Jacksonville Jaguars defensive lineman Rodney Gunter is stepping away from football because of an enlarged aorta.
Gunter, who had been placed on the team’s non-football injury list at the start of training camp, dropped the news in a statement Sunday.
“These last three weeks have been a hard pill to swallow,” he said. “Seeing my dreams vanish right in front of me has been extremely difficult. After seeing several heart specialists I was told if I continue to play ball with my condition, I could possibly rupture or tear my aorta which is enlarged. This can cause sudden death or a severe stroke.
“There is a 50/50 chance that surgery will fix my current health condition. But at the moment, I do not meet the criteria to undergo the operation.”
Gunter said his aorta measures 5 centimeters, half a centimeter shy of meeting the criteria for surgery.
“At this time, I cannot play or have the surgery, so I must wait. So at this moment, the best choice for me and my family is to walk away from this game.”
Gunter signed a three-year, $18 million contract with Jacksonville in free agency in March, giving the team a potential replacement for give-time Pro Bowler Calais Campbell.
The 6-foot-5, 305-pound Gunter totaled 126 tackles, 11 sacks and two forced fumbles in five years with Arizona. He played in 13 games last season, all starts, and finished with 31 tackles and three sacks. He played on a one-year deal worth $1.75 million in 2019.
He was part of Jacksonville’s major rebuild on defense. General manager Dave Caldwell cleaned house by trading Campbell (Baltimore) and cornerback A.J. Bouye (Denver) and opting not to pick up an option on defensive tackle Marcell Dareus, allowing him to hit the open market. Those moves created $51.125 million in salary cap space in 2020.
Jacksonville has been down seven guys along its defensive front, with five of them likely out for the season. Veterans Al Woods and Lerentee McCray opted out because of the coronavirus pandemic. Second-year pro Dontavius Russell (hip) and fellow defensive tackle Brian Price (knee) were hurt in the opening days of camp and placed on injured reserve.
Gunter’s situation is the latest setback.
Rookie pass-rusher K’Lavon Chaisson, the 20th overall pick in April’s draft, is sidelined with a strained hamstring. And defensive end Yannick Ngakoue, the only franchise-designated player in the league who chose not to sign his one-year tender this summer, has yet to report.
“I’m not going to say it’s not a concern, right?” coach Doug Marrone said earlier this week. “That would be ridiculous. It would be a lack of awareness. Yes, it’s a concern.”
Veteran run-stopper Timmy Jernigan visited Jacksonville on Wednesday and is undergoing COVID-19 testing before he can take a physical and potentially sign. Jernigan played in just 13 games over the past two seasons because of neck and foot injuries. He reportedly reached agreement on a one-year, $3.25 million deal with Houston in April, but he didn’t end up signing with the Texans.
If he lands with the Jaguars, he would be the fourth defensive lineman to do so in the past week — joining Carl Davis, Josh Mauro and Caraun Reid.
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