Greenwood graduate A.J. Edds remembers waking up on a Monday morning in early December, at a crossroads, more than a little despondent, not sure if another NFL paycheck was in his future.
He was seriously doubting one was.
A month earlier, after an improbable return to the league, Edds was released by the New York Jets. He was 27. He had a history of injuries. He had no offers. The season was nearly over.
So, too, seemed his career.
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And then, his phone rang. It was a secretary for the Cincinnati Bengals. Could he, she asked, be at headquarters the next morning, Dec. 2, for a workout?
Of course he could.
With that, he packed a light bag and drove to Cincinnati.
In transit, Edds — a former standout at Greenwood — got a call from his agent. The Jacksonville Jaguars wanted him to work out the following morning, Dec. 3. It was an encouraging, if not shocking, alternative plan if the Bengals situation didn’t work out.
“When it rains, it pours,” his agent said.
Cincinnati did not offer a contract. But the Jags’ opportunity awaited. So he raced back to Indianapolis, packed another light bag and flew out of Indianapolis at 4 p.m. Dec. 2.
By 8 a.m. the next day, he was taking a physical at Jacksonville. At noon, he and another linebacker vying for the same roster spot worked out for the Jags’ brass. Edds, a 6-foot-4, 256-pound linebacker, vividly recalls what happened next.
“They come in after the workout and say, ‘Hey, you guys can shower up. A.J., when you get out we want to grab you and talk to you,’ which is kind of code for ‘We’re going to keep you around,”’ Edds said. “So at this point in my mind I’m saying, ‘Oh, man, I’m back in the NFL, straight off the couch.’ We go and talk to the general manager, and he said, ‘Hey, we’re going to sign you. Don’t know if it’s for a week, don’t know if it’s for the rest of the season, you might have a nice career here. We don’t know where we’re going to be this time next week.’
“I said, ‘That’s very understandable. We’ll take it as it comes.’”
What came next was a whirlwind of activity that, were it not for his veteran presence of mind, might have been too much to process. But after five seasons in the NFL, with stints with five other teams, he was prepared for the drill. The day was Wednesday, the first day of every workweek in the NFL. It was time to go to work. And the newest Jacksonville Jaguar was ready.
“We we went down to payroll, took care of getting all the payroll stuff done, signed the actual contract with the contract negotiator, all kinds of stuff,” Edds said. “And then that takes us up to about 1 o’clock. Practice is at 1:45. So they take me to the equipment room, they get me all geared up with helmets, shoulder pads, shoes, everything. The funny thing is the whole time in the locker room guys are walking around looking at me like, ‘Who in the hell is this guy?’
“So we get to practice; I hadn’t been in one meeting. I only knew a couple guys on the team. Chad Henne, who’s the backup quarterback, who was the quarterback in Miami when I was down there, he’s walking out and he goes, ‘What the hell are you doing? What’s going on? Did we just sign you?’ I said, ‘I literally just got done working out, Chad.’ He goes, ‘You’ve got to be kidding me.’ It was pretty funny.
“I get out to practice and the linebacker coach goes, ‘Hey, I heard we got a new guy. It must be you.’ I said, ‘Yeah, that’s me. I’m A.J. Nice to meet you.’”
And with that, Edds, who played at the University of Iowa, was back in the NFL, completing a 2014 journey that began improbably in New York and ended satisfyingly in Jacksonville.
For those unfamiliar with Edds’ story, here’s a brief chronology:
He was drafted in the fourth round by the Miami Dolphins in 2010, suffered an ACL tear on the fourth day of training camp and sat out his rookie season.
Came back the following year; made the active roster at the end of camp; was released a few days before the season-opener; was signed within 48 hours by the New England Patriots; and made his NFL debut on “Monday Night Football” — against the Dolphins.
Was waived by the Patriots a few weeks later but re-signed to the practice squad.
Was signed off New England’s practice squad four days later by the Indianapolis Colts and finished the season with his hometown team.
On July 31, 2012, the first day of Colts’ training camp, Edds suffered another ACL tear and missed the season. He was not re-signed for 2013.
Was re-signed by New England on June 6, 2013, but was released during training camp. He did not play for any team in 2013.
After two full seasons out of football, Edds was invited to the Jets’ rookie mini-camp in May of last year and, after impressing coaches was offered a contract.
Released on the final day of training camps Aug. 30, he was re-signed by the Jets on Sept. 1. He suffered a hamstring injury in the season-opener against Oakland and was inactive for the next four weeks.
Played in two more games in October — all on special teams — and was released Oct. 28.
As the season wound down, with no offers in sight, Edds began contemplating the possible end of a once-promising career interrupted repeatedly by injuries. But along came the opportunity with Jacksonville, and his outlook — if not his future — had brightened considerably.
Although he was inactive for his first two games, he played well on special teams the final two games of the season. As as result, he is cautiously optimistic he’ll be re-signed by the Jags when free agency begins in March.
What follows is a Q&A interview with Edds.
How much did your veteran experience help you handle two NFL workouts in different cities in 48 hours? How do you keep your wits about you?
