Adrian Tracy says he's leaving football in his own terms, but the uncertainty created by the COVID-19 pandemic helped his decision.
The veteran CFL defensive lineman said Monday he's retiring after 10 pro seasons to help support his new wife, Kayla-Marie, a reporter for CP24 in Toronto. The six-foot-three, 248-pound Tracy played five seasons with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats (2015-19) before signing with the Montreal Alouettes as a free agent.
But Tracy, 33, never got to play in Montreal as the CFL cancelled the '20 season due to the pandemic. It has released an 18-game '21 schedule, but questions remain regarding when play will begin as the league's return-to-play protocols remain before provincial health authorities.
"There's still many question marks for me personally and I know with this new chapter I need more guarantees with regards to what it is I'm pursuing," Tracy said. "It's not only about myself now, it's about my wife, our future children and extended family and some other visions and plans I've had since becoming a professional athlete.
"I know my wife would support whatever it is I'm going to do but what I realize is I'd rather have things end on my terms as opposed to leaving it up to the powers that be. Football was amazing to me (and) the CFL played a great part. It brought me and my wife together and I don't take it for granted but given the current state . . . and direction they're going it's too uncertain for me to give them my confidence, my trust and then put my body, my mind, my time on the line."
Tracy becomes the third CFL player to retire in less than a week. Delvin Breaux, an all-star cornerback with Hamilton, hung up his cleats Wednesday before Winnipeg receiver Bryant Mitchell did so Thursday.
More are expected to follow amid reports the CFL has asked players to take a paycut if fans aren't allowed back into stadiums once games begin. However, that would be rolled back once spectators were permitted.
Still, the CFL ask comes at a time when many players have already re-signed for less.
The CFL salary cap remains at $5.35 million, but the collective bargaining agreement also has a floor of $4.75 million. After the league reportedly lost between $60-to-$80 million last year, many teams are now taking a much harder look at their spending.
The CFL is also talking with the XFL about a potential partnership.
"Unfortunately, given the circumstances for the season it's not looking like it's favourable for people in my position," Tracy said.
Tracy, of Fairfax, Va., began his career with the New York Giants (2010-13) after going in the sixth round of the '10 NFL draft out of Williams & Mary. He earned a Super Bowl ring with the club in 2012 and signed with the Arizona Cardinals in February 2014 before being released Aug. 30.
Tracy started 44-of-58 career games with Hamilton, registering 131 tackles, 21 sacks, two interceptions and five forced fumbles. He played just eight games in 2019 due to a torn tricep.
Tracy has no doubt he'd still be playing if not for the pandemic.
"I know there's a lot of things I was looking forward to being able to accomplish," he said. "But I wouldn't say regret because it (pandemic) was nothing I could control and I can't be mad for the situation.
"I know it provided many people the opportunity to connect with family, which is awesome. I know of players who had serious injuries . . . the healing they got in that space was beneficial. It also provided the opportunity to see what's outside of football. I think many guys who've taken advantage of this opportunity have made great strides and if they're still able play, it should make them better as players."
If Tracy has one regret, it's not having played in Montreal.
"I wish I could've been around those guys in that locker room and able to vibe with VA (quarterback Vernon Adams), Henoc (Canadian linebacker Henoc Muamba) and many guys I've known through my years either playing against them or being with them in Hamilton," he said. "Everything happens for a reason and I'm not going to dwell on it.
"I never think a missed opportunity is the height of what could've been. I think in the future there's always greater."
Tracy said the uncertainty surrounding the '21 season isn't making things easier for players.
"I think one of the things people appreciate is how disciplined we are, how dedicated to the craft we are, in and out of season," Tracy said. "That requires scheduling, that requires the right training and timing and with many things left in the balance.
"This will be two full off-seasons in which teams just want players to stay ready, stay ready, stay ready. Unfortunately the real world is also telling them to get ready for what can happen outside of what football provides."
He said he's disappointed in the current relationship between the CFL and its players.
The last two rounds of contact talks between the two have been contentious. Commissioner Randy Ambrosie, a former CFL offensive lineman, has repeatedly stated the importance of both sides being partners.
"That (partnership talk) is probably what's the most disheartening thing for me," Tracy said. "Everybody can have their own opinion but from what I've seen, inside and out, it doesn't seem to be transparent in that regard as far as us being partners or working towards the betterment and just the development of the league as a whole."
Tracy said his final year in Hamilton -- injury and all -- stands out as a career highlight.
"When I tore my triceps I remember thinking, 'Wow there goes my ability to contribute and put my staple into the team,,'" he said. "It actually was an opportunity to be a mentor and someone for younger guys and even some older ones who were new to the area. and just wanted a place to chill, kick back, relax.
"I opened up my house and often after practice or even on days off, I'd have four, five guys over. I learned that from (former Giants) Osi Umenyiora, Justin Tuck, Chris Canty and Rocky Bernard, guys who kind of cultivated me when I was a rookie in New York. That's probably my greatest appreciation, that I was able to come here and even in my last season still be of value and provide things to players they could take on to the field but even off it."
In fact, Tracy almost lost his Super Bowl ring while visiting Notre Dame High School in Burlington Ont., in 2019.
"I brought my Super Bowl ring because everybody loves to see it and touch it and so I had it passed around," he said. "After I finished with what I wanted to share, I was heading to the next classroom and forgot the ring and a student ran out into the hallway yelling, "Mr. Tracy, Mr. Tracy." I was like, 'Wow.'"
Now Tracy is ready to embrace life after football.
"Unfortunately COVID has put all of us into a predicament where we just have to take what we have.
"I had a feeling this might've been the writing on the wall. Sometimes you don't want to read it . . . but I'm excited about it just because of the level of faith I have now, my wife, the support system from my family that I have. I feel I can go out and do anything."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 29, 2021