There's some dates in the NFL calendar that strike fear into the hearts of coaches, players, and fans: Black Monday, the first Monday after the NFL's regular season ends when some coaching decisions are announced, is the main one, but how about the day a star player announces his retirement?
Since 2016 alone, we've lost two players in the primes of their career, Marshawn Lynch and Calvin Johnson, to retirement - though Lynch, thankfully, is back; Tony Romo also called it quits earlier this year to take a job with CBS. Over the past few months, we've nearly lost a list of players that includes Ben Roethlisberger, Larry Fitzgerald, Carson Palmer, and even Vince Wilfork.
With that said, which NFL players are entering their final season? While we could randomly pick out players and predict that they're going to retire - yeah, the Giants drafted Davis Webb to be the quarterback of the future so we think this will be Eli's last year - we're going to use all available resources to list players. If a player has announced that this could be his final season, he'll be on here; if the odds are looking like they'll strongly consider retirement, we'll include them as well.
It may seem fun on paper to guess things without any knowledge or information, but that's not how we do these articles. You know that by now. The one thing we will say, though, is that there is obviously some speculation and we could very well be wrong; players change their minds all the time, right, Brett Favre?
With all of that out the way, let's get to work.
15 Colin Kaepernick, Free Agent
Honestly, this one isn't even intended to be a hot take, so put down your pitchforks and at least attempt listening to what I have to say. Look, whether or not you think Colin Kaepernick is being blackballed by the NFL doesn't matter at this point; what matters is all of the good that the former NFC champion is doing off the field and if teams don't start calling soon, that may be enough for Kapernick to officially give up on football for a bit.
I've said this before, but the impact of what Colin Kaepernick is doing for the black community is getting lost because talking heads and pundits are focusing too much on the football aspect. No one is saying that Kaepernick is better off leaving football behind - maybe a team will call him one day - but let's not be surprised if he chooses to focus full-time on the community instead of the gridiron.
14 Adam Vinatieri, Indianapolis Colts
Our first example of a 'will he or won't he?' is Indianapolis Colts kicker Adam Vinatieri, who is already entering his 22nd season in the NFL. To his credit, Vinatieri has been open about his future, saying the following last month to the Colts' official website.
"Cleaning out your locker the first week of January is not a whole lot of fun and it always leaves a lousy taste in your mouth. I still love running out onto the field. I still think I can help our team win games and why not keep going?”
With that said, though, another losing season in Indianapolis could change Vinatieri's mind. Remember, the future Hall of Famer is set to turn 45 this December and while none of us would be surprised to see him kicking field goals at the age of 50, it's not unrealistic to think 2017 will be his final year.
13 Brian Robison, Minnesota Vikings
Now this is a tough one and one that I'm not admittedly certain about, but what we do know is this: Vikings defensive end Brian Robison has said that at the end of his current contract, which will expire after the 2018 season, he's set to retire. In April, Robison - who had 7.5 sacks last year, told Chris Tomasson of the Pioneer Press the following:
“I really do believe that probably at the end of those two years, it will be it. It’ll be about my time to call it, but we’ll see how I feel when I get there."
If Robison struggles this year or the Vikings feel that he's worth cutting next offseason, though, could that speed the process up? Granted, Robison is beloved in Minnesota, but the NFL is a business and the Vikings may feel the urge to win a championship now could be enough reason to cut the lifelong Viking for another defensive end. Would that be enough reason for Robison to leave?
12 Dennis Pitta, Free Agent
Yes, we're totally cheating on this one because Pitta was released earlier this month and didn't officially announce his retirement, but come on... Is anyone really expecting Pitta to suit up again; or, I guess the better question is if anyone is expecting a team to give Pitta and his hips another chance?
To see Pitta, a Super Bowl champion in 2012 who had played in seven of a possible 48 games from 2013-15, make it back last year to catch 86 balls for 729 yards and two touchdowns was a great sight, but everyone knows that his days in this league are a signature away from being over. It's likely that Pitta won't retire for a few months as he gauges the market, but don't expect to see him on your TV next year.
