Browns linebacker Scott Fujita is contemplating retirement as he deals with disk and nerve issues in his neck.
Fujita said he had a foraminotomy, a surgery used to take pressure off spinal nerves, 13 years ago while he played at the University of California and always believed similar problems would likely resurface at some point. Fujita, 33, had several neck stingers Oct. 7 when the Browns played the New York Giants, and he hasn’t played since. The Browns will place him on injured reserve.
“It had been building up a little bit,” Fujita said this afternoon. “I had a number of stingers in that game. Those issues didn’t subside over the next few days. Otherwise I would probably have said, ‘Let’s forget about it. I’ll be just fine.’ They didn’t subside, and that’s why we had to take the next step.”
The next step was an MRI, which Fujita said revealed “a combination of some disk issues, some stenosis, lot of things I’d dealt with in the past and had to handle surgically.”
Fujita said it’s too early to know whether he’ll retire, but he sounded as if he’s leaning toward it. He’ll discuss the decision with his wife, Jaclyn, with whom he has three young daughters.
“I'm still digesting the news of being put on IR and the injury and everything else, so it's a little too early to rush into a decision like that,” Fujita said. “I need time. I need to breathe a little bit, get back with my family and keep all options open with my doctors.
“When I had the neck surgery in college, I assumed there were going to be problems in my future anyway. It’s just the reality of what we do. So I’d like to not make those problems any worse. So I got to be very careful and very smart about it, which I will be.”
Either way, Fujita’s season of turmoil is done. He spent most of this year fighting the NFL’s accusation that he contributed money to a pay-to-injure pool while playing for the New Orleans Saints. Fujita denied his involvement all along, and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell reduced his three-game suspension to one game.
“Honestly, that couldn’t be further from my mind right now,” Fujita said of the bounty scandal. “I feel like I fought that fight the best I can. I felt like I came out the good side of it. [The league] admitted publicly I had nothing to do with any of that. I feel good about that and where it’s at. Now it’s just a matter of whether I want to fight this silly re-determination that I didn’t stand up to my coach. At this point, I don’t give it that much thought. I put all my cards on the table, and I feel good about the way I fought that.”
On Wednesday, linebacker D’Qwell Jackson and kicker Phil Dawson introduced Fujita to the team as an honorary captain for the Browns’ home game Sunday against the San Diego Chargers.
“I got a little emotional ‘cause that’s when it really hit me,” Fujita said. “This is the end of the season for me.”
And it could be the end of his 11-year NFL career.
“You think about the end and because of that I think you appreciate your moments at work, which is good,” said Fujita, who signed with the Browns in 2010. “I think it’s better to walk away, if this is the end for me, missing it and being sad about it than pissed off and angry and all that. I feel great about the relationships. I feel great about the collective body of work for me here and other places. I’m just sad right now.”
Fujita, a member of the NFL Players Association’s executive committee, has a reputation for being one the league’s most intelligent and well-informed players. In other words, he’ll have options in life after football.
“If this is the end for me, then I'll have plenty of options,” he said. “I've got a master's degree in education, and I've always had the itch to go back and teach. I'd probably look forward to that in a couple of years. I have some things back home that I could jump right into as well. So I don't know, but I'll have options.”