Veteran CB Trae Waynes ready to move on from NFL career: ‘In my head, I’m done’

Trae Waynes has lived the football dream, and after two injury-riddled years in Cincinnati, he’s ready to end that pursuit and move on to the next part of his life.

Though he isn’t doing so officially (at least not yet), Waynes is effectively done with professional football. The cornerback and former first-round pick recently told the Geary & Stein Sports Show podcast he’s no longer interested in continuing his football career after seven NFL seasons.

“It’s open, but I’m not really exploring anything, to be honest with you,” Waynes said. “Multiple teams have actually called. Honestly, in my head, I’m done. I’m not officially doing it just because I don’t give a (expletive). But I’m retired, but it’s not like I announced it or anything.”

The main reason for Waynes’ decision is health. His final two campaigns provided enough frustration for the former Michigan State star to decide it was time to call it quits, even after reaching the Super Bowl with the Bengals in the 2021 season.

“It didn’t feel like a Super Bowl to me because my time in Cincinnati has just been injuries,” Waynes explained. … “That’s something that I never really experienced in Minnesota.”

… “I was supposed to play in the Super Bowl — well I played a little bit — but I was supposed to go in, but I ended up getting hurt again. … I told my wife this after the game, I was like ‘there’s nothing more frustrating knowing you’re supposed to be out there but you physically can’t because your body is just failing.’ “

Waynes began his career as the 11th-overall selection of the 2015 draft, joining Minnesota as a highly touted cornerback with high expectations. He never made a Pro Bowl, but Waynes was a solid defensive back, recording five interceptions and 26 passes defensed in his first three seasons.

Waynes moved from Minnesota to Cincinnati in 2020, signing a three-year, $42 million deal with the Bengals. Before he could take the field for the Bengals, however, Waynes suffered a torn pectoral injury while training and missed the entire 2020 season. 2021 wasn’t much kinder to Waynes, who played a total of five games while once again landing on injured reserve during the season.

He was able to return for Cincinnati’s postseason run to Super Bowl LVI, but served merely as a special teams player. And as Waynes recounted, he wasn’t able to help his team as he’d like in their most important game due to an ankle injury.

After all of the frustration, Waynes believes it’s more important to preserve his physical health and spend time with his family and on his hunting-focused business. Even a reunion with a former Vikings assistant and past Vikings teammate couldn’t convince Waynes to give it another go.

“I actually almost went to Philly to go back with JG (Eagles defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon) and Ant (safety Anthony Harris). But at that point I was like ‘I’m ready to be done,'” Waynes said. “Could I easily keep playing several more years? Yes. But I got a family, I want to be around with my kids more.

… “For me, I played, I lived the dream, I did it, I made enough money to where I can take care of my family. Being able to walk away on my own terms is always something I wanted to do. … There’s more to life than football. And I want to enjoy life outside of football without limping or walking in pain all the time and stuff like that. It’s bittersweet but I know at the end of the day it’s probably the right decision.”

If this is truly it for Waynes, he ends his career with 79 games played (57 starts), seven interceptions, 43 passes defensed, 259 tackles (nine for loss) and one sack in seven seasons. He’ll move onto the next phase of his life with the peace of mind gained from going out on his own terms.

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