Truth be told, the desire Jabari Greer felt to be at the Saints training facility in Metairie instead of at home with his wife and four children had slowly been fading for a while.
It’s why the cornerback didn’t rush to return to an NFL field after suffering a severe knee injury in November. And it’s why Thursday he announced his retirement, deciding 10 years in the league were enough.
“When I woke up Aug. 1, I could honestly say that was probably the best day that I’ve had this year so far — it was like Christmas, like I had been given a gift, because I haven’t woken up in my bed on Aug. 1 in 15 years,” said Greer, who would’ve usually reported to preseason camp by that date, whether in college or the pros. “Just being able to be home, to be present, to be available (to family) — aw, man, it was unbelievable.”
Nonetheless, Greer held dear a career that led him to the University of Tennessee before signing with the Buffalo Bills as an undrafted rookie in 2004. And he’ll be eternally grateful he left Buffalo after five seasons to join the Saints, then entering their fourth campaign under the command of coach Sean Payton.
Reflecting on the choice, Greer recalled the nerves he experienced coming to New Orleans, whose Saints had only been to the playoffs six times in their 42-year existence and had never appeared in a Super Bowl.
“I was afraid I was going to be another in a long line ... that let them down,” Greer said of the Saints. “I had a fear I was going to just be another corner.”
His trainer and mentor, Bobby Jackson, told him, “Be the exception. Be the exception.”
And, his first year in New Orleans, Greer was. Though he was sidelined for seven games with a groin/sports hernia injury, he allowed just 4.7 yards per pass thrown his way, fewer than everyone in the league but Darrelle Revis, who was an All-Pro with the Jets that year, according to the Football Outsiders. He was beaten for a sole touchdown throw — a 68-yarder on which many believed Atlanta Falcons wideout Roddy White should’ve been called for pass interference for pushing Greer away before the catch.
The Saints of course won Super Bowl XLIV that season, not even five years after Hurricane Katrina had devastated New Orleans. Greer was a significant part of that, Payton said Thursday.
“If you look at his stats ... a lot of the things that you aren’t able to get a hold of, (they) have been fantastic,” the coach said Thursday. “He was someone that optimized being a pro football player.”
For the Saints, Greer made 219 solo tackles; disrupted 69 passes; and snagged nine interceptions, two of which he returned for touchdowns. He probably would’ve had a little more of everything, but then he leapt up and stretched out to bat a deep pass away while playing against the San Francisco 49ers in November.
His team’s leader in pass-breakups at the time, Greer landed with all of his weight on his left leg. He hyperextended his knee, rolled his ankle and was carted off.
The last images of Greer in a Saints uniform show him pointing at his teammates and waving at fans in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome while being driven away.
The Saints soon placed him on year-ending injured reserve with a torn anterior cruciate ligament and then released him in February to create salary-cap space for the upcoming preseason. Teammates appreciated the manner in which he conducted his business for the Saints.
“Work meant a lot to him,” said Saints linebacker Parys Haralson, who also played with Greer at Tennessee. “That’s the way to create longevity in this NFL.”
Greer subsequently underwent surgery and rehabbed in the company of his three boys, his daughter and his wife, Katrina, who’s expecting another girl in weeks.
Greer remained with them as free agency, voluntary workouts and training camps across the NFL ramped up in the spring and summer. He noticed he didn’t miss the frantic activity, was at peace being around his loved ones and resolved to leave the pro player’s life behind.
The 32-year-old might now pursue sports broadcasting, he said. He’s been going on ESPN’s “First Take” as a guest analyst since early August, and it was on that program Thursday he informed viewers he was retiring.
He could seek nonprofit work. Or perhaps he’ll simply be a stay-at-home dad in New Orleans for a bit, satisfied with the run he had, especially with the Saints.
“All of my fears were unrealized,” Greer said about his arrival in New Orleans. “And, honestly, all of my dreams were fulfilled.”