Curran: Light retirement highlights post-NFL transition

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Curran: Light retirement highlights post-NFL transition

FOXBORO -- At some point on a perfect spring Monday in New England, Matt Light drove away from Gillette Stadium and into the rest of his life.

He is 33-years-old and the 11-year swath of time in which he lived in a world of maximum physical and mental stimulation is over.

If he lives to the ripe, old age of 80, the NFL career for which he'll always be remembered in the public eye will have represented about 13 percent of his life.

The other 87 percent has been and will be all about Matt Light, normal guy. He seems exceptionally well-positioned to make the transition.

"Everybody has their own way of dealing with things," Light said during a nicely-executed retirement ceremony at the Patriots Hall of Fame. "I'm fairly confident that the transition will happen and it'll go smoothly and things will work out. That's kind of just the way I've led my life. If you surround yourself with quality people, you surround yourself with real people and you do things for the right reasons, opportunities will present themselves to you. And if it's meant to be it'll work out in time."

This is a very important subject right now. Young men who decide or are told that their football careers are over enter civilian life and are faced with figuring out who they are as men, husbands, fathers, sons and members of society as ex-NFL players.

The focus since Junior Seau's suicide last Thursday has been on concussions and CTE and wondering how blows to the head caused him to kill himself.

Far less discussion has been devoted to talking about depression and the transition to post-NFL life that so many players seem to struggle with.

CTE may or may not be found if Seau's brain is donated for evaluation. But depression and a loss of his will to live was certainly present for Seau and any other person who makes the tragic decision he made.

There may be scores of former NFL players with CTE that lived productively and happily for the rest of their lives but we never learned of the damage they had because they didn't die young and violently and have their brains examined.

CTE may or may not be a precursor to suicide. But depression is. And the post-football funk players descend into is what needs addressing.

On Sunday, Bears wide receiver Brandon Marshall, who is bipolar and struggles with mental health issues, wrote a piece for the Chicago Sun-Times:

Looking at the situation with Seau and other cases with retired athletes, I think our focus should be more on why the transition seems to be so hard after football.As athletes, we go through life getting praised and worshipped and making a lot of money. Our worlds and everything in them spouses, kids, family, religion and friends revolve around us. We create a world where our sport is our life and makes us who we are.When the game is taken away from us or when we stop playing, the shock of not hearing the praise or receiving the big bucks often turns out to be devastating. The blueprint I am creating for myself will help not only other athletes, it will help suffering people all over."London Fletcher said post-career counseling should be mandated and he wants the NFL and the NFLPA to work together on that.

You take the decision out of guys hands, and that way, maybe some of them will be helped, Fletcher told Peter King of Sports Illustrated. If players have to go seek counseling on their own, lots of guys wont do that. Men in general, were wired to hold things inside. Its not manly to be vulnerable and ask for help. For me, now, I can tell you Im going to seek help if I feel I need it. Thats what Juniors death has taught me.

When a player's NFL career ends, his prime earning years are over. The vocation he's devoted himself to for decades is gone. He's got about 60 years of life staring him in the face and a family to re-introduce himself to, a family that has to itself adjust to the fact that the lights have gone off on a way of life they may have also strongly identified with.

It's hard. Some make the transition easily. Others do not.

The help is there for players who seek it, said Light.

"The resources and the people that are in place within the NFL and the NFLPA and for a large part with each individual organization can really help guys with that transition," Light explained. "It's been helpful to me to have a guy like (strength coach and player development person) Harold Nash who says, 'Hey, here's some things the NFL offers or the PA offers and here's what you need to take advantage of and then going out and taking advantage of those things.' Those have been very helpful to me whether it's an entrepreneurial course or a broadcast boot camp, whether its getting involved in community affairs or anything of that nature.

"The more that you extend yourself beyond the football world and get involved with your community and the people that make up the community and make that commitment to do things outside of football (the better)," said Light. "Hopefully that will serve me well."

In August of 2006, Junior Seau announced his retirement saying, "Im not retiring. I am graduating. Today is my graduation day. Retirement means that youll just go ahead and live on your laurels and surf all day in Oceanside. It aint going to happen."

