JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Paul Posluszny didn’t want to be a player who hung around a year or two longer than he should have.
Doing that would have cheated the game he’s loved since childhood. Outside of an injury, that’s the worst thing Posluszny could have imagined happening to him on the field, and it’s why the Jacksonville Jaguars linebacker eventually decided to make the 2017 season his last after 11 years in the NFL.
The painful decision turned into an emotional goodbye on Monday afternoon in a news conference at EverBank Field.
“I don't want to do this. I don't want to retire right now,” Posluszny said. “I want to keep playing. But what was more important for me was I didn't want to go back on the field and be a step too slow or miss a play. If I'm out on the field with Telvin [Smith] and Myles [Jack] and they expect me to do something and I miss that play because I held on a year too long, I don't know how I’d look at them. That was unacceptable to me.
“I know that's right around the corner, and once it hits, it hits. You don't stop it. Avoiding that was the most important thing. It's my time. I love the game too much, and I respect it too much to not be able to physically do everything that I've done in years past. And if that's a year too early maybe I'm going to regret it, but I'd rather be a year too early than one play too late."
Posluszny’s final game turned out to be the Jaguars’ 24-20 loss to New England in the AFC Championship Game, which marked not only his first playoff appearance but was also in the first year he'd played on a team that finished with a winning record. He had six tackles in that game and finished his career with 1,381 tackles, 15 interceptions and 16 sacks. His 973 tackles in seven seasons with the Jaguars (after four with Buffalo) are second in franchise history.
But Posluszny’s impact on the franchise goes far beyond his stats. Coach Doug Marrone and executive vice president Tom Coughlin have called Posluszny the ultimate professional because of his dedication, his work ethic and his manner in the locker room and off the field. Marrone has said Posluszny is a shining example for all young players entering the league, which linebacker Telvin Smith quickly found out as a rookie in 2014.
The two had lockers next to each other from 2014 to 2016 and became close over the past four seasons. Posluszny chose Smith to introduce him at his retirement news conference on Monday, and it was an emotional moment for them, with each unsuccessfully fighting back tears during Smith’s six-minute introduction.
“Forever and ever and ever his legacy will live on through what he’s done here,” Smith said. “I love him. I appreciate him. … But just know, I never met a better man than you. I’ve never had a better teammate than you. I don’t think I’ve ever been able to say someone loved me who I didn’t do something for than you and I promise you -- I promise you, I promise you -- I won’t let you down.
“And I feel like that last game we let you down so I dedicate this next season to you and I promise you we’re going to head down and give everything I got because of you and the legacy you left.”
Several of Posluszny’s former teammates gathered in the back of the news conference -- notably Jack, quarterback Blake Bortles and defensive end Calais Campbell -- as well as the coaching staff and members of the medical, equipment and support staff. Many came up and hugged him after the news conference, which began with a three-minute highlight video.
Posluszny said he’s trying to figure out what he wants to do next -- he’s considering graduate school to study something in the aerospace field or an MBA -- and said he’s sure he’s going to struggle to find something to replace the camaraderie of the locker room, which he said he’ll miss the most.
“The great fear of mine is I don't know where to find that in the rest of society,” Posluszny said. “Or what occupation -- I'm sure they're out there -- where you can be in that type of environment where it doesn't matter where you're from and you can work with Telvin Smith every day or you can work with Myles Jack every day and be in a room together and learn together and grow together and be grown men who our job is to hit other people as hard as we possibly can and say, 'I love you. I love you.'
“To me, that's priceless. That's the best part of the NFL: Your teammates and the environment that you create in that locker room where you know that I may play defense and Cam [Robinson] plays offense, but I'm going to do everything that I can, I'm going to play as hard as I can so that he has success so that we win as a group. To me, that's priceless. That's the most important thing, and I know that's what I'm going to miss the most, hands down.”