Ramon Foster realized last season that his door in the NFL was more closed than it was open.
Foster wanted to be real with himself and retire from the Pittsburgh Steelers on his own accord rather than being pushed out as so many athletes typically are at the end of their careers. The former Tennessee standout took matters into his own hands last week when he announced his retirement from football following 11 seasons in the NFL.
From Foster’s standpoint, “Why steal from the game when you can make way for somebody else?” In his mind, he was working on borrowed time.
“We all have those timelines in our heads,” Foster said in a radio interview with the Midday 180 on 104.5 The Zone in Nashville last week. “Once I got to a point of being established I was like, ‘Okay, we’ll get to seven years and that means two contracts.’ I always said, ‘We’ll get to seven and then decide what’s going to happen.’ But then I still felt good and said, ‘okay, get to nine or 10.’
“I think I made a deal with myself about two years ago. ‘You get over 10 and anything after that is a bonus.’”
Foster spent all 11 seasons in the NFL with Pittsburgh. He first signed with the Steelers as an undrafted rookie free agent following the 2009 NFL Draft. For his career, he started 145 of the 160 games he played in, both of those ranking as second-most in team history at his position. He started all 14 of the games he played in 2019, his final season.
“I just wanted to make it into the league,” Foster explained. “Of course, the longer you play, the more your eyes open up to the business side of it, to being a better professional and all those things take off a little bit.
“Then it goes from let’s make it to the first contract to ‘can we get another one?’ Next thing you know, time goes by fast as ever, and here I am finishing up No. 11 and retiring. To say I could have painted a better picture, I don’t think so. Definitely God’s plan was bigger than mine.”
Foster’s time in Pittsburgh was more than just a work relationship, though.
The late Dan Rooney, who served as the president, owner, and chairman of the Steelers’ organization — and the son of Steelers founder Art Rooney — addressed Foster by his first name from the moment Foster joined the organization. Even Steelers legend Troy Polamalu welcomed the undrafted free agent to the organization with open arms.
Foster’s recollection of his first moments in Pittsburgh ring in his ear while recounting his experience. But his relationship with Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin sticks out more than anything.
“It was more personal than professional,” Foster said of his conversation with Tomlin when he informed his head coach that he was retiring. “I got to reminisce on some of the stuff he said to the staff while he was notifying them. Basically, he stopped the whole meeting and went through an entire spill and each coach in the room had a chance to say their piece about me.
“He helped me as a young man become a better man as a father, husband, and player. It was very personal. I have an affection for him, and I know now his affection for me as far as just not as a player, but as a person. He’s by far one of the best coaches — of course Coach Fulmer is up there too — but Coach Tomlin and Coach Fulmer are definitely the epitome of what coaches are meant to be.”
Foster was much more than an offensive lineman to the Steelers; he was one of the most respected players in the locker room and a leader in the Pittsburgh community.
Foster was always one of the first Steelers to speak up on critical issues involving the organization and the league itself. He even led the team’s Social Justice Program the last two seasons.
“Ramon was class in every way, professional in every way, and I think his career is indicative of what this professional football journey should be about,” Tomlin said in a Steelers press release. “He went from being an undrafted free agent to giving us over a decade of service at an extremely high level. I am honored to be associated with him and wish he and his family the best of luck in his retirement.”
Foster was a three-star offensive tackle coming out of high school. The Ripley High School alum out of Herring, Tennessee signed with the Vols, where played in 44 career games. Foster earned All-SEC honors as a freshman and junior with Tennessee.
In his own words, Foster is a Tennessee guy through and through. With his residence stamped in Hendersonville and his playing career in the rearview, he wants to give back.
“I haven’t had the opportunity to enjoy a football game in Knoxville, so tailgating and going to a game, and being as involved as I can with the university is definitely something I want to do,” Foster said. “I love this state.
“I tell people, Pittsburgh is home, but it’s just something about the state of Tennessee that I love. It’s just like that for me. As much as I can, as many connections as I can moving forward, I want to do that and be one of those guys that’s not taking from society, but giving to it, too.”
Pittsburgh quarterback and future Hall of Famer Ben Roethlisberger missed nearly all of last season due to an elbow injury. While it was sad for Foster to not run it back with Roethlisberger one last time, being able to walk out on his own terms took the front seat. It was the “quality of life type of stuff” that he was searching for.
Health is more important than wealth to Foster. Being a regular human being is goal No. 1 for one of the best offensive linemen to ever play for the Vols and Steelers as he enters retirement, and he wants to give back now that he has more time.