Others say Borland is an outlier who does not represent the future of the league. Many have supported his decision; some have criticized it.
In the end, it’s his decision — neither right nor wrong, just a personal choice he is entitled to make. (Although, if he always planned to play just one season and did not tell the 49ers or anyone else, that clearly was a selfish move and the 49ers certainly should make him repay the rest of his signing bonus.)
But the league is not ending any time soon. There will be no rush to the doors by all of the league’s current and future players. One man’s decision — certainly not the first or last such premature retirement — won’t change the game in some major way.
But it might change how teams evaluate players.
The Seahawks are already ahead of the curve on that one. They have made a point to focus as much on the psychological profiles of players as on talent.
After last year’s draft, general manager John Schneider said the team has made mistakes in judging players’ mental makeup (John Moffitt — a busted third-round pick in 2011 — comes immediately to mind, as does Percy Harvin) and the Hawks focused on making sure they added players who would fit into Pete Carroll’s Always Compete culture.
“We went to the core of who they are as people,” he told 710 ESPN after the draft, adding that competitiveness was gauged before talent.
Receiver Paul Richardson, the Seahawks’ top pick, said he didn’t even talk to Schneider or coaches before the draft — just the team psychologist. The Hawks loved Richardson’s speed, but he was slightly built and had suffered an ACL injury at Colorado and they wanted to know about his competitiveness.
“Every single guy we have taken has overcome a huge obstacle in their life,” Schneider said. “That’s extremely important for us because you’re coming into an atmosphere where you’re going to have to push right away. And we want these guys to push right away.”
It’s hard to know whether the Hawks would have fallen for Borland, a third-round pick by the 49ers last year who said before the draft, “Football’s extremely important to me; it’s my passion. I put everything into it.”
Schneider praised Borland’s instincts, but would Seattle’s psychologist have found something — other than Borland’s small stature — that turned the Seahawks off? Maybe. Maybe not.
The Hawks ended up with their own draft mistake in Garrett Scott, who turned out to have a heart defect that ended his Seattle career (the Hawks paid him last year but waived him this month).
The draft is not a perfect science — it’s about projecting how people will behave and perform, after all. And football is not a perfect sport — it’s a violent game with a 100 percent injury rate that certainly has left some men debilitated after their careers have ended.
Borland decided he didn’t want to risk that. He’s allowed to make that choice, without being criticized.
It clearly won’t lead to some sudden exodus of players and the demise of the NFL, but it might make more teams follow the approach the Seahawks use in evaluating the mental makeup of prospects.