Spadaro: Chris Long contributed on and off the field

It was fitting, in a significant way, that only hours after the Eagles completed their Second Annual Eagles Autism Challenge and raised nearly $3.4 million on Saturday that defensive end Chris Long took to Twitter and announced his retirement from the NFL after 11 seasons. That two community-based entities – the Eagles and Long – collided and intersected with football was, in the end, only fitting.

Long played with the Eagles for the final two of his professional seasons after St. Louis made him the No. 2 overall draft pick in 2008. In eight seasons with the Rams, Long never reached the postseason and only peripherally was recognized as one of the great defensive ends in the NFL during his decade-plus of service. Then Long signed with New England, playing a season with the Patriots and winning a Super Bowl. Then he joined the Eagles prior to the 2017 season and, of course, helped the Eagles win Super Bowl LII, delivering big plays at clutch moments, including a pressure off the edge against Minnesota quarterback Case Keenum that resulted in an off-target throw and an interception that was returned for a touchdown by cornerback Patrick Robinson in the defining moment of that season’s NFC championship game victory over the Vikings.

A key role player in his two seasons with the Eagles, Long gained his primary acclaim for what he did away from the football field. His entire 2017 salary was donated to improving educational equality in Charlottesville, Virginia (where he played collegiately), St. Louis, Boston and Philadelphia. He was a public advocate for civil rights in our country and players’ rights in the NFL. His Chris Long Foundation has for many years been supporting the cause of international and domestic programs focused on clean water, military appreciation, homelessness and youth.

In 2018, Long was awarded the NFL’s highest community honor as he was named the 2018 NFL Walter Payton Man of the Year for his excellence on and off the football field.

“When you look at everything Chris Long accomplished as a player and person, it’s easy to see how fortunate we’ve been to have him on our team,” the Philadelphia Eagles said in a statement shortly after Long announced his retirement. “Chris was everything that we thought he was and even more – not only as a great player for our football team, but also in the community. There aren’t many players who can say they won back-to-back Super Bowls and the NFL’s Walter Payton Man of the Year award.

“He accomplished both with class and grace. There’s no question that his work ethic combined with his unique talent made him into one of the greatest of this era’s professional athletes. We’re very thankful Chris chose to play for the Philadelphia Eagles, and congratulate him on a fantastic career. He will always be part of the Eagles family.”

Long’s decision didn’t exactly catch the Eagles by surprise. They signed Vinny Curry during the free-agency period and used a fourth-round draft pick on Shareef Miller. They have some young players waiting in the wings who will need to step up and replace the 6½ quarterback sacks, relentless effort, big-moment plays and the 59 percent of the defensive snaps that Long played last season.

There is more here at work, though. Chris Long leaves behind a legacy of leadership, toughness, compassion and global understanding that we should all note. He finished his career with the right team, one that makes every day count in the community. In two short seasons, Long touched us as few players do, and for that we all need to take a moment to appreciate his time here and what he leaves behind that we can all use. ••