You’ve got to try to remain as level as you can. You can’t get too high; you can’t get too low. You’ve got really put yourself in their position, more than anything, to try to get a feel for what they’re thinking. You’ve got to understand what they’re looking for you to do. You’ve got to try to understand what they’re looking to get out of you while you’re there, and it’s different everywhere I’ve been. Some places have wanted me to come in and compete for a starting job. Other places will tell you just to be a serviceable backup but be a great special teams guy, and then here in Jacksonville it was basically, “We need you to help us get through these last couple of weeks. And oh by the way, if you can make some plays and help your cause, that would be great, too.”
It’s crazy. The more you can keep your emotions in check and keep your wits about you. … That’s the biggest challenge, being able to just show up and do what they ask of you and stay focused on football. If you can stay focused on the football aspect of it, a lot of the other stuff kind of falls in place.
If I was a rookie or even a second-year player, I don’t know if I would have had the same results just because I’d probably be so high, so low hanging on every little thing that happened. I think that is kind of a measure of where I’m at, maturity wise, as a football player, just being 27 … there’s a big difference from being 22 or 23 in the NFL. It’s like dog years, almost. You’ve learned so much in those years, little nuances. You never know when you’re going to need to call on them, but that’s the life of a journeyman. You never know when, you never know where, but you’ve got to be able to show up and perform.
Did you enjoy your time in Jacksonville? Was it a positive experience?
Very positive. It could not have been more of a polar opposite from what I left in New York to what I walked into at Jacksonville. It was upbeat, it was fun, guys are smiling, guys are excited to go to work, and that’s all a testament to Gus Bradley, the head coach. He is the most positive, upbeat head coach I’ve ever been around, at any level. I cannot imagine that there’s anybody that’s even close to being like him in the NFL. He’s a very young, energetic, very sincere coach. He’s the kind of coach guys like playing for because they know he’s not mailing it in. It’s genuine, it’s sincere, and it’s heartfelt, the stuff he says in team meetings and the way he coaches and what he expects and what he wants guys to do.
And it’s also a very young team. Jacksonville’s a very young squad, a lot of rookies playing and starting. When you’ve got a lot of young guys, they don’t know anything other than to just show up and work. It was a quick four weeks. Just as I was starting to get comfortable it seemed like the season was wrapping up. I did enjoy my time, and we’ll see what the future holds here. But I would really like an opportunity to get back down there and to go through training camp with the guys and kind of see where I’m at. Because the other thing is, it’s a 4-3 defense, which is the first time I’ve done that since playing for the Colts.
My natural position is kind of that 4-3, strongside SAM backer position like I played in college, and it’s pretty similar in Jacksonville. So I think it would be a great opportunity to be able to compete and do that. And by no means am I holding my breath that Jacksonville is going to call and say we want to sign A.J. I’m optimistic, but at the same time in the past when I’ve been optimistic about things in the NFL, it seems to go the other way. But just like everything else, I’m staying pretty level about it, staying open-minded to whatever and just kind of see how things unfold in the next month or two.
I know this is your job, your vocation. But do you still enjoy playing football?
I do. There were some times in the last five years when I didn’t like football just because of maybe situations with the injuries and waking up and it’s sore. … I take that back. I wouldn’t say I didn’t like football. That wasn’t it. I didn’t necessarily enjoy going to do it. I guess there’s a difference.
The whole time I was in Jacksonville, I enjoyed it. It was fun. And the thing that I really enjoyed was being able to show up and play and not have an injury, not have to compensate for being sore or being hurt. It’s nice to able to go and play injury free. That’s a really nice feeling to have. I was able to do that for so long in college, I probably took it for granted a little bit. You kind of take your health for granted until you’re banged up. I was healthy the whole time in Jacksonville, and it was nice. It was refreshing to show up and enjoy the process, enjoy the grind, enjoy going to practice and doing that stuff with the guys. I do still love football, and I’m going to play until they kick me out and say we don’t want you anymore.
The big thing is the competition. I didn’t realize how much I loved the competition of every single day until you’re removed from it. I felt that a little bit last year with not playing, but I really felt it those four or five weeks this year when I was at home. You wake up and you realize there’s nothing else in the world that offers that level of competition on a daily basis than professional football, practice and games. And that’s something that I really like, and I didn’t necessarily know how much I liked it until this past year.
For a guy like me, every day in practice, I’m being evaluated. Everybody is, but where I’m at in my career if have a few bad weeks of practice or don’t do much in games, it’s enough for a GM to say, “We’re ready to move on.” So that’s the mindset that I have to bring to practice every day. It’s a job interview. You’ve got to prove it day in and day out. So that’s something I’ve grown to really enjoy. I’ve always enjoyed it, but I really like it now that I’m injury free.
I felt young, I felt spry, and having a team full of young guys down in Jacksonville, it was fun. It was enjoyable to show up and work and do that stuff with the guys. I have a lot left in the tank. I feel like I’ve still got a lot (of football) to play. I’ve still got a lot of miles left. It’s just a matter of hopefully (joining) a team that kind of feels the same way and thinks that I deserve a chance to come in and compete.
The Edds File
Name: A.J. Edds
Position: Linebacker/special teams
Team: Jacksonville Jaguars
Size: 6-foot-4, 256 pounds
High school: Greenwood
High school highlights: Four-year starting linebacker and tight end; starting center on varsity basketball team; multiple IHSAA state meet qualifier in hurdles races; selected the Daily Journal’s 2006 Johnson County Male Athlete of the Year
Parents: David and Anne Edds