DeAngelo Hall strolls into the kitchen of his new house, glancing up from his cellphone to greet three of his six kids and mother-in-law.
The Washington Redskins safety just returned from his morning workout at Redskins Park, and from picking up 15-year-old Tyrel from his football workout at John Champe High School.
The high-backed bar stools neatly arranged around the large marble island catch Hall’s attention. They arrived while he was out.
“Think these are wrong,” Hall says. He pulls one out, sits on it, scoots up to the island to test out the height. “Yep. They sent the wrong ones. Think it’s the wrong wood. Maybe the design, too.”
In June, Hall moved his family from Atlanta where they lived since 2004, his rookie year with the Falcons.
The unpacking and decorating remains ongoing. Furniture deliveries trickle in, pictures must be hung, and handy men tromp in and out.
Hall’s hectic offseason unfolds with him at a curious intersect: He’s beginnning the final act of his playing career while simultaneously preparing for the next phase of life.
Coming off three straight injury-shortened seasons, Hall realizes his mortality and, for the first time in his career, he is without a clear role — even as he feels a yearning to get on the field one more time. But he also must plan for life after football.
So, the last six months have featured continued rehab from a torn anterior cruciate ligament, trips to Florida for checkups at orthopedic surgeon James Andrews’ practice in Florida, relocation of his family, discussions about post-playing job opportunities, and meetings for various investment projects.
But the stools are priority No. 1 right now.
“I’ve gotta call these people,” he says.
Lisa Blankenbeckler — visiting from Atlanta to help while her daughter attends a conference — volunteers to fix breakfast for Tyrel and siblings, Breana, 7, and twins D.J. and Jaden, 5 (and 11-year-old Maya and 10-year-old Talia once they wake up).
Hall thanks her, and pushes the stool back in. He retreats to the basement, where a series of beautiful but unhung pieces of artwork line the walls, and to his office. He unlocks the door and sits at his desk.
The office also remains unsettled. Disassembled pieces of his gun collection lay on the desk. The rest remain in shipping containers on the floor. Hall can’t decide whether he wants to adorn the bare white walls with his favorite rifles or his record collection — including his two favorites, Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” and “Watch the Throne” by Jay-Z and Kanye West.
Hall calls the furniture company, explaining his predicament. Eventually, he decides he’ll let his wife, Jada Hall, sort things out. As soon as Hall hangs up, Breana calls down asking him to set up the spring floor in the rec room so she can practice handstands and flips.
“Sorry, man.” He shakes his head. “I’ve got a lot going on.”
Just two days earlier, Hall and Tyrel, a wide receiver, returned from the FBU Top Gun Showcase football camp in South Carolina. In between unpacking boxes, he has spent the last month as taxi driver to football and cheer practices.
The daddy duties aren’t new. But in the past, Hall separated football and family. While in Atlanta, family commanded his attention. When in Virginia, football. But the timing was right for the Hall family to move north, with Tyrel entering high school and Mya middle school.
“We knew once I was done playing, the opportunities would be more plentiful up here,” Hall explains.
So, here they are. The new living arrangement will require balance, Hall reminds himself.
Hall, 33, is entering his 14th NFL season and 10th with the Redskins, who he grew up cheering for as a kid in the Tidewater area. With defensive lineman Kedric Golston, a 2006 draft pick, no longer on the roster, Hall is now the longest-tenured member of the team.
During his first pro 10 seasons, Hall established himself as one of the better cornerbacks in the league, averaging 4.3 interceptions a season while earning three Pro Bowl selections. His 43 interceptions lead all active players.
After rupturing an Achilles’ tendon in 2014 and returning in 2015, Hall’s burst wasn’t what it once was, but he and his coaches still believed he could remain productive with a move to safety. Hall believed the position switch would help him extend his career, just as it did for former Packers and Raiders star Charles Woodson. But back-to-back injury-plagued seasons have prevented Hall from showing his capabilities at safety.
As a result, Hall wondered this offseason if his time in Washington would end.
“Are they going to give me an opportunity?” Hall said of the questions he asked himself. “Am I going to be on the street hurt, trying to find a job? Nobody wants, after playing in this league for 14 years, to be on the street looking for a job while you’re hurt.”
Hall, who hasn’t recorded an interception since 2013 — something that frustrates him greatly — considered retirement.
He had options. He enjoyed dabbling in analyst work for various media outlets during the offseason, and he figured that if he worked at it full time, he could cobble together enough media gigs to earn roughly $1 million.
