Facing the risk of being paralyzed because of a neck injury, San Diego Chargers quarterback Erik Kramer likely has played his last NFL game.
Although Kramer told reporters Wednesday he'd like to let the injury settle down and then get a second opinion, others with the team believe Kramer will retire.
"He was lucky that it didn't happen on the football field," said offensive coordinator Geep Chryst, who had a long talk with Kramer before practice. "I don't know the medical background thoroughly, other than it made the decision for him."
Starting quarterback Jim Harbaugh also said he thought Kramer will retire.
The Chargers have described Kramer's injury as nerve-root irritation. He woke up with a stiff neck Friday morning, and when spasms continued, was hospitalized for three nights. The Chargers put him on injured reserve on Tuesday, and the team's medical staff told him he should retire.
Kramer, 35, said the doctor who read the results of an MRI exam "talked about it as a situation of a risk of being paralyzed if I go back out there again."
The 11-year veteran said he'd probably seek a second opinion from a doctor in Chicago who treated him when he had two herniated discs in his neck while with the Bears in 1996, which sidelined him the last 12 games of the season.
The Chargers say the two injuries are unrelated. Kramer believes the latest one stems from years of wear-and-tear. When he had the herniated discs in 1996, the doctor "said it was something that I'd have to deal with for a while."
"Just like everybody else, I'd feel comfortable just talking to a couple of different people and start to think about long-term decisions," he said.
"I haven't really thought past the immediate thing right now of just trying to get comfortable. I've got quite a bit of nerve pain that I'm dealing with. That's what the doctors are trying to focus on right now, just alleviate that nerve root and try not to make any permanent decisions or lift any heavy machinery until then."
Besides the neck injury in 1996, Kramer also ended last season on injured reserve with the Bears after suffering knee and shoulder injuries that required surgery. The shoulder surgery required extensive rehabilitation.
"It's heartbreaking in that respect," Kramer said. "I feel like I've been battling through some injuries these last few years, and thought I'd beat the odds in coming back."
Kramer, who said he's tired of dealing with pain on a daily basis, sounded like he's already taken a measure of his career.
When asked how he'd like to be remembered, he said: "I think I got the most out of my body and my abiity. I don't think there's too many other people that could have done what I did with this body.
"I feel good about everything, but disappointed in the way things ended. I'm especially disappointed in the way the season went, but in the big picture, I feel pretty good about everything."
Kramer led the Chargers (4-6) to three straight wins after Harbaugh got hurt in early October, then melted down in a barrage of turnovers and was benched. In six games, he threw for 788 yards, two touchdowns and 10 interceptions. His passer rating of 46.6 was the lowest.
Kramer was with the Detroit Lions for four seasons, helping them reach the NFC championship game following the 1991 season, and was with the Bears for five seasons. Chicago released him unexpectedly in July, and the Chargers signed him to a two-year contract the night before camp opened.
Kramer is the only Bears quarterback to throw for more than 3,000 yards in two seasons.
Also Wednesday, linebacker Junior Seau didn't practice because of a pulled muscle in his stomach. He expects to play in Sunday's game at Minnesota.
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