NASHVILLE, Tenn. — It was time.
Tight end Craig Stevens, who played in 109 games for the Titans over the past eight seasons, knew it. And it's why he decided to retire from the NFL to begin the next chapter in his life.
"It's not something I just woke up and decided to do,'' Stevens said on Wednesday morning. "I was having a hard time in OTAs and training camp. It's something I have been fighting in my mind, so I figured it would be better off if I just left.
"I was just struggling a little bit, mentally and physically. In the game (on Saturday vs Carolina), I just felt disconnected. I think mentally I wasn't totally into it. I think I was still playing at a good level, but it is hard. It is like getting in a fist fight every single day. I'd be lying if I said I didn't have concerns about concussions and stuff. But overall, it just wears on you. So I just felt like it was time."
A third-round pick by the Titans in the 2008 NFL Draft, Stevens was on his way to Saint Thomas Sports Park on Wednesday to sign his official papers.
Stevens spent all eight of his NFL seasons with the Titans.
"The hard part is leaving my teammates and my coaches, and I know this year is going to be a great season,'' Stevens said. "I feel like we have all the answers – we have a quarterback, a running back, the offensive line – all of the positions. I think it's going to be a great year for the Titans. I just didn't think it's fair for me to keep on going with the way I was feeling.
"But as I walk away I feel very fortunate. Everyone has been calling me and been so nice, like it's a somber moment or something. I just feel so lucky, and I feel so blessed. It means so much that people have said such great things about me. I had a lot of fun.
"And I got to play with a lot of great players,'' Stevens continued. "I'm going to miss all the guys in the locker room, and the coaches and the staff, the trainers. I'm going to miss the equipment guys, Joey (Barranco) and Matt (Thompson). Tennessee was real special."
Stevens played in all 16 games in 2015, with 11 starts, and he recorded 12 catches for 121 yards and two touchdowns. Stevens recorded 60 receptions for 724 yards and six touchdowns in his career.
Stevens was voted by his teammates as the recipient of the Ed Block Courage Award for his comeback from a leg injury in the 2014 season that limited him to five games.
After signing a one-year deal with the team in the offseason, Stevens said he planned to go as hard as he could until he couldn't do it any longer.
Titans coach Mike Mularkey called Stevens "a consummate pro." Last week, Mularkey named Stevens as one of the team's top performers this offseason.
"Coach Mularkey has been such an awesome coach, and he's such a good person,'' Stevens said. "He was such a good tight ends coach, and he's a good head coach. I have so much respect for him. He's the best. I was really lucky I had him as a coach. The hardest thing is I feel I let him down, and my teammates. I just couldn't do it any longer. I was just worn out."
So what's next for Stevens, who turns 32 on September 1?
He plans to spend a lot of time with his wife Kathryn, and two kids – son, Chase, and daughter, Reese.
"I have some hobbies, fly-fishing and woodworking and stuff,'' Stevens said. "But I have two young kids who need a lot of attention. I look at my kids and I am excited to spend time with them.
"The past few days I have had peace of mind. I know it is going to be tough adapting to life after football, but I am looking forward to moving on. And I am going to be in Tennessee. We live in Franklin. So we're Titans for life."
Titans Online looks back at the career of Titans tight end Craig Stevens. (Photos: Donn Jones, AP)