Eisenberg: Marshal Yanda Retired on Top

031020 Eisenberg Marshal Yanda Retirement
Guard Marshal Yanda runs out of the tunnel at M&T Bank Stadium

To most players and fans, the phrase "going out on top" means going out as a champion, as Ray Lewis did when he retired after the Ravens won Super Bowl 47.

But there's another definition that applies to guys who play as long and as well as Marshal Yanda has for the Ravens and develop a keen grasp of reality along the way.

To them, going out on top means leaving the game when they're healthy, as opposed to physically broken down; when they're still starting and playing well, as opposed to being relegated to the bench, more of an issue than an asset.

It means retiring by choice, on their own terms, at the peak of the profession, as opposed to being retired by an injury or the debilitating effects of age – humbling factors that determine when most players have to go.

The odds are against any player being able to orchestrate such an upbeat conclusion to his career. Pro football is a rough sport. At 35, Yanda's age now, most guys have experienced multiple injuries and a surgery or two, and more not-so-fun stuff lies ahead, inevitably prompting a slow decline.

Yanda certainly endured his share of injuries, surgeries and rehabs. But suddenly, this year, he was in position to win the war against the long, slow fade to the end. (And yes, it's very much a war.) He couldn't resist.

Sure, winning a Super Bowl in his last game also would have constituted a dream ending. Fortunately for Yanda, he already owns a Super Bowl ring, so the Ravens' playoff loss to the Tennessee Titans didn't leave him wanting.

And I have to think that, for him, it's just as satisfying to leave the game in one piece, on a high.

It must be the case because there are all sorts of reasons for him to keep playing, but they couldn't sway him.

He made his eighth Pro Bowl in 2019 and also made second-team All-Pro while helping the Ravens go 14-2 playing a physical, ground-oriented offensive style, which he absolutely loves. Bottom line, he had a ball. And there's every reason to believe his fun would have continued in 2020.

But he's retiring after 13 seasons because he was so strong and healthy and played so well in 2019.

If that sounds strange, it isn't when you think about it. The alternative was to go out injured or diminished, letting the game decide when his time was up.

Remember when he suffered a season-ending ankle injury in Week 2 in 2017? He'd already won a Super Bowl, piled up Pro Bowl and All-Pro honors. But he didn't want that being his final act, so he grinded through another rehab, came back and made two more Pro Bowls.

Now he's going out on top.

I think the Ravens knew all along he was leaning this way. Though bitterly disappointed by the playoff loss in January, he posed for pictures on the field with his family and smiled in the locker room. One could sense his relief.

No one should have the gall to question him. Better than just about any player I've seen, he understood what it took to perform at his level, the highest level, and he never took shortcuts. If he has decided enough is enough, so be it. A third-round draft pick in 2007, he started 166 games, played nearly 10,000 snaps. I'd say he ran his race.

It goes without saying that the Ravens will miss him. He's the second-best offensive lineman in team history, trailing only Jonathan Ogden, whom Yanda might join in the Hall of Fame one day.

Now the Ravens have to identify another leader for the O-line, another starting guard, somehow keep the O-line humming. It helps to have Pro Bowl tackles Ronnie Stanley and Orlando Brown Jr., but now there are major questions about the interior.

But this isn't the day for taking a deep dive into the O-line's new reality. It's a day for saluting one of the Ravens' all-time greats, a third-round draft choice who played Pro Bowl football to the very end.

Look through Marshal Yanda's legendary career filled with eight Pro Bowls, one Super Bowl and many, many blocks.

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