11 Nick Fairley, New Orleans Saints
Like with Pitta, New Orleans Saints defensive tackle Nick Fairley is facing a career-threatning injury, but it's one that could affect his life as well; a heart condition that caused him to miss OTAs and is causing him to get multiple opinions. Some believe that this is serious, while others believe that this is being blown out of proportion. For now, I'll direct you to an excellent piece from the San Diego Union-Tribune that focuses on the 'how' and 'why' of Fairley's condition and why we shouldn't be concerned.
However, given that we're seeing more and more athletes call a career early for fear of concussions and injuries, a retirement announcement from Fairley shouldn't surprise anyone. Maybe he'll take some time off and call it a retirement, sure, but we're going to guess we see the former Auburn star hang up his jersey sooner rather than later.
10 Vince Wilfork, Free Agent
This one is definitely cheating because Wilfork is undecided if he's going to retire this year or not, but Wilfork has been extremely durable of late, playing in all but one game over the past three years - the last two of which were in Houston after spending the entirety of his career with the New England Patriots.
“I’m taking everything I can take to make sure I’m 100 percent certain on whatever decision I make," Wilfork told Pro Football Talk Live in May. "However long it’s going to take it will take. It’s the reason I haven’t signed anything yet, because I want to see what it is, how I feel.”
Will we see Wilfork in 2017? That's to be determined. Is he likely to retire sooner rather than later? Probably. In the meantime, let us know in the comment section if you think Wilfork is a Hall of Famer!
9 Mario Williams, Free Agent
Another ex-Texans defensive lineman and the first overall pick in the 2006 NFL Draft, we haven't seen much of the old Mario Williams - the elite pass rusher who could split time as an end and an outside linebacker - since his 14.5 sack season with the Buffalo Bills in 2014. Now, after a disappointing season with the Miami Dolphins, Williams is a free agent getting zero calls.
In December, Williams told the Miami Herald that retirement wasn't exactly in mind, saying, “No matter what, right now, I don’t want to bail out on that. I’m not going to do that.”
I'm personally expecting Williams to resurface with a team in need of another defensive body - and a veteran leader - sooner rather than later, but the 2017 should be his final before retirement regardless of him getting a contract or not. Maybe he'll wind up back in Houston...
8 Vincent Jackson, Free Agent
Another free agent, maybe we shouldn't write Jackson off yet because he plays at a position where older players are usually getting chances to try out. Now, ESPN's Adam Schefter did report in March that Jackson wants to continue playing and doesn't want to retire yet - and we don't blame him for that, not when his heart is most definitely in the game - but the three-time Pro Bowler could decide to sign his resignation papers if he doesn't get a call.
Might a team wanting a veteran wideout to help mentor players call Jackson, given that he did a fine job with Mike Evans in Tampa Bay? Possibly, but at 34 years of age and with knee injuries in the past, this could be the end for V-Jax...
7 Rolando McClain, Free Agent
Put simply, Rolando McClain's NFL career is most likely over after suspensions, drug abuse, and behavior concerns. If you're someone who's been enjoying following McClain's comeback after two previous retirements, this is a disappointing turn of events; but, it's also one that many saw coming as he's been a repeat offender in the past. McClain was not only suspended indefinitely by the NFL in December, but was also arrested in May for charges that included possession of marijuana and carrying a firearm without a permit.
Whether or not McClain will officially retire is to be seen - he could very well vanish into the distance - but his NFL career is done. Putting him on this list was nothing more than a mere formality, especially if he does have to serve jail time. You'll be missed, Rolando. We at TheSportster hope you're able to solve your personal demons.
6 Larry Fitzgerald, Arizona Cardinals
Well, we're done with the free agents and can get back to players that we're definitely going to see in the coming months. Though Fitzgerald stopped the anxiety of Cardinals fans - and dynasty fantasy football owners - by announcing that he'd be returning for the 2017 season, are we about to see the future Hall of Famer's final campaign? Well, let's think about it.
