Laurent Duvernay-Tardif is closing the door on his football career.
The veteran offensive lineman, who is also a medical school graduate, announced his retirement Thursday after eight NFL seasons. The 32-year-old from Mont-Saint-Hilaire, Que., spent six campaigns with the Kansas City Chiefs (2014-19) before finishing up with the New York Jets (2021-22).
He was a free agent this season.
"Last year, for two months I was not sleeping, thinking about whether I was going to go back or not," he told reporters Thursday afternoon in Montreal. "I think now, because the season started and I feel good about (not playing), and I'm at peace with it, I think it's the right time to officially say that I'm not going to play football any more."
The Chiefs selected Duvernay-Tardif in the sixth round of the 2014 NFL draft out of McGill University. He was already in medical school when Kansas City came calling and initially played football during the NFL season, then spent his off-season continuing his medical studies.
Duvernay-Tardif earned his medical degree from McGill in 2018. He also helped the Chiefs win a Super Bowl title in 2020 (31-20 over San Francisco). But he opted out of the next season to volunteer at a Quebec long-term care facility during the height of the COVID-19's first wave.
On Thursday, an emotional Duvernay-Tardif described the highs and lows of his career, and his unlikely comeback to the game after the choice to take time off during the pandemic.
He said he realized early on that NFL careers are short, and he realized early on that "a lot of people were looking for people cheaper and healthier than you to replace you." He described being able to play in the NFL while completing his medical studies and starting his foundation, which focuses on offering arts and sports programs to elementary-aged children, as the thing he's most proud of.
"Being able to not just define yourself as a football player has really served me well in my career," he said.
Duvernay-Tardif was widely recognized for his decision to put his football career on hold. He was a co-recipient of the 2020 Northern Star Award (then the Lou Marsh Trophy) as Canada’s top athlete and named ESPN’s Muhammad Ali Sports Humanitarian of the Year, as well as one of Sports Illustrated’s 2020 Sportspersons of the year.
He also served on the NFL Players’ Association’s COVID-19 task force.
Duvernay-Tardif returned to Kansas City in 221 expecting to battle for a spot. But a broken hand suffered during training camp sidelined him for a month.
When Duvernay-Tardif became healthy, he was inactive as rookie Trey Smith, a 2021 sixth-round draft pick, had become the Chiefs’ starting right guard. In November, Duvernay-Tardif waived his no-trade clause, allowing Kansas City to deal him to the Jets for tight end Daniel Brown.
Duvernay-Tardif played 13 games over two seasons with New York.
On Thursday, he said he decided to wave the no-trade clause to give himself another chance to play NFL football, which he described on Thursday as the "best feeling in the world."
"That's what I'll miss the most, scoring a touchdown and screaming as loud as I can and not being able to hear myself scream," he said. "There's an energy every time you play football, you learn more about yourself, you learn to lose and to win."
Duvernay-Tardif started 57-of-60 career games with Kansas City. He made his first NFL start in 2015.
Following the 2017 campaign, Duvernay-Tardif signed a five-year, US$41.25 million extension with the Chiefs. Despite that deal, Duvernay-Tardif steadfastly maintained it was always his intention to complete his studies and become a full-time doctor.
The 32-year-old on Thursday praised his former Kansas City team, and the resilience they showed as they progressed to Super Bowl Champions. "I think collectively, as a team, we built something really special," he said.
Earlier Thursday, in an Instagram post, Duvernay-Tardif paid tribute to Chiefs head coach Andy Reid, whose mother also earned a medical degree from McGill, and who he described as "probably one of the only NFL coaches who positively viewed my desire to complete my medical school studies at McGill while playing football."
"Since the beginning, he showed his willingness to support me throughout my seven years with the organization. He believed that a player must flourish off the field to perform on the field. Being able to count on that kind of leadership was an incredible opportunity for me," he wrote.
While he might be done with football, Duvernay-Tardif still has plenty going on. He's active in his foundation and still has to complete his residency at a Montreal hospital in his pursuit to become a full-time doctor.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 21, 2023.
The Canadian Press