Name: Sean McGrath
College: Eastern Illinois/Henderson State
NFL games played: 34
Games played for the Chargers: 16
Fun fact: McGrath has by far the best beard on the Chargers, and he even has a Twitter account solely for his beard. He hasn’t updated it in a while, but you can check it out @Beard_o_McGrath.
Sean McGrath played his High School Football at Carmel Catholic High School, playing TE and Long Snapper after converting from a MIKE LB in Junior High. The Corsairs ran a Triple Option offense, however, which meant McGrath was used mostly as a blocker, seeing the ball just one or two times each game.
Good blocking with limited chances to showcase his receiving ability was never going to get McGrath major attention, but he did receive a scholarship offer to Eastern Illinois. He was Redshirted his first year, and then played sparingly as a backup in six games without recording a single stat in his second year there. His football career looked like it was screeching to a halt, and McGrath did himself no favors when he was booted off the EIU team for violating team rules; FoxSports described McGrath as having “partied himself out of Eastern Illinois.”
McGrath was fortunate enough to be given a second chance, as the coach that kicked him out of Eastern Illinois put in a good word for McGrath, who was able to continue his football career at D2 school Henderson State. Henderson State might have been tiny, but it also sent McGrath to a quiet town and a dry county, helping him to focus on the bigger picture - football.
He Redshirted his first year there while he was adapting to the new culture, but returned to the football field a completely different athlete. McGrath caught 55 passes for 565 yards as a Junior for Henderson State and was a clear standout player for the small school, but a foot injury in his Senior Year limited him to just four games and took away any chance he might have had of hearing his name called during the NFL Draft.
Looking back, it’s incredible that McGrath was given a shot in the NFL at all. He didn’t have an impressive High School resume and was booted off his first college team before only having one year of production in D2. NFL teams had done their research, however, and were intrigued by the dual-threat aspect of McGrath as both a blocker and receiver. The Seahawks picked him up as an undrafted free agent, and McGrath suddenly found himself going from tiny Henderson State - which has an enrollment of just over 3,000 Undergraduates - into the biggest sporting environment of them all.
McGrath didn’t make the Seahawks 53 man roster but did find himself landing a spot on their 10 man Practice Squad. He lasted less than a month there before they cut him - only to be re-added five days later. He’d get called up to the roster in time to appear in two regular season games that season - as well as two playoff games - but would be cut the next offseason.
The Seahawks may have intended to place McGrath back on the Practice Squad but they wouldn’t get a chance, as the Kansas City Chiefs claimed the TE on waivers. Travis Kelce played in just one game that year (his rookie season) due to injuries and Anthony Fasano spent much of the season nursing various ailments, meaning McGrath was suddenly pushed into a ‘starting’ role, catching 26 passes for 302 yards on the season. He was heading into the 2014 offseason with a good chance to make the team based on the previous season, but his heart wasn’t in it, and on the 26th of July 2014, Sean McGrath announced his retirement from the NFL.
This great piece by the Chiefs Digest sums up McGrath’s reasoning behind retiring from the NFL at just aged 26 (and after the best year of his footballing career).
“When we had that little break before summer camp, it kind of gave me a chance to step back and re-evaluate where I was at in my life. I just didn’t have the spark in me; I didn’t have the drive to really do it.”
“I always told myself at what point it doesn’t become fun, it’s time to move on. I mean, I was kind of feeling that and I would’ve been doing myself a disservice.”
McGrath had other interests besides football, which had started to become too much of a job and not enough of a hobby for the former TE. Namely, he wanted to pursue his passion of art. This wasn’t a new battle for McGrath. In the Third Grade, he told his teachers he wanted to be an artist. In the Fourth Grade, that changed to wanting to play football for the Bears. At his Pro Day, he thanked his agent by giving him a piece of pottery. His LinkedIn page describes him as ‘Sean McGrath - Footballer and Artist.’ After 2013, McGrath realized that he wanted to be more of an Artist than a Footballer, and so he walked away from the game.
McGrath went back to Henderson State to work on his Masters Portfolio. He took classes at the Art Institute of Chicago and immersed himself in the scene. But by the end of the year, the balance had flipped back, and McGrath was missing football. He decided to make a comeback and joined the Colts in the 2015 offseason. He was sent to their Practice Squad and was released, re-added, released once more before signing with the Chargers - who cut him 11 days later and sent him back down to the Practice Squad.
After Jeff Cumberland went down with an Achilles injury in the Preseason, the Chargers #3 TE job suddenly opened up. McGrath won it and appeared in all 16 games for the Chargers last season, starting five and playing 288 snaps, being used mostly as a blocker.
McGrath has quite possibly the weirdest transaction log in NFL history - being cut multiple times from a Practice Squad and then re-added, retiring - only to then come back and once again be dumped on the Practice Squad - before playing a 16 game season three years after his last NFL season, in which he had also appeared in 16 games.
With that said, I think he’s looking at another ‘released’ appearing on that transaction log. The Chargers liked to compliment McGrath’s blocking but he was average at best in that department last season. He offers very little receiving value and at 29 years old isn’t somebody that you can develop for the future. The team is likely to only carry 3 TEs, and a healthy Jeff Cumberland is (in my opinion) a better player than given credit for and a much more useful weapon than Sean McGrath is. Cumberland has been impressing early on in camp, and I think McGrath is going to be a victim of the numbers game.
He might be able to latch onto another team (I’d actually be surprised if he didn’t), but McGrath is definitely in the twilight of his football career. It’s rare for someone like McGrath to have something to fall back on after football, and it’s almost unheard of for them to have briefly given up football for it. McGrath is definitely set for life after football, and I genuinely look forward to seeing how his artistic career goes. This won’t be the last time we hear from Sean McGrath.