The morning of March 28, 2018, may forever stick with Su’a Cravens. Not only did he receive a call from former Super Bowl MVP Doug Williams, but he also got one from former Super Bowl MVP John Elway and later a text from former Super Bowl MVP Von Miller.
Williams, now the Redskins’ senior vice president of player personnel, informed Cravens of the news he had expected since early February, when he was reinstated by the NFL and his name had been floated in trade discussions.
Elway, the Broncos’ general manager, called shortly after to welcome Cravens to Denver, and officially elation set in. Cravens took to social media and posted a flurry of messages, including a video of him looking off in rapture as Aladdin’s “A Whole New World” played.
Then the icing.
“I’m watching TV and I get a text message and I’m like, ‘Who is this?’ because he was talking to me like he already knew me,” Cravens said. “Come to find out it was Von Miller and he’s telling me, ‘Can’t wait to have you on the defense. We got to hang out,’ and ‘We’re going to build this brotherhood.’”
The joy of that morning has extended through the week as Cravens awaits his arrival to Denver and his future as a Bronco. In a deal that included six draft picks, the Broncos essentially parted with one fifth-round selection to gain a former second-round pick who has the potential to earn a starting role at strong safety or dime backer.
“I wanted to play football where somebody wanted me,” Cravens said. “I can tell that Denver actually wanted me on the team. It wasn’t just, ‘This is smart for our team.’ It just seemed like they really felt like they could use me and felt like they could put me in the best position to be successful.”
Though Cravens has the pure athleticism and instincts few can match, he also has an injury history and a year away from the game that has fueled a slew of questions and speculation. While playing 11 games in 2016, Cravens also suffered a concussion in Week 4, an elbow injury later that season and a meniscus injury the following preseason.
And that’s when it got messy.
“I never felt like I could be myself with the Redskins,” Cravens said. “… It’s a blessing obviously to be drafted by the Redskins and I will always thank them for giving me my opportunity. But I just think after my rookie year when I had those injuries, I just felt like things kind of changed.”
Cravens claimed he “just wasn’t feeling like myself” as early as the 2017 preseason and the feelings worsened after his knee injury. He told teammates before the start of the season that he planned to retire, but soon after he was placed on the Redskins’ exempt list, ensuring he’d miss the entire year.
“I was dealing with a lot of personal issues, along with my family,” he said. “I just didn’t feel like me, the guy that I once was.”
The Redskins, he said, sent him to a doctor who diagnosed him with post-concussion syndrome, a set of symptoms that can linger for weeks and even months following a traumatic brain injury.
“It made a lot of sense once he told me, ‘You’re dealing with this and you’ve been dealing with it the last year and this is the reason why you feel this way and you’re in no position to make decisions like retiring or anything like that,” Cravens said. “He said, ‘You just need time to get healthy and to make sure that you’re in a healthy environment and that maybe giving football a break for six or seven months right now is the best thing for you. And that’s the only option I’m giving you.’”
Cravens said he was medically cleared last December, and it was then that he finally felt like himself again physically, and mentally. But because he was on the exempt list, he had no shot of returning.
“If I was cleared any sooner than December and I was not on the exempt list, you could have counted on me strapping up and getting ready to play,” Cravens said “… Even when I said I wanted to retire, the doctor said, ‘That wasn’t even you speaking. That was the concussion speaking for you because you’re in mental space right now that you don’t understand because you don’t even understand that you’re sick. You don’t even understand that you have this disease at the moment.’
“Looking back at it, it made so much more sense because I was dealing with things where the smallest things were life and death to me all because of this concussion that I was going through.”
Cravens was reinstated by the NFL in early February and initial trade discussions between the Broncos and Redskins began. But in Cravens’ absence from the game, there was continued talk about his desire to play football and to be with the Redskins. Some even claimed he “quit” on the team.
Cravens, however, strongly denies such accusations.
“I think the information they have as to why they said that, I think it’s completely wrong,” he said. “What they think they know is completely wrong and forged and that they shouldn’t believe all the propaganda themselves because none of its true. I wish I could speak on it more, and I will one day. But right now my focus is the Broncos.”
Starting Monday when he makes the trek to Denver, Cravens will get the fresh start he’s long wanted. He’ll get the clean slate his career needs.
But he also has the potential to gain much more.
“I expect to compete for a starting job no matter where I’m at,” he said. “I feel like I have the talent to start. I’m not expecting a starting job, but I’m going to put my head down and work and hopefully that’s the outcome.”