Guard Chris Kuper, a player Denver Broncos coach John Fox consistently called "as tough a guy as you'll ever meet," told team officials Monday morning he intends to retire from the NFL after eight seasons.
A gruesome ankle injury in the last game of the 2011 regular season and the infection that followed last year were too much for Kuper to physically overcome as he now enters his post-playing life. A former team captain and one of the most universally-respected players in the locker room, Kuper played in just 11 games over the last two seasons combined.
Kuper battled for two years to try to return to form when he was routinely the most consistent of the team's linemen, headed for what looked to be a long, award-filled career. But Kuper then suffered an ankle dislocation against the Kansas City Chiefs in the final game of the 2011 season.
The resulting surgery, which included several plates and screws, limited him to just seven games in 2012. Kuper then had a serious infection in the joint, the after-effects of an additional surgery, following the 2012 season and that hurt his ability to prepare for the 2013 season.
Kuper's activity level was curtailed by doctors during last spring's offseason program. He took daily treatments throughout the season with the team's training staff and could often be seen limping in the days following games.
He played in four games this past season with one start, against Indianapolis.
"I'd like to thank Mr. (Pat) Bowlen, John Elway, coach Fox and the coaching staff for giving me the opportunity to play for the Broncos," Kuper said in a statement Monday. "I'm also appreciative of Mike Shanahan for drafting me and bringing me into this organization back in 2006."
Kuper also thanked his wife, Cynthia, whom he has known since the two attended high school together in Anchorage, Alaska, as well as his parents and teammates.
"This felt like the right time for me to leave this game on my terms," Kuper said. "I'm going to miss hanging out in the locker room, and the offensive line meeting room, in particular. We shared a lot of laughs. I was fortunate to grow up in the game around a good group of veterans, especially Tom Nalen and Ben Hamilton, and became great friends with so many of the guys. I sincerely appreciate all of the support from Broncos fans over the years, and I am excited for new opportunities in the future."
The 31-year-old Kuper took a significant pay cut last season to return to the team. His $4.5 million salary was reduced to just over $1 million and was set to count $5.915 million against the salary cap for the upcoming season.
The three-time captain started 73 of 78 games between 2007 and his injury in the 2011 season. He was voted as the team's Ed Block Courage Award winner last season. Elway called Kuper "a great Bronco" on Monday.
Kuper was a fifth-round pick in the Broncos' 2006 draft class, likely the best in Mike Shanahan's time as the team's coach and then general manager Ted Sundquist. Jay Cutler, Brandon Marshall and Elvis Dumervil were also among the team's draft picks that year.