BY ERIC D. WILLIAMS
He simply changed the way the position of offensive tackle is played, and will go down in football history as perhaps the best ever to play the position.
Seattle Seahawks offensive tackle Walter Jones called it a career after 13 impressive years in the league, making an announcement through the team on Thursday.
Jones is expected to talk to reporters on Friday, the first day of Seattle’s three day, post-draft minicamp.
In Jones’ honor, the Seahawks announced they immediately will retire his No. 71 jersey. And Governor Christine Gregoire has declared Friday Walter Jones Day.
Jones, 36, was named to nine Pro Bowls, most in team history, earned All-Pro honors six times and was named to the league’s all-decade team for the 2000s.
But beyond all of the accolades, Jones will be remembered for the quiet way he went about his business on the field, consistently dominating his opponent and letting his play do the talking.
“He’s played a long time and I think he’s really been a warrior the last, couple years, because he’s played on some bad wheels and a bad shoulder, those kind of things,” said former Seattle Seahawks head coach Mike Holmgren, now head of football operations for the Cleveland Browns. “He’s played a lot of football.”
At one point toward the end of his final season coaching in Seattle, Holmgren said Jones was the best offensive player he coached – a list that includes Joe Montana, Jerry Rice and Brett Favre.
“I did,” Holmgren said at this year’s NFL Scouting Combine in February. “And then I got so much flack on that from the quarterbacks, they all started phoning me saying, ‘What are you doing?’ He’s one of the best offensive players I’ve ever coached, absolutely. And he’s the best tackle.
“It’s the feeling that you have when you have a left tackle that can play like he does, and you don’t have to monkey with your protections that much that way,” Holmgren went on. “You just can say, ‘Okay, you’ve got that guy and we’ll help in other areas.’ Very few teams can say that.”
Jones managed to avoid injuries early in his career, never missing a game due to injury after missing four games during his rookie season in 1997 to the 2008 season. Jones started 180 games for Seattle, second in franchise history to Steve Largent (197).
However, late in the 2008 season Seattle placed Jones on the injured reserve because in November 2008 because of a knee issue that ended up requiring microfracture surgery on his left knee in December.
Jones promised to return to the field during the offseason, but after failed attempts to get back on the field during training camp he had another surgery on the same knee in August to remove some loose bodies and a little scar tissue from part of the original, microfracture surgery.
Jones never regained the stability in his knee needed to play at the high level during his time in the league.
Further limiting Jones’ ability to recover from the injury is the fact that a kidney condition prevented him from taking anti-inflammatory medication.
Defensive end Bryce Fisher was former teammate of Jones who also played against him during the early portion of his career while in St. Louis.
“It was awful,” Fisher said about playing against Jones. “I played against him my first four years in the league, and I think I beat him one time in a passing situation, maybe two or three if my mother was doing the grading.
“He was virtually impossible to beat.”
Fisher talked about Jones’ unique combination of his physically imposing presence combined with the quick feet and agility of a receiver.
“Walter was probably a better athlete than everybody on the field other than the defensive backs,” Fisher said.
Jones’ affect on the team also can be measured in Seattle’s offensive production without him. Seattle finished 7-13 in the last 20 games Jones has not has been on the field. More important, quarterback Matt Hasselbeck missed six of those 20 games, has been sacked 32 times with Jones not at left tackle and finished with a pedestrian 75.1 passer rating in that span.
“You’ve got to think about it: He stabilized arguably the second-most important position on the field for a better part of a decade,” Fisher said.