- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 3, 2017

ASHBURN — Redskins safety Su’a Cravens surprised his teammates and coaches over the weekend when he told multiple people within the organization that he was considering retirement.

“It’s shocking but it is what it is,” said D.J. Swearinger, the Redskins starting free safety who spent most offseason practices playing alongside Cravens at strong safety. “He’s got to handle what he needs to handle, whether it’s mental, whether it’s family. Whatever he’s got to do we’re here to support him but you know, that’s something tough.”

The Redskins placed Cravens, one of the youngest players in the NFL, on their Exempt/Left Squad list Sunday afternoon. The Exempt/Left Squad designation, rarely used, means Cravens has five days to rejoin the Redskins before they gain the right to place him on the season-ending Reserve/Left Squad list.

If Cravens does not return in five days, the Redskins have four weeks to decide what to do, during which time Cravens would not count against the 53-man roster. After four weeks have passed, they would have to activate, trade, release or place Cravens on the Reserve/Left Squad list.

The Exempt/Left Squad designation is rarely used. After receiving notice that he’s on the list, and its potential consequences, Cravens would have five days to rejoin the team before he’s moved to the Reserve/Left Squad list and done for the year.

Coach Jay Gruden talked with the team about Cravens’ absence following practice Sunday, saying that the 22-year-old had some things to decide and could be away from the team longer than expected, multiple players said.

The coach had been scheduled to talk with the media Sunday, but Redskins PR officials changed the schedule for Gruden to speak to Tuesday, after the next practice. Multiple requests for Gruden, Redskins President Bruce Allen or personnel director Doug Williams to be made available were denied.

Cravens met Sunday morning with coaches and executives who talked him out of retiring for now, according to a report from ESPN’s Adam Schefter. Cravens was not out on the field during the portion of Sunday’s practice open to the media.

Cravens is recovering from minor meniscus surgery but was expected to be healthy around the start of the regular season. In mid-August, just following the procedure, sources close to the 2016 second-round draft pick described Cravens as eager to get back on the field because he wanted to show Redskins fans how he could play at safety, where he feels more comfortable than in the outside linebacker spot Washington had him in last season.

Privately, some players were frustrated with Cravens, particularly the timing of his decision. All said they hoped to see him on the field this season.

“I’m here for him, I’m going to support him with whatever,” said linebacker Mason Foster. “You know, that’s one of my good friends.”

Cravens’ rookie contract included a signing bonus of $1.422 million. If he retires, the Redskins could make him pay back $1.06 million of it. Cravens would also walk away from his $651,000 base salary this season, $852,000 in 2018 and $1.05 million in 2019.

Cravens has had several injuries in his young career. Last year, as a rookie, he suffered a concussion in Week 4, and posted on social media that he was worried about permanent damage to his vision. Cravens also dealt with an upper arm injury last season.

Teammates described Cravens the same way he appears publicly: a boisterous, passionate young player. Health isn’t necessarily the sole factor leading Cravens to question his future in football, but it’s something players can relate to worrying about — even if they say those worries have to be put out of mind to play such a violent game.

“This game tests us,” said cornerback Josh Norman. “It tests your wits in every form and every facet of your body. Mentally, everything. Because if you’re not ready to come back and play and give it your all and your heart is in it, then you’re seriously going to go out there and get hurt. And I mean like, seriously, because this isn’t no child’s play game, this is a grown man’s sport. Grown men are colliding amongst each other and it can be deadly.”

In a bit of a surprise, safety Stefan McClure made the Redskins 53-man roster as a fifth safety and 11th defensive back Saturday. It’s possible that Cravens’ situation may have factored into Washington’s decision to keep him, had the possibility of Cravens not playing already been in play.

Without Cravens, the Redskins will likely turn to Deshazor Everett to start at strong safety alongside Swearinger next Sunday against the Eagles.

“I’ve got total confidence in Shaze,” Swearinger said. “Since Su’a got hurt he’s been in there making good plays, making good strides, getting better week to week, play by play, so I have full, total confidence in Shaze.”

If Cravens does retire, he’ll be one of the youngest ever to do so in the NFL, joining the likes of former 49ers linebacker Chris Borland as players to recently decide they would rather pursue other things than budding careers in football.

The Redskins would be left wondering how to replace the promising Cravens, a prototypical safety-linebacker hybrid coveted by modern defenses. The NFL would likely be left wondering who’s next.

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