He was leaving $5 million on the table, and the game wasn’t even over yet. But for cornerback Vontae Davis, none of that mattered. He was done.
Davis, 30, sent shockwaves through the NFL — and his own locker room — when he abruptly ended his career on September 16, retiring at halftime of the Buffalo Bills’ game against the Los Angeles Chargers.
“Never have seen it ever — Pop Warner, high school, college, pros — never heard of it, never seen it,” Bills linebacker Lorenzo Alexander said after the game. “It’s just completely disrespectful to his teammates.”
In an interview on camera with CNN’s Brooke Baldwin, Davis responded to Alexander’s comments.
“I come from very humble beginnings,” Davis said. “My mother was addicted to drugs, my father an alcoholic. I grew up in some very traumatic situations. I witnessed my father being shot multiple times by his brother. And when you come out of situations like that, you’re just not considered a quitter.
“I don’t think I quit. I think I feel that, as I walk away from a game that no longer serves me mentally, physically, and emotionally. That’s what I would tell people who say I quit. Most people don’t know who I am as a person or what I’ve been through to achieve the success I have.”
Davis’ older brother, Washington tight end Vernon Davis, took to Instagram a couple of days later after the news, writing, “It’s hard to see him retire, as I thought he would be in this league longer than me. I feel like I retired because we’re so close and I look at him as he’s my son even though he’s my younger brother.”
‘I no longer belong on a football field’
Davis described the exact point of when he decided to hang it up.
“I had more of an out-of-body, spiritual moment, and my intuition was telling me that football was no longer for me,” Davis said.
“It was very emotional, and I was very vulnerable in that situation to deal with — with playing the game for so long. It was very emotional for me. I had to come to the conclusion that football was no longer for me, and that was really hard to deal with at the moment.”
Before signing a one-year deal with the Bills for this season, Davis, a two-time Pro Bowler who was a first-round pick in 2009, had played for the Miami Dolphins and Indianapolis Colts.
But in the midst of Buffalo’s game against the Chargers in Week 2, Davis, in his 10th NFL season, said he no longer felt like he belonged in that environment anymore.
“In that moment, the warrior mentality that I had popped,” Davis explained. “I came to the conclusion that I no longer belong on a football field.”
When he made his decision, Davis texted his wife, saying simply he was done.
“She’s been around me her whole life,” Davis said. “It was also emotional for her. This was a situation I’ve never been in, and my intuition moved me in that way.
“That’s the decision I agreed upon with myself and I didn’t really expect nobody to understand, and it was a decision I personally made with myself.”
Davis said he had some of his teammates at his house afterward, explaining his decision to them. He said those who were there supported him.
‘It was never about the money’
Part of the choice to retire was physical, as Davis cited the issue of players dealing with the potential of brain injuries, including chronic traumatic encephalopathy (commonly known as CTE).
“All of that stuff goes into consideration,” Davis said. “I no longer wanted to sacrifice my body where it didn’t benefit me moving forward.”
Davis said he’s “pretty sure” he’ll miss the game, but he has future plans, including opening a wellness center in Miami. He’s working on a children’s book, which is about how he overcame obstacles while growing up. He and his wife also plan on starting a family.
As to putting his body ahead of his $5 million salary?
“It was never about the money,” he said. “I made a decision that was concerning my health moving forward after the game of football. In today’s society, I think a lot of people go to work every day to collect a check.
“I’m not that type of person. I did what was best for me and my health moving forward.”