SAN FRANCISCO, March 17 (UPI) -- A promising linebacker for the San Francisco 49ers, who recorded more than 100 tackles and intercepted two passes during his rookie campaign last season, will not dazzle fans with a followup.
Chris Borland announced Monday that he has decided to retire from professional football out of concern for his long-term health, specifically the potential for head trauma. The 24-year-old defensive standout was drafted in the third round of the 2014 NFL Draft and signed last May.
In an interview with ESPN, Borland surprised millions of football fans by announcing his retirement from the game.
"I just honestly want to do what's best for my health," Borland told Outside the Lines. "From what I've researched and what I've experienced, I don't think it's worth the risk.
"I'm concerned that if you wait until you have symptoms, it's too late... There are a lot of unknowns. I can't claim that [anything] will happen. I just want to live a long, healthy life. And I don't want to have any neurological diseases or die younger than I would otherwise."
Borland's abrupt retirement stunned millions of fans, sports media and the San Francisco 49ers organization, which officially announced Borland's departure following his announcement to ESPN.
"While unexpected, we certainly respect Chris' decision," 49ers general manager Trent Baalke said in the news release. "Chris is a determined young man that overcame long odds in his journey to the NFL and we are confident he will use the same approach to become very successful in his future endeavors. We will always consider him a 49er."
In giving up the game, Borland surrenders a tremendous amount of money that would have been owed him for the next three seasons. Last year, he earned $420,000 for his rookie season and was set to make $530,000 this season. He then would have received $1.3 million for the final two years of his rookie contract, not including the signing bonus and other incentives.
The linebacker's departure, though a personal health decision on Borland's part, is the latest in a series of devastating personnel losses the 49ers have endured since the season ended. Five free agents, including starting running back Frank Gore, have already left the team this offseason and head coach Jim Harbaugh left for the University of Michigan after a reported fallout with the 49ers administration.
Further, Borland's retirement leaves the team precariously thin at the linebacker position. Last week, star backer Patrick Willis declared his retirement -- which also came as somewhat of a surprise. Willis, too, walked away from the game due to physical concerns -- particularly his feet -- following a shortened 2014 season that saw him in only six games due to a toe injury.
Willis spent eight seasons in the league and was a seven-time Pro Bowl and five-time First-Team All Pro selection.
Reaction to Borland's retirement ranged from shock to sadness to applause.
"I understand but still shocked," said 49ers corner Tramaine Brock.
"So P. Willis and Chris Borland? They know something that we don't?" tweeted Denver Broncos linebacker Brandon Marshall. "I know about the serious head issues. The [people] in the trenches have to worry about that the most."
Borland played in 14 games his rookie season and started eight -- something largely uncommon for players in their first year of professional football. He recorded 108 tackles, one sack and two interceptions. He was named Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year and Linebacker of the Year in his senior season at Wisconsin.
Though he cited concern for his neurological health, Borland never sustained a head-related injury in the NFL -- though he said he believes a concussion during training camp may have gone undiagnosed. He did, however, experience a concussion during a soccer match in junior high and a football game in high school, the Los Angeles Times reported.
Concussions and other head trauma in the NFL are presently under intense scrutiny, amid a billion dollar lawsuit filed by roughly 4,500 former players. Just last week, former receiver Sidney Rice and punter Steve Weatherford announced they would donate their brains to medical research following their deaths, with hope they will help shed light on the impact of concussions on players' long term health.