After nine years with Dallas Cowboys, Tyrone Crawford feels young again

Defensive lineman Tyrone Crawford started three of 16 games in 2020 and finished with 17 tackles, 2 sacks and 13 quarterback pressures. Andrew Dieb/Icon Sportswire

FRISCO, Texas -- When the 2020 NFL season ended, defensive lineman Tyrone Crawford felt like he had played his final game for the Dallas Cowboys, but he wanted to give it time to make sure he was doing the right thing to retire.

Over the years, Crawford had surgeries on both shoulders. He missed the 2013 season because of a torn Achilles. He had double-hip surgery in 2019, fixing an issue that bothered him for two seasons. Last January, he had right ankle surgery.

"I just came to the decision that it's probably best for me to hang it up," Crawford told ESPN. "I don't think I'll be able to perform the way I want to perform on the field, and that was important to me. I thought it was time. I don't want those things to mess up my future as a father."

A funny thing happens when an NFL player retires. At 31 and nine years into his career, Crawford was starting to be considered old. Now that he's retired, he is young again.

"I'm just trying to bring my body back to match with my age," he said. "Me and my wife, we are focusing on our health and bodies and minds right now. We're at the lake house with our daughters, spending life together. I'll get back to the grind, which I know will be soon, but I'm just trying to enjoy this and get my body back to 31 years old because those [Rod] Marinelli years, those are like dog years."

Crawford, the Cowboys' third-round pick out of Boise State in 2012, had wanted to keep his retirement quiet until he could contact those who had helped him along the way, but Cowboys coach Mike McCarthy broke the news last week. One of the first calls Crawford made was to Marinelli, his defensive line coach for all but two of his seasons.

Crawford tore his Achilles in 2013, Marinelli's first year with Dallas. Upon Crawford's return in 2014, he quickly earned Marinelli's respect, and the coach played a large part in the Cowboys' decision to sign Crawford to a five-year, $45 million deal in September 2015.

"He said it from the beginning, he coaches the man first and then the player," Crawford said. "That made me respect him almost immediately, and I wanted to run through a wall for him. I noticed how much he wanted to make everybody better and didn't treat anybody better than the next man. He was hard on all of us, a complete a--hole to all of us, but we knew he was an a--hole out of love.

"That guy from the beginning he, I guess, took me to a place I didn't think maybe I could go, and I went there. He helped me take off in the NFL as a kid who thought I'd be a CFL player to a guy that started in the NFL and was a captain for the Dallas Cowboys."

Like all of the Cowboys who have moved on recently, Crawford's biggest regret is not winning a Super Bowl: "It's something we chase our entire career."

Crawford keeps recalling moments from the relationships he had with teammates, coaches, scouts, equipment managers, athletic trainers and even the kitchen staff.

"Coach [Jason] Garrett wanted us to experience so much as a leadership group and as a team. Going to New York early and getting to see the 9/11 museum and everything they've done to rebuild the tower and the memorials there. Spending extra time in Washington, going to the museums, learning the history of the country and the African American history in our country. Sending us off to Coronado [California] to work with the Navy SEALs and learning the gems they shared with us. The guys I got to spend so many years in the locker room with -- DeMarcus Lawrence, Sean Lee, Tyron Smith, Zack Martin, Jason Witten. All those guys I got to learn from."

On the field, Crawford never had more than 5.5 sacks in a season, but he was partly a victim of his own versatility. If the Cowboys needed a right end, he played there. If they needed a defensive tackle, he played there. He was not allowed to focus on one spot, which affected his production, but he never complained.

Crawford became a respected voice in the Cowboys' locker room. He worked hard and worked hurt. He could voice his opinion and teammates would listen.

"Tyrone Crawford is a sterling example of the kind of player we were looking for when we were building our program," Garrett told ESPN. "Tyrone is absolutely the right kind of guy. He loved football and showed it every day. His passion for the game and his willingness to do whatever he needed to do to be his best and to help our team be its best was truly inspirational.

"... His preparation, his work ethic, his mental and physical toughness, his relentlessness, his competitiveness, his willingness to embrace any role, his leadership, how he practiced, how he played, how he handled success and adversity provided the standard that we were striving to instill in all of our players. Tyrone Crawford is the reason guys like me get into coaching."

Crawford knows it will be strange not getting ready for a season, and he'll miss the football patterns, knowing what he would be doing each minute every day. But he's looking forward to doing more things with his family while also working in the community. He says he's leaning toward real estate ventures and would like to sit down with the Cowboys' Jerry and Stephen Jones to discuss a business they're very familiar with.

"I wanted to go out on my terms, and I wanted to go out healthy," Crawford said. "To be able to do that, it's a huge blessing I thank God for every day. Just having the opportunity to go out the way I am going out, playing for as long as I did for the Cowboys organization, I can't be more grateful."