Thomas said that he wants to study brain injuries.
Free agent tight end Julius Thomas announced that he is leaving football to go back to school.
In a retirement letter he wrote for The Players' Tribune, Thomas explained that he decided to end his NFL career to pursue a doctorate in psychology.
"I'm ready to admit that I'm okay with giving up the identity of 'Julius the football player,' " Thomas wrote. "I'm O.K. with not being recognized as an NFL athlete -- because I'm more than that. I have stepped out of my identity before, and I will continue to do it again and again throughout life. I believe helping others is what I'm supposed to be doing at this point in my life. Hopefully I can help by encouraging more of my peers to connect with who they are outside of the game. If ultimately that's what I'm remembered for, I'd be very thankful."
Thomas also shared that he began auditing psychology classes during the offseason to see if he was interested in the subject. He said that people in the field of psychology kept asking him about brain injuries and CTE since he played football, helping prompt his decision.
"Football has serious cognitive risks, but there's still a lot to learn about the extent of them and ways they can be mitigated," he wrote. "The ability to assist with the latest research being done on brain trauma and the pursuit to better understand CTE. To study it not just from the perspective of a psychologist or a clinician, but also as a person who has played for several years at the highest level, is something that excites me. It fills me with a sense of purpose. It's a way to help while growing intellectually that I had been searching for. I know I have so much to learn, but that's what I'm most looking forward to."
After playing basketball at Portland State, Thomas was selected by the Broncos in the fourth round of the 2011 draft. He went on to excel as a tight end in Denver, scoring 24 touchdowns combined in 2013 and 2014. Thomas earned Pro Bowl selections both seasons.
The tight end next signed a five-year deal with the Jaguars but struggled with injuries. Jacksonville traded Thomas to Miami in 2017, where he recorded three touchdowns in 14 games before sustaining a foot injury. The Dolphins released Thomas in March.