Sidelined for this season by a back injury, St. Louis Rams offensive tackle Kyle Turley is considering his options for the future, and among the alternatives is the very real possibility he will retire while still in his 20's.
After weeks of seeking opinions from several back specialists, the 28-year-old Turley has been apprised that he likely will require a second operation to return to the field. Friends and confidants have said he is discouraged by the prognosis.
Turley underwent March surgery by a Los Angeles specialist to repair a herniated disc. But he herniated the same disc, either early in training camp or just before it, and he also has a bulging disc just above the original injury. The Rams placed Turley on injured reserve last Saturday, thus ending his 2004 season.
A six-year veteran, Turley is uncertain about the second surgery and, even if he goes forward with the operation, it is likely he could not return to the field again until midway through the 2005 season. Sources close to Turley said Friday that he is not yet mentally prepared for the rigors of such a lengthy rehabilitation.
They also noted that there are no guarantees the operation would permanently correct his chronic back problems. At this point, Turley is still exploring various methods of relief, largely non-surgical options, just so he can have some degree of comfort.
"There's the quality of life after football," Turley said earlier this week. "I want to be able to pick up my kids when I'm 40 years old and carry them around."
After experiencing recurring back pain less than a week into camp, Turley rested for several days and was somewhat optimistic that epidural injections might permit him to make it through the season. The back problem, however, was more serious than he and Rams officials anticipated.
It will be interesting to see, should Turley opt for retirement, whether the Rams try to recover a prorated share of the $10 million-plus signing bonus they awarded him after acquiring the former San Diego State star from New Orleans in a March 2003 trade. St. Louis sent the Saints a second-round draft choice in the deal. On injured reserve, Turley will still count $2.36 million against the St. Louis salary cap for this season.
The loss of the strongside tackle is a devastating blow, given that the sometimes-controversial blocker was supposed to afford the Rams, along with Orlando Pace, one of the NFL's premier tackle tandems. Pace, who is designated a franchise player, has missed all of training camp and the preseason and has yet to report to the team.
A first-round pick in the 1998 draft, Turley had missed only one game in six seasons, starting in all 95 of his regular-season appearances through last year. Until the herniated disc, he had been a model of durability.
Len Pasquarelli is a senior writer for ESPN.com.