Long-Time Browns Leader Retires Unexpectedly From NFL

JC Tretter

Getty The Vikings never returned JC Tretter's calls, he said in a recent Sports Illustrated article.

A former Cleveland Browns lineman just retired while still at the peak of his powers, leaving some to wonder if he is being blackballed by the NFL at its highest levels.

The case of center J.C. Tretter is a curious one, to say the least. The Browns cut Tretter this offseason prior to the final year of his contract, a move that was billed as a salary cap play in that it saved the franchise more than $8 million. Tretter spent the rest of the offseason looking for a home, but was unable to secure one. Then, on August 25, he unexpectedly retired from professional football.

Tretter announced his retirement via social media on Thursday morning.

“I have decided to fulfill the second part of my letter, to stop playing when I wanted to — on my own terms,” Tretter tweeted. “I am proud of what I’ve accomplished and how far I’ve come from that night when I made the pledge to myself [to become a professional athlete]. I feel like if my 31-year-old self could talk to my 20-year-old self, I could earnestly tell him that we did it. We did everything we said we’d do and more.”

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Tretter’s Ex-Teammate Questions if Center Was Blackballed by NFL

J.C. Tretter

GettyCenter JC Tretter (left) and guard Joel Bitonio (right) of the Cleveland Browns celebrate after a touchdown during the second half of a game against the Las Vegas Raiders at FirstEnergy Stadium on December 20, 2021 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Nick Cammett/Getty Images)

Tretter’s eloquent and heartfelt sentiment is on brand with his reputation as an ironman and a leader in the Cleveland clubhouse, as well as a two-term president of the NFL Players Association — a title he still held at the time of his retirement.

However, the circumstances surrounding Tretter’s departure from professional football beg the question as to whether the center really did leave on his own terms, or if he was pushed out due to grievances shared more or less universally across the NFL’s 32 franchises.

In his role as union president, much of which came during the COVID-19 pandemic, Tretter was a fierce advocate for player safety. His stances on issues such as health protocols, which proved disruptive to the money-making engine that is the NFL, were not widely appreciated by team owners and their top lieutenants.

Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk wrote on August 14 that it is absolutely possible higher-ups around the league colluded to keep Tretter off a roster and send a message to those who would follow in his footsteps.

“Would it be crazy to think that owners are shying away from Tretter because he has become an agitator to the oligarchs? Nope,” Florio said. “That’s another reason why high-profile (and highly compensated) quarterbacks should be more involved in union leadership. They’re far less likely to be blackballed, and they’re far more likely to take command of the rank and file if/when a line must be drawn in the sand — even if it means a work stoppage.”

Tretters ex-teammate in Cleveland, Pro Bowl guard Joel Bitonio, also voiced his suspicions around Tretter’s absence from a roster.

“It seems a little suspicious to me, but again, I don’t know what’s going on behind closed doors,” Bitonio said during an August 14 press conference. “I don’t know what his conversations have been with teams and stuff, but just from an outside perspective, usually players that are close to the top of their game get picked up. Teams want to win in this league, so it’s an interesting topic, for sure.”


Tretter Accuses Minnesota Vikings of Not Returning Phone Calls

JC Tretter

Getty ImagesCenter JC Tretter (left), formerly of the Cleveland Browns, congratulates quarterback Baker Mayfield (right) after a fourth quarter touchdown pass against the Denver Broncos on December 15, 2018 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

To Bitonio’s point, while Tretter has never made a Pro Bowl or been named to an All-Pro team, he has consistently been graded as one of the top centers in the league across his eight-year career, per Pro Football Focus. PFF had Tretter ranked fifth among all centers heading into the 2022 regular season.

Beyond that, Tretter proved wildly reliable for the Browns during his five-year tenure with the team, starting 80 of 81 regular season games, per Pro Football Reference.

Tretter spent his first three seasons with the Green Bay Packers and was reportedly looking to return to the NFC North Division as a member of the Minnesota Vikings. However, Tretter said that franchise did not return phone calls made on his behalf to express interest in coming in to compete with the much-maligned Garret Bradbury. On Friday, Vikings head coach Kevin O’Connell denied that the team ever received a call from Tretter.

Tretter told Sports Illustrated Thursday that he was also interested in joining the Dallas Cowboys or teaming back up with quarterback Baker Mayfield as a member of the Carolina Panthers, though those opportunities also failed to materialize.

There was also speculation that the Browns might re-sign Tretter following a season-ending knee injury to his replacement Nick Harris. However, Cleveland brought on former Seattle Seahawks center Ethan Pocic to replace Harris this preseason, and it now appears the starting job is his to lose.

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