When James Develin suffered a few collisions while playing against the Miami Dolphins early last season, he briefly left the field to get evaluated, and then went back in. The hits were a part of his tough job as a fullback, but this time, he could not shake the pain he was feeling.
In an interview with The Athletic’s Jeff Howe, the former Patriots fullback went into detail about the “unforeseen complications” that led him to announce his retirement on Monday. Doctors discovered that Develin had a “muscle and disc issue within his neck and upper back,” as well as an “underlying” spine issue. It was risky for him to continue playing, and another hit could have given him paralysis.
After hearing the diagnosis, Develin said he knew he could not maintain his health while competing with the level of physicality he is known for. Teammate James White once called him the “protector” for the running backs on the field.
“Fortunately and unfortunately at my position, contact is the name of the game,” Develin told Howe about the fullback position. “So it’s not like I can tippy-toe around and try not to use my head…It was just one of those things, I wouldn’t be able to approach the game the same way and play with a relentless abandon that I had grown to play with.”
He said making the decision to retire from the NFL was actually “easy” given the toll football had taken on his body. In 2015, he missed the entire season after breaking his tibia in a preseason game against the Panthers, and last season, he was placed on injured reserve for the neck injury he sustained against the Dolphins.
The hard part was coming to terms with his football career being over. After nine years in the league, eight of which were spent in New England, he knew he’d have to accept it.
“Nobody ever wants to hear you probably shouldn’t play football anymore … It was like pulling teeth trying to get myself to accept the fact that this was how it was going to be,” he said.
The seriousness of the COVID-19 pandemic has also put it into perspective that his health, and being with his family, is what is most important right now.
“It has kind of come full circle and it’s definitely shined a light even brighter than I knew months ago that I had to do this for my family,” Develin said in a conference call on Wednesday. “It definitely just drives the point home even more that I’m making the right decision.”
As for his next chapter, Develin said he wants to “give back” to the game of football. He said if a position with the Patriots — who selected him to their 2010 All-Decade team — was offered to him, he’d consider it.
“I’m considering any kind of possibility that kind of comes my way,” he added. “It would be an honor to be able to continue to provide support for the team, albeit in a different way. But, I have an innate sense in me that I have to kind of give back to this game that gave me so much. Any kind of capacity that I can do that in is something I’d be interested in doing.”
He expressed those same sentiments on WEEI’s Dale and Keefe show on Friday.
“If I could continue to work up there at One Patriot Place, that would be awesome.”