Ask him who is wearing No. 24 on the Miami Dolphins this year and Isa Abdul-Quddus smiles because he wore that number last year and knows it won’t be assigned to anyone, even after he was cut from the team in March.
“Nobody has it,” Abdul-Quddus says. “I feel it’s an honor that they appreciate me so much they won’t give my number away. It shows they care about me.”
Ask Abdul-Quddus who has taken his stall in a crowded locker room that is overrun with so many players that rookies are sharing space and, again, a tangible satisfaction shows in his answer .
“Nobody,” the former Dolphins safety says. “I was sitting in there a couple of minutes ago, actually. It’s still my locker. That shows how great the people are here.”
Isa Abdul-Quddus is no longer a Miami Dolphin.
But even after he sustained a season-ending nerve injury on a violent tackle in last season’s 15th game, he still felt part of the team. Even after he visited doctors in January and got the shocking news that he’ll never play again, he still felt part of the team.
And even after the Dolphins cut him, Abdul-Quddus is being made to feel like he’s still a part of the team.
Of course, that’s not completely correct. That collision he was involved in on December 24th was indeed the end. He suffered a Brachial Plexus injury that caused much of his right arm to go numb.
Even now, three months after nerve transplant surgery that’s usually reserved for auto accident victims, Abdul-Quddus says his right hand and part of his right arm are often numb and he sometimes experiences shooting pain. The arm, atrophied because he cannot lift weights with it, is still in a sling. He also cannot move his wrist fully to raise the right hand.
“Oh, yeah, I’m done,” a realistic but still upbeat Abdul-Quddus shared Friday. “I accomplished everything I wanted to, at least in the short-term. Obviously I’m never going to win a Super Bowl, but I can still help by giving back to my teammates. But football-wise, I feel I accomplished everything I wanted to. I came in the league during a lockout year (2011) as an undrafted guy and I became a starter for the Miami Dolphins. So I really can’t complain about my career at all.”
Abdul-Quddus is living an NFL player’s nightmare scenario. At age 27, less than one season into a new contract and in the prime of his career, it all came crashing down on one play. One traumatic hit ended it all.
“I went to hit the guy and I got hit in my head by my teammate,” Abdul-Quddus says. “As soon as it happened my mindset went to, ‘Am I alright?’ And then I thought, ‘I’m OK’. When I got up I felt OK. My arm was hurting. My arm was numb but I could walk. It felt like it was a nasty hit but I could walk. My brain was clear. I felt like I came out of it with a win because it could have been a lot worse.
“My mindset has stayed positive because I know how bad it could have been. I got out of it with an arm injury that’s going to eventually heal. I could have had a severe concussion where I would never think straight again or I could have been paralyzed. So the whole time I’m thinking, ‘At least it’s just an arm. It’s not something that will change my life forever.’ “
The nerve surgery is supposed to bring Abdul-Quddus back to full use of his right arm within “a year or two,” he says. That might seem a bitter fate for a young professional athlete to accept, but Abdul-Quddus is apparently a master of the great attitude.
“I always took my career as a game-by-game thing because I was undrafted, I was last on the roster two times,” Abdul-Quddus says. “My mindset has always been this could be my last game, this could be my last play. So I never really feared the end because it was always there.
“When I heard the news I wouldn’t be able to play again, it hurt. That was tough because it wasn’t what I was expecting to hear. I assumed it would take six to nine months and then I’d be back. When I heard the news it crushed me because we built so much this past season, going to the playoffs and going 10-6. I felt we could build off of that with me playing. But once I knew I couldn’t, it kind of hurt.”
The Dolphins realize Abdul-Quddus is in pain because he couldn’t continue to play for them. So they’ve tried to ease the ache by making their former player figuratively part of the family if not part of the team.
“He wanted to still be around. He wanted to help the guys. I don’t think he was quite ready to transition to something else,” head coach Adam Gase says. “He wanted to make sure he was here for his guys -- whether it was help break down some film, give them some notes on things he saw. He wasn’t ready to put his mind on, ‘I can never do this again.’”
So Abdul-Quddus, not on the roster, remains a part of the organization. The Dolphins are letting him be at practice as he has been since the opening of training camp. He can watch film. He can help inspire, motivate, teach. He basically has the run of the building.
“He’s trying to learn a lot of different things,” Gase says. “He asks about what we’re doing with coaching. What we do with personnel. What we do with player engagement. He asks a lot of questions. We’re along with him and we’re going to open up all the doors to see what he finds interesting.
“He’s one of the favorite guys in the locker room. He brought his A-game every day, gave you everything he had, was great in the meeting room, one of our smartest players, guys respect him. Then he has this freak injury that’s a one-in-a-million injury. You feel horrible for him because you ask, ‘Why that guy?’ But he’s handled things so good and I love the fact he wants to remain impactful with his teammates.
“That’s why we’re going to live up to that saying, ‘He’s with us.’ We want to keep him around.”
Follow Armando Salguero on Twitter: @ArmandoSalguero