This past January, Long won the Walter Payton Man of the Year Award, the NFL’s annual honor for philanthropy and community service.
“When you look at everything Chris Long accomplished as a player and a person, it’s easy to see how fortunate we’ve been to have him on our team,” the Eagles said in a statement. “Chris was everything that we thought he was and even more – not only a great player for our football team, but also in the community.”
The Eagles’ signing of Long in March 2017 was relatively unheralded. But he proved in short time that he could still be a prolific pass rusher. In the NFC championship later that year he provided one of iconic plays in team history when he hit Vikings quarterback Case Keenum and forced an interception to Patrick Robinson that would be returned for a tide-turning touchdown.
The Eagles, of course, would go on to win their first Super Bowl. It was Long’s second straight title after winning with the Patriots the year before. He didn’t play in a single playoff game in his first eight seasons with the Rams.
Drafted second overall out of Virginia in 2008, Long recorded 50½ sacks in his first six seasons and hit double figures from 2011-12. But the Rams didn’t have a winning season over that span – including his last two years in St. Louis – and he was never voted to the Pro Bowl.
Injuries marred his last few seasons with the Rams and he was released in 2016. But he found new life and winning on the east coast and would use the platform to further the work of the Chris Long Foundation, which has helped raise money to build wells for communities in East Africa, among other endeavors.
“My career’s been summed up in having a run of bad luck that lasted eight years and now a run of good that’s been three years,” Long said in February after winning the Walter Payton Award. “Things all even out. A lot of work my wife and I did in St. Louis flew under the radar and that’s OK because we don’t do things ideally for any attention.
“But when you’re on good teams, teams that win championships, and compete for championships in big markets, it does nothing but elevate your platform.”
The son of Howie Long, a Hall of Fame defensive tackle for the Raiders and a product of Villanova, never rested on his family name or the advantages he had growing up.