Johnny Knox’s football career could be over.
The injured wide receiver, who continues to recover from spinal fusion surgery, had his contract terminated by the Chicago Bears on Tuesday morning. Knox, a 26-year-old vested veteran, spent the entire 2012 season on the physically unable to perform list after sustaining a devastating blow from Seahawks defensive end Anthony Hargrove in 2011.
Knox collected his $1.26 million salary while sitting out this past season. His contract originally was supposed to expire after the ’12 campaign. But according to rules of the collective bargaining agreement, when a player in the last year of his contract is on the PUP list that entire season, his contract can be rolled over to the next season, at the team’s discretion.
Multiple sources indicated the structural damage Knox suffered would make it difficult for him to return to football again. The initial outlook was four to six months of recovery just to perform normal activities, and even longer before Knox could return to football.
That optimism changed when the structural damage was discovered during surgery. Knox’s back was unstable and there were more torn ligaments than anticipated. The nerve damage couldn’t be assessed until after the surgery, and Knox had to wear a back brace for a while after the procedure.
In an interview with the Tribune, Hargrove expressed remorse for his hit on Knox.
“You never want to hit somebody like that,” Hargrove said. “You never want to put somebody in that position, to jeopardize their health.”
Knox, a former fifth-round draft pick from Abilene Christian in Texas, started 27 of 45 games played in three seasons (2009-11) with the Bears. He had 133 receptions for 2,214 yards and 12 touchdowns and his 16.6 yards per reception was seventh best in the NFL during that time.
Knox also compiled 1,506 yards on 55 kickoff returns (27.4 yards per return) with one touchdown, earning a Pro Bowl nod as a returner in 2009.
His speed was an asset that helped the Bears stretch the field. New coach Marc Trestman seems destined to add more help at receiver to take some of the load off Brandon Marshall, with Knox out of the mix and Devin Hester’s offensive status uncertain.