Imagine doing what you love for years, risking your body and your brain in the process, and realizing you're probably never going to work again. Well, things could be worse, right?
I could bore you with the details of the NFL's pension plan - simply put, payers can qualify for two other benefits (one is for players who play at least two seasons and the other is for guys who have at least four under their belt ) - or I could bore you with anecdotes about players who have retired. To save us all time and hope that the NFL will work out its various problems, let's instead look at players who, surprisingly, aren't retired yet.
With the exception of one player on this list, none of these players are on active rosters for the 2017 season; that one player has an interesting case we'll explain because most people likely forgot about him. Players on this list include free agents who spent time in the NFL last season and people who have been out of the league for a few years, but never officially signed their retirement papers.
If all of that makes sense, let's put our nostalgia goggles on and look at players you didn't know haven't retired yet.
15 Aldon Smith
Smith is the one player who doesn't quite fall under the free agent rule as, technically, he's on the Oakland Raiders roster but is suspended. Earlier this month, Smith was set to be eligible to play regular season games for the first time since 2014, but we've yet to see the former All-Pro linebacker suit up. Will that change in the coming weeks?
Really, we put Smith on this list because people seem to forget he's actually still active, much less on a team. Now, as the Raiders make a last stand and potentially try to avoid a coaching change, will we see Smith hit the field and try to bring down the quarterback? Between Smith and Josh Gordon, 2018 could very well be the year of the comeback.
14 Terrell Owens
Of course Terrell Owens hasn't officially retired yet! Would you really be surprised if Owens announced an intention to hold a public workout for scouts this winter or spring in hopes of securing an invite to training camp? Forget that Owens hasn't played in a regular season game since 2010 or been on an NFL roster since 2012 - the future Hall of Famer still has something left in the tank!
If Owens' tweet to the New York Giants about filling in for receiver help didn't already spell it out, the All-Pro wideout hasn't officially retired and signed his papers. Are we going to see Terrell Owens play in the NFL again? Not a chance - and if he does, some major conversations need to take place about why he hadn't been signed prior.
13 Reggie Bush
The first player on this list who is a true free agent in the sense that Bush played last year, we may have seen the last of the former Heisman Trophy winner. Bush hasn't been a dangerous running back since 2013 and has been so battered by injuries that not even his once-fantastic speed is a threat anymore. At least with previous running backs at Bush's age of 32, they could be a solid change-of-pace player if they still had their speed or could break tackles.
But with Bush, what would be the point of signing him? Bush's legacy will live on in the form of former offensive coordinator and current Florida Atlantic coach Lane Kiffin referring to breakout sophomore running back Devin "Motor" Singletary as "Baby Bush."
12 Michael Turner
From the get go, Michael Turner said he wasn't going to retire after a 2013 release by the Falcons, but I get the feeling he was expecting a team to pick him up almost immediately. Well, that didn't even come close to happening as Turner hasn't played a single preseason snap since being cut, but he hasn't signed his retirement papers either.
Turner at least has gotten to stick around football, covering the Falcons this season for the team's official website and breaking down game film. With how many networks are revamping their NFL coverage and how many more streaming outlets there are (i.e. Stadium), is it truly unrealistic to think Turner is doing TV within the next two or three years? Maybe WFAN should have considered him for their new afternoon show...
11 Tim Tebow
Are we cheating with this one? Considering Tim Tebow is playing Major League Baseball and hasn't officially retired from the NFL, that means we're not cheating. Hooray for loopholes. Tebow hasn't played in the NFL since 2015 and hasn't played a regular season snap since 2012, but that hasn't stopped him from not retiring.
“It’s still something we’re figuring out, but for me it’ll be a lot of training,” Tebow said this summer of his baseball experience. “For me it’ll be about working on training and building the muscle-memory where I can do it for two, five, seven days and continue to build a couple of weeks at a time. ... In looking back, there’s a lot of ups and downs, a lot of learning moments. Almost every day there’s something that I’ve never been through before that I’m learning.”
10 JaMarcus Russell
Another quarterback? Of course JaMarcus Russell never retired! Despite separate comeback attempts in 2010, 2013 - one that saw him earn a tryout with the Chicago Bears and a Blacher Report series titled JaMarcus Russell's Road Back to the NFL - and even one in 2016, it only makes sense to think we've seen the last of arguably the NFL's biggest bust.
"I know that my name does not carry much weight in the NFL right now but I am more than the image that others have bestowed on me," Russell wrote in a 2016 letter to teams. "I’ve been labeled as a bust, I have been labeled as lazy and I have been the target of many insults by the media. The blame for any negative press that I’ve received rests squarely on my shoulders. ... You might see me back. You never know."
Russell wrote a letter to all 32 NFL teams last year, expressing an interest in returning, but didn't receive a response.
9 Matt Leinart
Given that Matt Leinart is currently working for Fox Sports' college football coverage and hasn't taken a snap since the 2013 preseason, we've likely seen the last of the former Heisman Trophy winner. What's with all of the ex-USC players on this list? Does it have something to do with the Lane Train?
We're not quite sure why Leinart hasn't signed his retirement papers yet - not signing them in 2013 or even 2014 made sense with how many teams add a quarterback midseason - but we're in 2017 and almost in 2018. Maybe Leinart never got around to it or never wanted to officially retire, but if you're holding out hopes that he'll battle Vince Young one last time, we're sorry to spoil your dreams. At least old NCAA and Madden games can do that.
