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Illness in 2016 had Cardinals’ Brown thinking his career was over

John Brown (12) watches teammates run drills during an NFL football team workout, Wednesday, May 24, 2017, at the Cardinals' practice facility in Tempe, Ariz. (AP Photo/Angie Wang)

Nine of the 15 games John Brown played in during the 2016 season saw him pull in two or fewer receptions. The Cardinals’ second most-productive receiver from a year prior knew after the team’s sixth game of the year something wasn’t right.

Doctors diagnosed him with a sickle cell trait that caused his hamstrings to lock up, and even that knowledge wouldn’t help him produce to the level that helped him become a 1,000-yard receiver in 2015. That wasn’t all.

A week after the season, doctors drained a cyst in Brown’s back that had left him lethargic, not only in pro athlete terms, but in everyday life.

Joining the Burns and Gambo show on 98.7 FM, Arizona’s Sports Station, Brown revealed Monday that his health was so poor last year that he wondered if his career was over at the age of 27.

“I just started like — it came to a point where they wasn’t going to be able to find out what the situation was — and (I’m) thinking, like, ‘This it.’ Like, I wasn’t going to be able to play no more,” Brown said.

“I really thought that.”

Brown sought medical advice after Arizona’s Week 6 victory against the Jets, even though he’d caught five passes for 54 yards and was two weeks removed from his best game of the year — against the Rams, he’d pulled down 10 passes for 144 yards, his only 100-yard game of the season.

“The doctors started coming in like after the Jets game. That’s when I really started feeling the pain,” Brown said. “Couldn’t move, couldn’t run how I wanted to.”

He reached out to former Pittsburgh safety Ryan Clark, who has been a voice for those suffering from the sickle cell trait since his retirement. Yet, Brown couldn’t find all the answers before the end of the season.

And it had been a longer struggle than the length of the season. Brown’s healthy had been limiting him since before training camp began.

“I couldn’t lift weights, no strength. I couldn’t eat the way I wanted to. I just couldn’t run full speed,” he said. “I had pain in my legs, even when I walk. I was always sleeping. I have a daughter — I couldn’t even play with my daughter.

“For me, I came into training camp, I wasn’t feeling like myself. Even when I was in California training with Carson (Palmer) that year, I was getting tired real fast.”

When he was told to take it easy following the procedure to drain the cyst in his back, Brown knew something had changed. He felt normal and soon after noticed he was no longer gassed by playing with his daughter.

Now, he’s bulked up and feeling healthy as ever.

But even though his situation was out of his control a year ago, he still feels somewhat responsible for the Cardinals’ disappointing 7-8-1 season.

“I knew I couldn’t help. That really stuck with me big time,” Brown said.

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