Former Irish TE John Carlson retires from NFL

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One of the branches on Notre Dame’s NFL tight end tree is retiring. Former Irish star John Carlson, a former second-round pick who spent seven seasons as a professional, is stepping away from football. Carlson played for the Irish from 2003-07 and spent time with the Seahawks, Vikings and the Cardinals.

The decision was a surprise, with Carlson working out with the team as recently as this Monday. Via the Arizona Cardinals’ official website, Carlson released this statement:

“After much thought and consideration, my wife Danielle and I know that this is the best decision for us,” Carlson said. “I was blessed to play seven seasons in the NFL for three tremendous organizations – the Cardinals, Vikings and Seahawks. I will always treasure the experiences and relationships made during that time but I’m also very excited about the next phase of my life and what’s ahead.”

Carlson was in the middle of a two-year, $4.65 million-dollar contract. Some have suspected that head injuries have played a role in the decision, with Carlson having three reported concussions during his NFL career, including one that ended his 2014 season after Week 14.

Carlson was a former Irish captain who served as a bright spot during the 2007 season, putting up a team-high 40 catches before being selected with the 38th overall pick by the Seahawks. But his early productivity in the NFL was never matched, and Carlson was cut after two seasons by the Minnesota Vikings after struggling with injuries, after his hometown team gave him a five-year, $25 million contract. (Carlson was eventually replaced in Minnesota by fellow Notre Dame TE Kyle Rudolph.)

Carlson followed Anthony Fasano‘s footsteps to the NFL, the second-straight second-rounder Charlie Weis produced. He was a U.S. Army All-American out of high school and an All-State performer in Minnesota in the recruiting class that produced Brady Quinn, Ryan Harris and Tom Zbikowski.

Carlson spent last season in Arizona, joining fellow Irish grad Troy Niklas at tight end. Niklas will now be asked to step up with Carlson’s unexpected departure.

“I don’t know if it’s really hit me yet,” Niklas told the Cardinals’ official website. “None of us really saw it coming. We’re just going to miss him. Personally, he’s helped me so much, learning the offense. He’s been a great teammate and mentor-like, helping me get into the NFL. I was looking forward to playing with him again this season.”