8 Chad Johnson/Ochocinco
Like Owens, would we be surprised if Chad Ochocinco returns to the field next year? As the veteran wideout recently put it to TMZ Sports, that is a hard no.
"If I wanted to? I wouldn't make it. Mentally, I know what to do but my body's all f****d up."
Blunt as always from Ochocinco, but with how tired he looked six years ago with the New England Patriots, I think it's fair to imagine we've seen the last of the 39-year-old receiver. If Ochocinco was going to play one last time in the NFL, I think he'd have gotten a chance by now, but maybe he was going to be too much of a risk with social media and the league cracking down on touchdown celebrations?
7 Vince Young
If we were going to put Matt Leinart and Reggie Bush on this list, it'd be so unfair to leave Vince Young off. When we last heard from Young, he was making a comeback in the Canadian Football League that didn't quite pan out, but are you seriously shocked? Young hadn't been close to competent on the field since 2009 and not even a country change was going to change those struggles.
At 34 years old (despite looking much older during his early years with the Titans), the day is going to come sooner rather than later where Young acknowledges he can't do it anymore. Maybe the former first-round pick will have one more public tryout in hopes of wooing the Browns, but I think we've moved past the Vince Young Era.
6 Trent Cole
Even though Cole played in 2016 and likely would have gotten at least a camp invite had he been healthy, I still was admittedly surprised to see the veteran linebacker hadn't filed retirement papers. Besides, we haven't heard anything about Cole since he hit free agency this spring - and that includes no talk of him signing a one-day contract with the Philadelphia Eagles to officially retire and be honored alongside some of his former teammates.
Cole did what he could in his time with the Colts, but he's the one player on this list I think may have a chance of getting one last camp invite next season. What's stopping a team from giving him a call if he's healthy and ready to contribute? Guys like Dwight Freeney lived off those opportunities.
5 Mario Williams
Like Cole, Mario Williams was ineffective and battled injuries last season as he continues to get older; and like Cole, we've heard absolutely nothing about Mario Wiliams other than he wants to keep playing. If no teams have called him yet, however, maybe Williams should retire back to North Carolina and think back on a highly successful career.
At 32 years old, there's definitely a chance teams could consider looking into pursuing Williams next season, but I don't know how realistic it is. Williams hasn't been his old self since 2014 and had only 6.5 sacks from 2015-16 after totaling 38 from 2012-14, so what would the appeal be? Veteran wisdom, maybe? Let us know if you think we've seen the last of Mario Williams in the NFL.
4 Tavaris Jackson
Does it surprise you that Tarvaris Jackson hasn't retired yet? More importantly, does it surprise you that the Seahawks let Jackson go after the 2015 season when he'd been the perfect backup for Russell Wilson? There were probably some more notable choices for this list, but Jackson is an interesting case because he's a backup quarterback who hasn't retired and is still unemployed in the days of Josh Johnson, Mark Sanchez, and E.J. Manuel landing jobs.
We're not going to turn this into Colin Kaepernick 2.0, but how rare is it in today's game that a quarterback who hasn't officially retired has been a free agent for two years? And Jackson didn't even kneel for the anthem or go against the norm! Talk about a strange set of events...
3 Brad Smith
Do you remember Brad Smith? A former Missouri quarterback who played wide receiver and special teams for the New York Jets, Buffalo Bills, and Philadelphia Eagles from 2006-13, Smith never officially retired for reasons we don't understand. Was Smith thinking a team would eventfully try to sign him because of his speed and versatility? If Smith didn't work out in Chip Kelly's option offense with the Philadelphia Eagles, where would he have worked in any way shape or form?
With a fair number of ex-Jets on the AFC Championship Game teams in 2009 and 2010, there's reason to mix good and bad memories, but almost every Jets fan seems to still have nothing but love for Smith. Will we see the Jets eventually bring Smith back for a coin toss?
2 Tony Romo
This one was fairly obvious and you knew it was going to be on here, but former Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo never retired after he was released this past offseason. Because Romo went right into broadcasting with CBS while not ruling out a comeback attempt, there was never a need to retire...but the Pro Bowler is still in the booth and still excelling alongside Jim Nantz.
When this season ends, Romo would have last played a full campaign in 2014 and last gotten actual playing time in 2015, so his chances at an NFL comeback are likely over. But with how successful Romo has been calling games as a rookie, I get the feeling most people are fine with him moving onto the next step of his life.
1 Fred Jackson
Have we seen the last of longtime Buffalo Bills running back Fred Jackson? If the veteran has anything to say about it and his opinions on the matter haven't changed, we still don't have an answer.
"I want to play, but it's one of those things where we'll see what happens," Jackson told WGR 550's Sal Capaccio this past June. "Training camps are around the corner. Some teams lose a back or two and maybe they give me a call. We'll see what happens. I'm not ready to hang 'em up yet, but I do know that I'm 36 and a lot of teams are scared of that."
Sorry to say, Fred, but your days of catching passes and averaging over four yards per rush are likely over. Sad times.
Which player on this list most surprised you? Make sure to let us know in the comment section below!