Dallas Cowboys

An unexpected end to Stephen Paea’s NFL run

ARLINGTON, TX - AUGUST 19: Dallas Cowboys defensive tackle Stephen Paea (55) and Dallas Cowboys defensive tackle Maliek Collins (96) look at the scoreboard during the preseason game between the Dallas Cowboys and the Indianapolis Colts on August 19, 2017 at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, TX. (Photo by George Walker/Icon Sportswire)
(Photo by George Walker/Icon Sportswire)

Stephen Paea, a former second-round draft pick out of Oregon State University, is hanging up his cleats and putting an end to a six-year career in the NFL. Given the dramatic way he entered the league — breaking the scouting combine record for most consecutive repetitions on the 225-pound bench press (49) — the ending comes sudden and without reason.

ESPN’s NFL insider Adam Schefter reported on Wednesday that the Dallas Cowboys defensive tackle simply told coaches he was retiring from football.

Paea’s decision to walk away at this juncture of his career comes unexpected, considering he is only 29 years old.

While he had morphed into a journeyman to some extent after a four-year stint with the Chicago Bears, he looked like he was finally finding a home in Dallas. The team signed him in the offseason to a one-year deal, reuniting him with defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli, his former coach in his first two years in Chicago.

He even won a starting job on the Cowboys defensive line and played in the first four games of the season before going down with a knee injury. The injury didn’t appear to be serious, and he was expected to be back in the lineup at some point during the season.

Leading up to his debut with the Cowboys, Paea appeared content with the signing, especially considering he’d have a chance to work with Marinelli again.

“Same old Rod, man,” Paea told the Star-Telegram in August. “Coming out here, if you have a good day, nobody cares. Do it again the next day. It’s all about consistency. … We all have that next-man mentality. I’m out here just taking advantage of all opportunity for me to compete out here. Going out here against the best offensive line in the NFL is a great opportunity for me to get better – make Sunday a little easier for me.”

Perhaps Paea had other passions he wanted to pursue, and he wanted to get out of the NFL before injuries hampered his ability to do so.

Maybe his heart wasn’t in it anymore, and he figured now would be the best time to go out on his own terms. We can only speculate why a young man who seemingly found his place with an NFL team suddenly decided to call it quits.

One thing is certain: His decision to walk away doesn’t help the Cowboys’ broken defense. They are another man down and quickly running out of the means to fix it.

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