New York Giants defensive end Michael Strahan made the best possible choice when he decided to retire over the weekend. Now we don't have to spend an entire summer wondering what he's planning on doing. The Giants also can start preparing his replacement, a process that shouldn't be too difficult given the wealth of talent along their defensive line. Most importantly, he gets to leave as a Super Bowl champion, which is an honor few players get to enjoy.
To be honest, this decision shouldn't surprise anybody. Strahan wasn't in the same boat as retired Green Bay Packers quarterback Brett Favre, who seemed on the verge of playing another season after finishing one game short of the Super Bowl. He also wasn't like former Oakland Raiders defensive tackle Warren Sapp, who found himself declining on a lousy team before he retired. Strahan was a first-ballot, Hall-of-Fame player who had gotten everything possible out of his last season in the NFL Simply put, there was nothing left to keep him in the game.
What Strahan had to realize is that there's plenty to be said for a player who understands the value of great timing. His friend and former teammate, Tiki Barber, retired a year too early and missed out on all the glory Strahan savored after the Giants' stunning upset win over New England in the Super Bowl. There also are plenty of other aging veterans chasing that elusive Super Bowl ring while their skills erode, most notably Patriots linebacker Junior Seau. At 36, Strahan had to take pride in knowing he's leaving with his ability intact.
After all, the man still could play. Despite missing all of training camp last year, Strahan produced nine sacks for a Giants defensive line that eventually dominated the Patriots in that Super Bowl win. He also reminded us how special he's been throughout his 15 years in the NFL. All you need is one glance at his career achievements to know there aren't many defensive linemen who produced like he did.
Strahan retires with 141½ career sacks, a number that ranks him fifth in NFL history. In 2001, he also set the league record for single-season sacks (22½) while earning league defensive player of the year honors. Throw in seven Pro Bowls and you have a player who shouldn't face any opposition when his eligibility for the Hall of Fame arrives in five years. Outside of Lawrence Taylor, the Giants have never had a defender who was this dominant.
That being said, the Giants aren't going to fall apart in his absence. Osi Umenyiora is a Pro Bowl defensive end who racked up 13 sacks last season. Defensive end Justin Tuck is just 24 years old and his 10 sacks in 2007 led management to lock him into a five-year, $30 million extension. The Giants also can move Mathias Kiwanuka, a first-round pick in 2006, back to defensive end. He played outside linebacker last fall until a broken left leg ended his season after 10 games.
Yes, it's scary to think how much Strahan could bring to that unit if he stuck around for another year, but there are no guarantees in this business. Strahan knows that as well as anybody. As much as he talked about pulling a John Elway and leaving the game with two consecutive championships, there's no certainty that the Giants would repeat. They still play in the same division that Dallas won in 2007 and it's just as possible that another surprising team could come out of nowhere to claim the championship, as the Giants recently did.
So now we'll see how Strahan fares in his second career. It's already a given that he'll have networks fighting for his services and he'll probably land a radio show as well. The endorsement opportunities aren't likely to end, either. About the only thing left to wonder about Strahan is where the historians will rate him among the best players in league history. But until that question is answered, we should give him credit for a spectacular career, one that concluded with an undeniably sensible ending.
Jeffri Chadiha covers the NFL for ESPN.com