Hall has always aspired to one day shape the Redskins as a talent evaluator. Washington’s general manager vacancy and San Francisco’s hiring of former player and broadcaster John Lynch as GM despite a lack of prior experience intensified Hall’s interest. He spoke with team president Bruce Allen, who has jokingly called Hall his “assistant general manager,” about a potential front office role, but couldn’t decide whether he should keep playing.
A conversation with Woodson, who retired after the 2015 season, settled things for Hall.
“He told me, ‘When your body can’t play anymore and you can’t keep up with these young dudes anymore, you’re going to know. And you’re going to wish you had one more play, one more year, one more opportunity to put that helmet on. … So, enjoy playing ’til you can’t play. That other stuff will be there when you’re 60. You definitely can’t play when you’re 60.’ ”
Hall put off thoughts of retirement. Redskins officials assured him that they still saw him as an asset in 2017.
“He’s kind of been a mainstay here and he kind of keeps the boat from sinking from time to time,” Coach Jay Gruden said last month. “There’s some volatile people in that defensive back room from time to time and he’s a calming guy, if you can believe that. … Hopefully we’ll be able to get him back at a later date, but if we don’t have him back when we want to, at least he’ll be in the room and still have a major influence on the team and the defense.”
Because of his injuries (torn Achilles’ tendon in 2014, toe and groin injuries in 2015, torn anterior cruciate ligament last season), the Redskins asked Hall to take to a pay cut entering this final year of his contract. Hall agreed to a reduction from $4.25 million to $1.95 million.
“It ain’t about the money, ain’t about getting rich,” Hall says. “I did that already. I just love this game. … I feel like I’m so close to a lot of goals. … Seeing plays that I know I could’ve made and not being able to help my teammates win, it’s really frustrating. But it’s really what brings me back.”
Gruden’s description of Hall as “a calming guy” evoked a chuckle both from coach and player.
For much of his career, Hall was considered anything but that. Brash and emotional coming out of Virginia Tech, Hall would fight anyone that crossed him — teammate, opponent, authority figure.
In 2007, while playing for Atlanta, after multiple penalties in one game, Hall had a meltdown on the sideline and an animated argument with coach Bobby Petrino. In 2012 while playing for the Redskins at Pittsburgh, Hall had to be separated from a referee after cursing him out and got ejected. After frustrating losses, Hall would question coaching strategies during postgame news conferences. The antics fueled critics, who, in describing Hall as a selfish player, gave him the nickname “Me-Angelo.”
But eventually, Hall morphed from volatile to sage.
Hall credits time spent with former teammates and locker room leaders London Fletcher, Lorenzo Alexander and Golston for some of his maturation. The negative events helped as well.
“As low as I felt during those moments, I wouldn’t change a thing because it’s grown me as a player and person,” Hall explains. “It’s matured me. To hear Jay call me the voice of reason — if you had asked anyone around me if I was that five years ago, they would look at me like I was crazy. No way I’d have a chance to be talking about one day joining the front office.”
Dwindling opportunities to win a Super Bowl also helped change Hall’s perspective. As a younger player, he put more stock in individual accolades — “Getting to the Pro Bowl was considered the upper echelon when I was coming up,” he says — and focused less on sacrificing for the team. When Hall turned 30, he realized he had three Pro Bowl selections but only three playoff appearances (one victory). Now Hall preaches “team first.”
“He’ll be hurt and still coming to meetings,” cornerback Bashaud Breeland said. “He’s always sharing his perspective and helping us understand. It takes a lot off you when you know you have someone with experience like D-Hall that you can rely on. … It makes you wanna help him win a ring.”
As a top-10 draft pick with Atlanta, and high-priced acquisition with Oakland and Washington, Hall has always held leading roles for his team. But this year it’s different. The Redskins plan to start 2016 second-round pick Su’a Cravens and free agent signing D.J. Swearinger at safety.
“You’re an old dog. It’s very similar to an undrafted guy or a low-round draft pick guy who’s got a lot of guys in front of him. Show some stuff and move up,” Hall said. “I don’t want any handouts or favors. I want to get mine. I’m hyped. But I still don’t know how everything’s going to work out.”
Redskins training camp starts Thursday, and Hall will open on the physically unable to perform list. He can run, make cuts and jump without pain. But doctors and trainers want his quadriceps attached to the surgically repaired knee to strengthen a bit more.
Once he gets the go-ahead, Hall hopes to be a contributor and to savor every healthy moment.
“As a 23, 25, 27-year-old, you just figure, ‘Okay, I’ll do this another seven, eight years.’ But you didn’t really appreciate it,” Hall recalls. “Now you appreciate being in the training room getting stretched out. You appreciate that time in the weight room, being in the room watching film. You appreciate just playing. And that’s because you know you’re almost done playing. … I hate that I don’t have five more years to see it through with these guys.”