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Ballard's retirement opens door for 4th TE

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Late in the Wednesday morning pre-practice locker room session, the news started to spread that tight end Jake Ballard had retired.

ESPN.com confirmed his decision Wednesday afternoon.

Ballard said in a statement released to Pro Football Talk that he made the decision Tuesday. By 11 a.m. Wednesday, his locker with the Arizona Cardinals belonged to Max Starks. Ballard missed practice Tuesday with a sore knee.

His knees have been an issue since Ballard tore an ACL late in Super Bowl XLVI with the New York Giants. He was claimed off waivers that offseason by the New England Patriots, but missed the 2012 season. Arizona signed him midway through last season and Ballard played in eight games, catching seven passes for 75 yards.

He was expected to be a starter this season in Cardinals coach Bruce Arians’ two-tight end offense, but his retirement opens the door for two players in particular. Rob Housler will likely become the starter across from John Carlson, leaving an opening for the fourth tight end.

Arians has talked highly of Darren Fells, the basketball power forward turned tight end. While he’s only been playing pro football for about 17 months, Fells has progressed enough to be considered for that roster spot. He has improved his blocking, the most crucial part of the game when it comes to Arians’ scheme, and he’s been sure-handed during his stay in Arizona.

Ballard’s void also likely secures a job for Housler, who has had a good camp but hasn’t lived up to the expectations that came with being a third-round pick in 2011. Rookie Troy Niklas also will be given more responsibility this season.

Arians has raved this offseason about how good the Cardinals’ tight end room looks. That changed in an instant, but the Cardinals have options to replace Ballard.