Following yet another injury-related setback, this time while training away from Winter Park this summer, longtime Vikings offensive tackle Phil Loadholt informed the franchise Monday that he was officially retiring from the NFL.
“I just figured that my body was telling me that it was time for me to go ahead and transition out of the game,” Loadholt said Monday on a conference call.
The towering lineman, selected by the Vikings in the second round of the 2009 NFL draft, had been a punishing run blocker and one of the NFL’s finest right tackles before a string of injuries brought his career to a halt.
Loadholt, who missed only two total games in his first five NFL seasons, was placed on injured reserve in each of the previous two seasons. He played in only 11 of the team’s 32 regular-season games over that span. In 2014, a torn pectoral ended his season in late November. In 2015, he tore his left Achilles’ tendon during the preseason and was lost for the entire season.
Loadholt was back on the field for spring workouts and often lined up as the first-team right tackle during practices open to the media. But after experiencing “a little recent setback” with his leg sometime in the past few weeks, the 6-8, 345-pound tackle decided it was time to call it quits.
“It is very frustrating. When I was healthy, I felt like I played at a very high level,” Loadholt said. “I thought the sky was the limit [for my career]. But injuries you just can’t control. This is going to be the first fall in about 23 years that I’m not getting ready for a season. It’s going to be rough. And it’s been rough the past couple years. But I’m at peace with my decision.”
After discussing retirement with friends and family, the 30-year-old told the Vikings in “the last week or so” that it was a consideration. He officially informed team officials of his decision Monday morning at Winter Park. In the afternoon, the Vikings officially placed him on the reserve/retired list.
“Phil was one of our core guys, a cornerstone for this team, and embodied the principles that we have been building here. He did things the right way, spent his whole career with us and proudly represented the Vikings,” General Manager Rick Spielman said in a statement.
Loadholt, who took a $4 million pay cut in March to remain on the team, was slated to battle with free-agent addition Andre Smith at right tackle.
Now it appears Smith will start at that spot, barring a surprise challenge from T.J. Clemmings, last year’s starter, or fellow tackle Carter Bykowski. The Vikings also could consider moving Mike Harris back to tackle if Smith does not meet their expectations in training camp and the preseason.
As a rookie in 2009, Loadholt protected quarterback Brett Favre during the team’s run to the NFC Championship Game. And in 2012, he helped pave the way for running back Adrian Peterson to rush for a franchise-record 2,097 yards. He would throw his final block for Peterson a couple of years later.
“I’ll miss hearing the crowd roar when Adrian breaks an 80-yard run. There’s nothing like that,” Loadholt said, later adding, “When you flatten someone and just see them looking at Adrian’s feet going down [the field], that’s always the best memories right there.”
Loadholt was a respected voice in the Vikings locker room and has been a strong representative of the organization in the Twin Cities community.
“When you think of the Vikings, you think of players like Phil Loadholt,” owner Mark Wilf said in a statement. “He carried himself as a professional and gave his all for his teammates. Phil will be a Viking for life. He was a great player and a better person.”
Instead of gearing up for another season in Mankato, Loadholt is transitioning into retirement. He wants to remain involved in the game somehow. But he is focused on his family first.
“I might take the kids down to Mankato and take them to Jake’s Pizza. That might be the first thing I do,” Loadholt said with a chuckle. “Right now, I’m just going to spend time with my family and just think about my next step.”