But he had no mental picture of what life without football would look like. He wasn't ready to leave and -- four days later -- he signed with the Patriots and played until he was 40. And even then, the transition was ultimately impossible to endure.

We grow to care about these men. That some feel they have landed in life's discard pile before their hair has turned gray is as chilling as anything that shows up on a microscope slide in some laboratory.

On Monday, Light said, "When I finally close a chapter, I don't look back."

A clean break. And a new book. One with a happy ending. That's what we should all hope these men find.

Collins: Contract situation will take care of itself

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Collins: Contract situation will take care of itself

FOXBORO -- Not long after Bill Belichick confirmed that Jamie Collins' absence from Day 1 of training camp practice was excused, the fourth-year linebacker was spotted on the field loosening up with his teammates for Day 2. 

Given the impact Collins has on the Patriots defense when he's healthy and on the field, his return to work was not an insignificant one. His health didn't appear to be an issue as he worked in for reps with the first-team defense alongside fellow linebacker Dont'a Hightower in the middle of the field. 

He explained that his contract is not an issue at the moment, either. In the final year of his rookie deal, the 2015 Pro Bowler is scheduled to make $917,864 in base salary this season -- far below what he would make on an annual basis if he were to hit free agency.

"I'm just handling business, man," Collins said when asked if there were any updates on his contract status. "That'll take care of itself."

The Patriots are in an unusual position in that they have a handful of young players of import to the defense that in the final years of their deals. Hightower is set to become a free agent after this season, as are defensive end Jabaal Sheard, safety Duron Harmon and corner Logan Ryan. Malcolm Butler, a Pro Bowl corner last season, will be a restricted free agent after the season. 

Signing them all could be difficult if not impossible, but there have been no holdouts to this point. After being publicly excused from Thursday's on-the-field work by Belichick, and after hearing from him on Friday, Collins' brief absence certainly would not fall under that category.

Brady spikes his helmet in frustration during competitive day of practice

Brady spikes his helmet in frustration during competitive day of practice

FOXBORO -- It could have been that he's been splitting first-team reps with Jimmy Garoppolo. It could have been that he had just thrown a pass that was batted down by a ball boy holding a paddle. It could have been that he's simply operating at a low boil at all times now knowing that he has to serve a four-game suspension. 

Whatever the reason, Tom Brady was hot. And he took it out on his helmet Friday, slamming it to the turf -- with ear pads exploding out upon impact -- after the final snap of the 7-on-7 period at Patriots practice. 

It was the most noteworthy show of frustration during what appeared to be a highly-competitive day of work for Bill Belichick's club. Just two days into practice, and one day before the first day of work in full pads, there was a visible emotional edge exhibited by several players on the team. 

"That's just football," tight end Martellus Bennett said. "It is what it is. I like guys that have an edge, and I think a lot of guys on this team have an edge. When they have that edge, it makes you bring it up a notch, too."

Bennett may have helped to amp things up when he caught a touchdown pass over Patrick Chung from Jimmy Garoppolo. He used his 6-foot-7 frame to go up and over Chung, and then kept his balance as he corralled the ball with Chung down around his feet. When the play was over Bennett, dropped the ball by Chung while Chung was on the ground. 

Later in the practice, Rob Gronkowski caught a touchdown on a back-shoulder throw from Garoppolo with Jordan Richards in coverage. Gronkowski promptly threw the ball in the air in celebration, which seemed to irk Dont'a Hightower. The linebacker quickly retrieved the ball and chucked it at Gronkowski's back. 

Brady's helmet slam came on a short pass that was batted down by one of the paddles made to simulate long-armed defensive linemen. He hadn't looked very shaky leading up to that point, completing 7-of-9 passes, though one of those attempts resulted in a Duron Harmon interception. But two incompletions to finish his 7-on-7 stretch led to the helmet slam that drew an audible reaction from surprised fans in attendance. 

Brady's reps and their timing drew considerable attention yet again. In a switch from Thursday's practice, it was Brady who took the first-team reps during 11-on-11 work, while Garoppolo was the first on the field during the 7-on-7 portion of practice. Each player got 10 snaps in 7-on-7 work and seven snaps in 11-on-11 work so the workload was once again split evenly. 

