The 2007 NFL Draft was loaded with incredible star power that included Calvin Johnson, Joe Thomas, Adrian Peterson, Patrick Willis, Marshawn Lynch, and Darrelle Revis (to name a few). Looking back, fans will remember the 2007 draft for the future Hall of Famers and perennial All-Pros, as much as they will the flameouts of Jamarcus Russell, Jamaal Anderson, Jarvis Moss, and Brady Quinn. For the players still in the league, it’s safe to say at this point that most of those players are at the twilights of their careers. Calvin Johnson and Patrick Willis have since retired, Adrian Peterson is waiting to find a suitor, and Darrelle Revis was unceremoniously cut after a subpar 2016 season and remains unsigned.
Lost in the narratives of the stars and the busts are the tragedies of the Buccaneers first two picks, one of whom tragically passed away at the tender age of 26, the other who suffered so many head injuries, that by 27, he had suffered an “almost total loss of function.” Coming off a dismal 4-12 season, the Buccaneers were awarded with the 4th overall pick and the 35th overall pick in the second round. With coveted WR Calvin Johnson and Joe Thomas off the board, the Buccaneers selected Gaines Adams, a speedy DE out of Clemson, and Arron Sears, considered by many to be one of the top Guard prospects available in the draft.
Adams began his career showing small flashes of potential. In his first two years, he notched a respectable 12.5 sacks, and would play with an added ferocity against division rivals. Against Atlanta, in particular, Adams mustered two multi-sack games in his two full seasons of play with the Buccaneers. And the last time the Buccaneers had a sack in the playoffs? It came none other from Gaines Adams, who took down Eli Manning in the 2007 Wild Card Game en route to the Giants’ surprise Super Bowl win.
Despite the early promise shown by Adams, he seemed to disappear in many games, and with end of the Gruden-Kiffin era in 2008, Adams quickly lost favor with the Raheem Morris and Jim Bates regime. Prior to the 2009 season, Morris singled out Adams and declared that if he couldn’t reach double digit sacks, he would be considered “a bust.” [Source]
With Morris’s ultimatum, Adams simply couldn’t deliver. The Morris regime began with an 0-7 start, and after getting only one sack in his first five games, GM Mark Dominik decided to pull the plug. Adams was sent packing to Chicago for a 2010 2nd round pick, leaving the Bucs with fan favorite Stylez G. White (legal name) starting at RE.
By the end of the season, Adams’ life would end tragically at the age of 26. On January 17, 2010, Adams was found unresponsive by his girlfriend in his hometown of Greenwood, South Carolina. He was taken to the emergency room where he was pronounced dead. An autopsy revealed that Adams had died from cardiac arrest triggered by an enlarged heart. Ronde Barber would remember him as “…a quiet, humble kid,” with DT Chris Hovan lamenting that he “…considered him my little brother and that's how I will always remember him.” [Source]
It was a true tragedy to see Adams’ life cut short at such a young age, but the Bucs’ next pick off the board would serve as a horrifying example of the toll of head injuries and their impact on players’ lives. With their 2007 2nd round pick, the Buccaneers selected Arron Sears, a top Guard prospect brought in with the intention to complement Pro Bowler Davin Joseph. As a rookie, Sears showed flashes of elite potential, opening up holes for a rushing attack that gained nearly 2,000 yards on the ground and showing promise in pass protection as well. For his efforts, Sears was named to the 2007 All-Rookie team, and the Bucs appeared to be building towards a stalwart interior line.
Though Sears played well to start, he was battling inner demons triggered by a recurring history of head injuries.Prior to his third training camp, Sears was mysteriously AWOL, and the team commented that he was gone for “personal reasons.” Message boards were flooded with speculation about the state of Sears, and many fans became internet sleuths wondering what had happened to him. Sears was initially put on the “did not report” list before briefly returning to the team. He would play a total of two seasons before he was waived in April of 2010, later revealed to be suffering from neurological issues resulting from concussions.
In the wake of his short NFL career, Sears was involved in a series of troubling events that revealed he was beyond broken.
On several occasions, Sears was taken into police custody under the Baker Act, a Florida law that “allows for involuntary examination at the behest of police, judges, and mental health professionals.” [Source]
Among the sightings of Sears included him being found wandering aimlessly wandering in the road on Gunn Highway, [Source] battery of a police officer, referring to himself as “God,” threatening to blow up a hospital if he was not given a beer and a cigar, and at one point being found “zoned out” in his truck. [Source]
By 2012, Sears had suffered an “almost total loss of function…unable to care for himself and cannot take (care) of his day to day activities.” No longer to take care of himself, Sears was under the custody of parents Calvin and Henrietta Woods, who fired a lawsuit on his behalf against the NFL, the Buccaneers, and helmet maker Riddell [Source]
Finding any news on Sears has been difficult, though a user on r/Buccaneers claimed to be a taxi driver in Tampa who worked with Sears through a medical account. /u/Fallenevincar claimed he “picked him up to run to the store a few times. He had a live in caretaker with him at all times. He seemed not all there…I took him to the store to buy beer and cigarettes and then to taco bell one night.” [Source]
Looking back on the demise of Sears, it’s devastating to have watched a young man in his early twenties have his life ruined by a violent game that reduced him from an athletic and promising Guard to a man requiring constant medical care in a matter of years. Hearing stories of players like Sears, Mike Webster, and Junior Seau are harsh reminders of the toll the game takes on our gridiron heroes, and that for every player who goes on to have a fruitful post career life, there are others who live in a reality of nightmares.
The 2007 Draft will be remembered by fans as a potpourri of franchise legends and hall of shamers.