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Spagnola: Travis Knew When To Walk Away


SHELTERED IN PLACE, Texas – At first blush, my jaw dropped.

Travis Frederick is going to retire?

Then my mind raced. What's this going to do to the Cowboys salary cap?

Then, how in the world will the Cowboys replace him? Centers who go to five Pro Bowls are not easily replaced. In the infamous words of Bill Parcells, you can't just go down to the neighborhood Texaco and pick one up.

And finally, being far less concrete it was this: Bless his soul. What a brave man. A lucky Man. Frederick gets to go out on his own terms. Not many are afforded that privilege. And I'm not just talking professional athletes. All of us most likely. Heck, think about all of our amateur athletic careers. If you love it, you didn't quit easily. Usually someone cuts you.

Maybe also made me think of this, and a true tribute in the immortal words of the just-passed Kenny Rogers, these lyrics from The Gambler: "He said, 'If you're gonna play the game, boy

You gotta learn to play it right

You've got to know when to hold 'em
Know when to fold 'em
Know when to walk away …"

Of course, he was referring to card playing.

Now for Travis, there is a difference between forfeiting money with several years left on his contract, and losing money. Why, the guy in seven seasons with the Cowboys earned $39.7 million, and sure didn't seem like the type to foolishly spend his money. Not with a wife and two kids, and a degree from the University of Wisconsin in engineering mechanics with an emphasis on computer engineering.

But tell you what, 2018 became a sobering, life-changing time for Travis. He contracted the rare Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS), an autoimmune disease that makes walking extremely difficult and playing football for an entire year impossible. Think about it. When you don't even have the strength to lift your young daughter, your mortality stares you right in the eye.

Oh sure, he beat the odds, returned to play the 2019 season at a high enough, Pro Bowl level, though he admits in his lengthy retirement announcement, "I could no longer perform at my highest level."

Evidently, from what it sounds like, this decision has been weighing heavily on his mind.

"That experience forced me to reevaluate my life priorities," Travis wrote about battling the disease. "I spent much of that year thinking about both the past and future. I realized how fortunate I was to play a game for a living. I realized how fortunate I was to make friends and become teammates with some great men. Most of all, I realized the importance of my family and how much I want to be there for their peaks and valleys as they were for me."

Yep, he beat the odds. Returned in time to start 16 of 16 games for the NFL's No. 1 offense in 2019. He ended up playing 1,125 of a possible 1,130 snaps. That's warrior status.

Look, GBS certainly is enough to make you think how fragile life is. But now, how about this, this dastardly coronavirus seeping into our lives. People dying all over the world, and now recently in our world, too.

Does it not make you think of your own mortality? Like, what if?

Is this insipid disease not a procrastinator killer? Does this self-quarantine edict not have you at home doing things you've long put off? Maybe like me, finishing up my tax returns, something I hate worse than having a root canal? Or the guy when riding my bike this morning cleaning out his garage, something none of us look forward to doing but always seems long overdue?

I'm just sayin'.

Plus, if not just for the GBS he suffered or this now virus spreading, remember nothing is guaranteed in your football life, either. Not year to year, game to game or play to play.

"Football is risky," he wrote. "Each day, players go to work knowing this could be their last day playing. Facing the potential end of my career because of my illness forced me to imagine life after football. I had to prepare for my career potentially ending. Some players fear life when it no longer revolves around football; the moment one stops playing the sport to which one's identity and dreams have been tied to for 20 years.

"After months of contemplation, I not only accepted that moment, but I also, surprisingly, found myself welcoming the moment. I was ready for the next stage of my life; however, the competitor in me would not accept going out without returning to the field."

He did. Successfully. Even if he is his own worst critic.

"I made my return to the field, played well overall, and was selected to the Pro Bowl, but it was a difficult year for me," Travis explained. "Each day I faced a struggle: I could no longer perform at my highest level. Playing well is not what I expect of myself and is not what my teammates deserve. Because of this, I know my days as a football player are done. I am proud of what I have accomplished in my career, and I walk away with my head held high."

Man, you bet. Five Pro Bowls. Three All-Pro selections. Having blocked for two NFL rushing champs, DeMarco Murray in 2014 and Ezekiel Elliott in 2016, and had Zeke not been suspended those six games in 2017, would have done so for another NFL rushing champ.

And let's remember, when the Cowboys traded down in the first-round of the 2013 draft from 18 to 31, then selecting Frederick, the team was panned for not picking Florida defensive tackle Shariff Floyd. Saw a story written a year later saying there was a "disconnect" in the Cowboys draft room. The Cowboys were highly criticized for not taking the tackle who for some reason most had rated top five in the draft, yet the guy was still there at 18 and didn't go until the Vikings took him at 23.

But, of course, the Cowboys were criticized, not the other 21 teams passing on Floyd. Who knows, maybe no one else needed a "top-5" defensive tackle, though two others were selected before him.

Well, it's 2020 now. Floyd basically played three seasons and one more game in 2016 for the Vikings. In fairness, a serve knee injury causing nerve damage caused him to miss 15 games that 2016 season. But overall, Floyd started 24 of 44 games. Never sniffed a Pro Bowl

Frederick is walking away, his decision, not the Cowboys. His career will go down as one of the best for a franchise center, causing Cowboys owner Jerry Jones to say of Frederick, "And for the rest of his life, when his name is mentioned in the same sentence with the Dallas Cowboys, he will be lifting the standards of excellence and esteem that has characterized the history of our proud franchise."

Say no more.

Mick Shot: The Cowboys are planning to turn Frederick's retirement papers in after June 1 to spread out the $11.04 million dead money remaining on his contract over two years. That will lower his 2020 cap hit to $4.975 million this year once the Cowboys recoup his $7 million base salary after June 1. Then another roughly $6 million next year, the remaining portion of his restructure bonuses.