One of the most promising young talents to play in the CFL recently has hung up his cleats at just age 23. Defensive tackle Armond Armstead was a league all-star with the Toronto Argonauts in 2012 and a key part of their victory in the 100th Grey Cup. Since then, though, it's been a curious road for Armstead. The Argonauts released him after the season so he could try the NFL (something they've done with several other players), and he caught on with the New England Patriots, but wound up missing the whole 2013 season thanks to an infection that required surgery. He participated in some offseason workouts with them, but the team announced Thursday he'd retired from football thanks to health concerns:
The Patriots announced that Armstead has retired after spending all of the 2013 season on the Reserve/Non-Football Injury List. Armstead signed with the Patriots after spending one season with the Toronto Argonauts in the CFL, where he landed after leaving USC after suffering a heart attack while he was a player for the school. He had an undisclosed infection last summer that led to surgery and his spot on the NFI list, although Patriots coach Bill Belichick indicated it was unrelated to the heart issue.
“It has been a pleasure being around Armond, as he gave everything he could to play for us. Armond worked extremely hard since joining us last February. He’s had a lot of adversity personally that he’s had to deal with – unusual compared to most other players – but he’s always had a great attitude, worked hard and really did everything we asked him to do. While it is unfortunate he will not be able to play football, Armond is an outstanding young man who has a very bright future in whatever path he chooses,” Belichick said in the statement announcing Armstead’s retirement.
That heart issue mentioned in there is very interesting, and it's another big part of Armstead's story. He was a star at the University of Southern California, playing there from 2008-2010, but USC's medical staff refused to clear him for the 2011 season after he suffered a heart attack. That was a big part of why he went undrafted by the NFL in 2012 and wound up with the Argonauts. Armstead has since sued USC, claiming the painkillers (Toradol in particular) they gave him caused the heart attack. That lawsuit is still pending, and a trial might not start until 2015, but it illustrates that concussions (what Arland Bruce III is suing the CFL over) are far from the only concern in football. Large numbers of NFL players are currently suing that league over improper painkiller use, and that's something the CFL will have to keep an eye on as well. There haven't been any prominent accusations of improper painkiller use in the CFL to date, but it does seem to be a problem spread through much of football, so it may come north at some point.
More to the direct issue at hand, though, it's awful to see such a promising career as Armstead's end so soon. He was one of the most impressive young players seen in the CFL in decades (being named a league all-star in your first season is remarkable, as those lists are usually veteran-heavy), and it made perfect sense for him to move on to the NFL after only a year. If Armstead had been able to replicate his 2012 performance (43 tackles, six sacks and creating a consistent pass-rushing threat on the interior of the line) south of the border, he would have been a star there too. He adds to the list of relatively-young players retiring recently; Calgary all-star guard Dmitri Tsoumpas quit at 28 this offseason citing concussions, while Armstead's former teammate, 2012 Grey Cup MVP Chad Kackert, retired at 27 in June thanks to a list of injuries. Those cases and more like them show that football's a tough and punishing game, and one that can take an incredible toll even on younger bodies. It's sad to see Armstead's career end this way, but here's hoping there are great things ahead for him off the field.