In analyzing the results for both quarterbacks, Garoppolo went 9-for-10 in 7-on-7 work, while Brady went 7-for-10 with an interception during the same period. In the 11-on-11 portion of practice -- after the helmet spike -- Brady went 5-for-7. Garoppolo went 4-for-7, and Jacoby Brissett went 4-for-7 with an interception made by linebacker Kevin Snyder on a deflection from corner Darryl Roberts. 

It's not unusual for competitive moments -- and accompanying emotional outbursts -- to transpire during camp. That it's happening already with the Patriots could foreshadow weeks of such moments, which, given the talent level the team currently boasts on its roster, perhaps should be expected. 

When both sides of the football have as many accomplished players as the Patriots do, and when both sides are executing, the level of play tends to rise. With that, the competitive juices often do the same. 

"Every single day I've been here since OTAs it's been very competitive," Bennett said. "Everyone here does their jobs so well, and everyone's competing. You just gotta bring it every single day."

That may not be good news for the equipment staff that has to deal with the fallout of busted gear. But for coach Belichick, who has long called training camp the "competition camp" (as opposed to OTAs and minicamp, which is more of a "teaching camp"), it's probably music to his ears. 

Bennett, Gronkowski are students of each other's games

Bennett, Gronkowski are students of each other's games

FOXBORO – It’s nothing but bliss so far for Martellus Bennett in New England.

The humongous and irrepressible Marty B. met with the media after practice Friday. Fresh off a workout in which he picked a red-zone pass off the top of Patrick Chung’s helmet and did a little, “Lemme just leave this right here . . . ” placement of the football at Chung’s feet, and otherwise continued to stand out in all the right ways, Bennett spoke about his developing relationships with Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski.

Bennett, Gronk and Brady have been working as a unit during a few quick side sessions. It’s an annual occurrence with Brady and his leading targets. Bennett shared an interesting detail though that refers back to something Brady spoke of with Gronk in 2015:

Body language.

“I think for Rob it’s a little different than for me (working with Brady),” Bennett explained. “He’s been with Brady so long and he knows the body language. And we move differently. Even though people think we’re a lot alike, we run our routes different. Understanding the body language of how I go into my cuts and where I like the ball might be different than when he throws to Rob, so we’re just trying to build as much chemistry as possible. It’s just conversations in motion.”

Brady mentioned last year how he’s able to watch Gronk running with his back to him and still read subtle cues as to when Gronk is going to cut, slow down, accelerate, etc., and then time his throw accordingly. Brady is in the early stages of learning Bennett’s subtleties.

And Bennett is learning from watching the other two. Dripping sweat after the workout in humid, cloudy conditions, Bennett got animated talking about the process.

“I was able to play with [Jets receiver] Brandon Marshall for a long time and I learned a lot of my game from him,” said Bennett. “Now to be with another great player like Rob, he does so many things well, when you watch tape (you can’t see all of it) but when you’re right next to him, you’re like, ‘Man this guy’s really, really good. Hey Rob, how’d you do that? How’d you do this? Man, show me that. Come to the side real quick and show me how you did that move.’

“It’s just give-and-take, sometimes he asks me, ‘Hey man, you did this today, I like that. Show me that,’ " he explained. “So we’re just working trying to make each other better and I think that’s what the whole tight end room is trying to do.”

Bennett’s been pigeonholed a bit as a quirky guy with great talent but intermittent intensity. Right now, the intensity’s been flowing freely.

“I ended up on IR in like November [last season] so I really haven’t had that much football for a long time so it’s really, really good (to be on the field),” he said. “It’s like when you break up and get back with the girl that you love in the first place, so it’s been great to be back out there.”

Can Bennett, who has one year left on the deal he signed with Chicago before the Patriots traded for him, see himself sticking in Foxboro past 2016?

“Yeah,” he began before adding. “I’m not thinking about next year right now. I’m just trying to have as much fun as I can this year. Football can be taken from you at any time. I didn’t get to finish the season last year. To me it’s just a joy to be out there playing and enjoying the game and enjoying the process. I’m just worried about my todays.”