Given that we've seen wide receivers either retire in their primes - looking at you, Calvin Johnson - or announce plans to do so in advance - we'll get to you in a few minutes, Brandon Marshall - seeing Fitzgerald call it quits at age 34 wouldn't be too surprising. Disappointing if you're an NFL fan? Definitely. But will it be one of those moments where we say wait, what? Not likely.
5 Julius Peppers, Carolina Panthers
We talked about Julius Peppers recently at our new sister site, TheQuiz (make sure to check them out!) and how he's quickly climbing up the all-time sack list, but there's a possibility this season will be the final time the former number two overall pick gets to the quarterbacks. Peppers has indicated in the past that he wants to play as long as he possibly can, but with him in Carolina on a one-year contract, this would be a good time for him to hang the jersey up.
That Julius Peppers has hung around as long as he has while playing at such a strong level - and accepting a situational pass-rushing role - is a testament to his character and the player that the Panthers are getting. Who knows? Maybe Peppers' presence can finally help Cam Newton grow up...
4 Carson Palmer, Arizona Cardinals
Like with Fitzgerald, Palmer was also contemplating retirement following the Cardinals' dismal 2016 season, but he announced shortly after the Super Bowl that he'd be coming back for one more year.
“My intent was to take some time after the season to get away and see where I was physically and mentally," Palmer said in February. "On both fronts, I can say I’m ready to get back to work and prepare for the 2017 season. This is a phenomenal group with a very special opportunity in front of it. I know how rare that is and I couldn’t be more excited to be a part of it.”
We'll see how long Palmer keeps the Brett Favre act up for, but the former top overall pick is definitely coming back for another year. As for 2018 and beyond? Too early to tell, but we're expecting him to call it quits.
3 James Harrison, Pittsburgh Steelers
Earlier, we praised Julius Peppers for how he has adapted to age and becoming a situational pass-rusher, but we can't praise him and not praise James Harrison. Now 39 years old, Harrison is still playing at an elite level for a reserve, leading the Steelers with five sacks during the regular season and added another 2.5 during three postseason games.
"I feel physically fine,” Harrison, who has retired in the past, said after the team's AFC Championship loss to New England. “I feel fine now. A few little dings and bruises here and there but other than that I feel fine."
Harrison is coming back for one more year, but we should expect 2017 to be his final year. If Harrison comes back again, though, don't look shocked when the NFL keeps trying to drug test him....
2 Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh Steelers
If there's any player on this list who could become the next Brett Farve with the 'will he or won't he?' saga, it's probably going to be Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. That's nothing against Big Ben, who announced this spring that he'll return for another season, but his passion for the game is going to go up against his desire to remain healthy.
When on Pro Football Talk Live in May, former Steelers offensive lineman Willie Colon made it clear that Roethlisberger had seriously contemplated retiring, knowing full well his injury history (knees, concussions) and the importance of his current o-line.
“I got to sit down and talk to him and one thing he told me is he did take it seriously,” Colon said. “He’s dealt with a lot of injuries. He’s passionate about playing, but one thing that keeps his fire going is that offensive line. ... You have to worry about the health of Ben Roethlisberger. Can you keep him upright, can he stay healthy for the duration?"
Those are all fair questions and ones that we'll definitely be keeping an eye out for this season.
1 Brandon Marshall, New York Giants
We started our list off with a weird one in Colin Kaepernick and we're finishing with a weird one in New York's Brandon Marshall, who announced in May that he's set to retire in two years. At the time, Marshall said his plan is to play, "two more years, get my Super Bowl, have a little bit more fun, and then I'm going to go change the world in the mental health space."
Could that change? Well, Marshall has made it clear that he'll retire when his two-year contract ends, but what if the Giants decide to cut him after one year? What if the Giants win the Super Bowl? The other thing is that Marshall is so involved with projects outside of the football world, especially with the mental illness community, that he may feel the urge to retire a year ahead of schedule to prioritize his charity work. Whatever he does, we're rooting for Marshall.
Could that change? Well,
Which NFL players are you expecting to potentially retire after this season? Make sure to let us know in the comment section below!