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Eisenberg: The Biggest Factor in Marshal Yanda's Retirement Decision

G/T Marshal Yanda smiles on the sidelines of an NFL game.
G/T Marshal Yanda smiles on the sidelines of an NFL game.

It was at training camp in 2012 that the classic Marshal Yanda moment occurred – a moment that still resonates now, as Yanda decides whether to keep playing for the Ravens or retire.

On that summer day in 2012, Head Coach John Harbaugh asked Yanda to speak to the team at the end of a sweltering practice. Yanda was just 27, entering his sixth season, but his simple, profound message reflected an older player's insight:

"Embrace the grind."

That's what Yanda told his teammates. Embrace this exhausting crucible we're in, this daily test of our physical and mental limits. Do more than accept it; relish it. Because it's what gives us a chance to be great.

Within days, Harbaugh passed out "Embrace the Grind" T-shirts. Months later, the Ravens won a Super Bowl.

Coincidence? Maybe. Or maybe not.

Yanda acknowledged he borrowed the phrase from Dan Gable, a legendary wrestling coach at the University of Iowa, Yanda's alma mater. But it has stuck to Yanda for years because few Ravens have better understood what it takes, truly takes, to excel in the NFL.

Throw yourself at the job. Wrap your arms around it. Don't complain. Don't make excuses.

As Yanda, now 35, weighs whether to return for a 14th season with the Ravens, he's weighing that above all else. I can guarantee that.

It's not so much about winning another Super Bowl, although he'd love for that to happen, no doubt. And it's not so much that the Ravens have become offensively dominant with the physical, downhill style Yanda loves, although that, too, is surely on his mind.

A far bigger factor is whether he is up for another year of what it takes to excel and be who he is, one of the best offensive linemen of his era, so rugged and consistent he'll rightfully be in the Hall of Fame conversation.

Can he embrace the grind for another year? That is what Yanda is weighing. Because the grind never really stops, not even now, in the dead of winter, another season just concluded. You have to keep taking care of your body. Stay locked in. Start preparing to do it all again.

Is he up for that level of commitment? It's a question every player his age contemplates. Yanda was a kid when he joined the Ravens in 2007. Now he's a middle-aged father of three. As much as he has loved the grind, he's only human and I'm pretty sure that love becomes a kind of love-hate after 13 seasons.

Yanda, typically, is saying little. But his former Baltimore teammate, Trevor Pryce, offered what I think is keen insight into the thought process when I interviewed him last fall for my podcast, "What Happened to That Guy?”, about former Ravens and life after football.

Pryce, who was 36 when he retired after 14 seasons, told me, "It's not the football. It's the grind. Anyone will tell you. Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, Haloti Ngata, they'll tell you, 'If I could show up on Monday and Sunday, I could play until I'm 50.' But you have to show up on Wednesday. That's why I retired. I didn't retire because I couldn't play. I retired because I refused to go to practice during the week and you kind of have to go."

The Ravens are anxious to know what Yanda decides, as it could impact some of their offseason decision-making, turning the interior of the offensive line into even more of a need that it already is. There's no obvious heir apparent waiting to step in for Yanda.

Team guy that he is, Yanda surely won't leave the Ravens hanging for long. And of course, they're hoping, really hoping, that he returns. He played terrific football on a terrific team in 2019. His seventh Pro Bowl selection was assured long before the vote was announced.

If he elects to comes back, you'll hear analysts say he wants another ring and feels the Ravens have unfinished business after their 14-2 season ended with a thud in the playoffs. All true enough.

But the real story will be he has decided he can handle another year of the grind.

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