He simply changed the way offensive tackles play, and he will go down in football history as perhaps the best ever to play the position.
Seattle Seahawks left tackle Walter Jones retired after an impressive 13-year career, making an announcement through the team on Thursday.
In Jones’ honor, the team immediately retired his No. 71 jersey, the second in team history after Steve Largent’s No. 80. And Gov. Christine Gregoire has declared today Walter Jones Day.
Jones is expected to talk to reporters today.
Jones, 36, was named to nine Pro Bowls, most in team history, earned All-Pro honors six times and was named to the league’s all-decade team for the 2000s.
But beyond all of the accolades, Jones will be remembered for the quiet way he went about his business on the field, consistently dominating opponents and letting his play do the talking.
“He’s played a long time, and I think he’s really been a warrior the last couple years because he’s played on some bad wheels and a bad shoulder, those kind of things,” said former Seattle Seahawks head coach Mike Holmgren, now head of football operations for the Cleveland Browns. “He’s played a lot of football.”
At one point toward the end of his final season coaching in Seattle, Holmgren said Jones was the best offensive player he coached – a list that includes Joe Montana, Jerry Rice and Brett Favre.
“I did,” Holmgren said at this year’s NFL Scouting Combine in February. “And then I got so much flak on that from the quarterbacks, they all started phoning me saying, ‘What are you doing?’ He’s one of the best offensive players I’ve ever coached, absolutely. And he’s the best tackle.
“It’s the feeling that you have when you have a left tackle that can play like he does, and you don’t have to monkey with your protections that much that way,” Holmgren went on. “You just can say, ‘OK, you’ve got that guy and we’ll help in other areas.’ Very few teams can say that.”
Jones managed to avoid injuries early in his career. He was injured for four games during his rookie year in 1997, but he never missed another one because of injury until the 2008 season. Jones started 180 games for Seattle, second in franchise history after Largent (197).
However, late in that 2008 season Seattle placed Jones on the injured reserve due to a left-knee issue that ended up requiring microfracture surgery in December. Jones promised to return to the field, but after failed attempts to return during training camp he had another surgery on the same knee in August to remove some loose bodies and a little scar tissue from part of the original surgery.
Jones never regained the stability in his knee needed to play at the high level he had set for himself.
Further limiting Jones’ ability to recover from the injury was a kidney condition that prevented him from taking anti-inflammatory medication.
Bryce Fisher is a former teammate who also played against Jones during the early portion of his career while in St. Louis.
“It was awful,” Fisher said about playing against Jones. “I played against him my first four years in the league, and I think I beat him one time in a passing situation, maybe two or three if my mother was doing the grading.
“He was virtually impossible to beat.”
Fisher talked about Jones’ unique combination of imposing physical presence, quick feet and the agility of a receiver.
“Walter was probably a better athlete than everybody on the field other than the defensive backs,” Fisher said.
Jones’ effect on the team also can be measured in Seattle’s lack of offensive production since his departure. Seattle is 7-13 since he last played. More important, quarterback Matt Hasselbeck missed six of those 20 games due to injuries, and has been sacked 32 times while passing for a pedestrian 75.1 passer rating during that span.
“You’ve got to think about it: He stabilized arguably the second-most important position on the field for a better part of a decade,” Fisher said.
Eric D. Williams: 253-597-8437