A.J. Edds entered the NFL via the 2010 draft.
Yet in many ways, his professional future hinged on the outcome of the 2014 draft.
Sidelined by injuries the past two seasons, the former Greenwood Community High School star was waiting to see if a potential suitor, the New York Jets, would fill its linebacker needs in the draft. Team officials had informed his agent that they would likely bring Edds in for a tryout if they came up empty in the draft.
Fortunately for Edds, the Jets came up empty.
Shortly thereafter, he got an invitation to last month’s rookie mini camp. Healthy for the first time in three seasons, he made the most of what might be his last opportunity to resume his playing career.
Edds, 26, signed a free agent contract May 19 and will be on the Jets’ 90-man roster when training camp begins in August.
“They reached out and told my agent that they wanted to bring me in,” said Edds, one of only two veterans to survive the mini camp tryout.
“They didn’t draft anybody at the position, per se, but they brought me in and looked at me. So they went ahead and brought me in on a Thursday, rookie mini camp was Friday through Sunday, and then they signed me on Monday following rookie camp.”
And with that, Edds earned another lease on NFL life — which he has worked tirelessly for since suffering the second ACL injury of his career in 2012 at the beginning of training camp with the Indianapolis Colts.
A fourth-round draft choice of the Miami Dolphins in 2010 out of Iowa, Edds tore his right ACL during training camp and missed his entire rookie season. The following year, after a grueling rehab, he survived the final cut of training camp but was released by the Dolphins a few days before the season-opener.
Signed by the New England Patriots a few days later, in time for the season-opener against, ironically, the Dolphins, Edds played in two games; was waived; was then signed to the Patriots’ practice squad; and was then signed off the practice squad to the Colts’ active 53-man roster.
Edds finished the 2011 season with the Colts, playing mostly special teams, and seemed to have found a home for 2012. But he tore his left ACL on the first day of training camp and hasn’t played since.
After another grueling rehab, he was re-signed by the Patriots last June, then released during training camp in a move that, for many in his situation, would have been the end of the road.
But not so for Edds.
Although he had accomplished his dream of playing in the NFL, he has always believed — and still believes — that he can do more. Much more. It’s why he never contemplated retirement, even after two full seasons away from the game. And it’s why he’s spent the past two seasons preparing his body, mentally and physically, one for what is likely his last shot at making a 53-man roster.
Healthy for the first time since the dawn of his rookie training camp, Edds is a versatile 6-foot-4, 256-pound linebacker who packages rare speed and intelligence with refined physical skills. He was a hurdles star and varsity basketball player in high school, and he clearly put on a dazzling athletic display in a tryout that drew extended praise from Jets’ coach Rex Ryan.
“I really like this linebacker from Iowa, Edds,” Ryan told the Newark Star-Ledger after the signing. “Really a smart guy and he looks like he’s got some physical tools as well, but he’s been sharp. We’ve actually been playing him as a (strong-side) linebacker all through this camp and today during practice we just threw him in at (weak-side linebacker).
“We hadn’t even discussed it and he’s on top of it. He’s able to take, grasp, not just his thing, but see the overall picture of a defense. That’s important because a lot of times, sometimes on that roster, you need guys to play multiple positions, and he’s been impressive that way to me. So, of all the guys, I think he’s really jumped out to me probably more than any of them.”
Now, Edds will attempt to make the same impression in training camp. Despite his two-year absence from the field, he is confident of resuming his career and making New York his home.
What follows is Q & A interview with Edds, who recently spoke to the Daily Journal from New York.
Q: So you were watching the draft, saying, ‘Don’t draft a linebacker?’
A: You know, I was, but to be honest with you, I wasn’t completely sure which linebacker spot they necessarily wanted me to play, just because it’s kind of a multiple look and they ask their guys to do a lot of different things. So I was kind of keeping an eye on it, but I wasn’t glued to the TV, really on the edge of my seat, just because everything’s so day-to-day in this league that nothing’s really official until it does happen. So I was definitely keeping an eye on things, but I wasn’t tuning into every minute of the draft. I had an inclination that they were going to bring me in regardless, and they did, and everything seemed to work out.
Q: What have these last couple of seasons been like for you? It’s obviously been a rough road with the injuries. How do you feel right now?
A: I wanted to keep going just for my own benefit. I wanted to give it one more shot coming into training camp healthy, just because in my NFL career I had never had a chance to go into training camp healthy. I’d always been coming off an injury. And so that was kind of a blessing in disguise by not playing last year, I did get my health back. I feel as good physically as I have in a long, long time. I feel like I did when I was 22 years old coming out from Iowa getting ready to go play my first year in Miami, so I really wanted to give it one last run and stick with it this past offseason, because I knew I was healthy, and I knew if I had a chance to be in front of some decison-makers and kind of show what I can do, as long as I could show them that I was healthy, that there was a spot for me somewhere around the league.
I thought I at least warranted a chance to be part of a 90-man roster in the offseason and have a chance to compete for a job in training camp, so that was really what kind of kept me going through all of last season, this past offseason, and these last few months, and up until now. I wanted to continue to prove it to myself more than anything that when healthy I can do it as well as anybody. It’s just a matter of staying healthy and staying on the field and showing up and doing it every single day.
Q: You’ve been in the NFL, you’ve been on the field, you’ve been with different teams. You could have said you made it and let it go at that, but you didn’t. What kept you going?
A: Really, this is kind of a last shot. If things wouldn’t have developed this past offseason and up until to about now, I was starting to kind of think about the next chapter of what was coming up and the next step in my kind of maturation as a productive member of society, but luckily it didn’t have to come to that. I was able to get another opportunity to kind of chase my dream, so to speak. And like I said earlier, it’s really been kind of a test of will and perseverance, just because it would have been easy to kind of chalk it up as a loss and say, ‘I made it a little bit and did some things.’ I can always say I had that. But I think I always would have asked myself, it would have been a pretty big ‘What if?’ had I not given it one more run, just because I’m feeling as good as I ever have physically in the way I’m moving around. And that’s what would have been the big question mark in my mind, is hey, if I can stay healthy and show up in practice and play every day, every week and carry through, who knows what the cards my hold. That’s half the battle, is just showing up, staying healthy and producing.
So I think that would always been a question mark had I not given it one more shot. There’s a lot to be proven between now and the end of training camp, so I’ve done enough to basically warrant myself an invitation to come compete. So that’s all you can ask for is an opportunity, and the opportunities at this level are pretty fleeting, so when you get a chance, you’ve got to make the most of it. Those chances quit coming after a while. So this is pretty important and pretty big opportunity for me individually to kind of come full circle, hopefully put these injuries to bed, kind of put everything in the past and hopefully turn a new leaf and stay healthy, and stay healthy.
Q: Coach Rex Ryan had some nice things to say about you. There are no guarantees, but it seems you made a very good impression.
I think one of the things that they liked was that I was able to play a couple of different spots without much heads-up. That’s been another silver lining of playing in different systems and for different coaches. I’ve seen a lot of different schemes and played a lot of different defenses, and there’s been some carryover from all the places I’ve been, so that’s definitely helped me be a little bit more of a cerebral player, just playing in different spots and knowing what to look for in different situations. So I think that kind of helped over the course of the weekend when they were evaluating me, was the fact that I was able to be versatile and do more than just one thing, and play at a high speed and be able to play fast. I think that had a lot to do with the decision to retain me and bring me back.”
Q: How do you like New York City?
A: It’s great. I’ve got a few friends out here in the city, and I know a handful of people here in New York. It’s cool to be close to the metropolis of New York.