A National Football League career can be over in an instant, and we see that play out nearly every year. One wrong step during a game or even on the practice field can result in a player suffering a torn ACL or a different type of injury that can begin a sequence of events that leads to that individual having to walk away from the game for good. Then, of course, there is the dangerous nature of the sport that leads to some contemplating early retirement well before their physical primes end. It is for all of these reasons that players capable of remaining in the NFL up through their early, mid and even late 30s are so impressive. New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady currently serves as the modern day version of the NFL’s Superman, if only because it feels as if he could play until he's 45 years old, at least!
With that said, Father Time remains undefeated and untied, and he'll eventually come calling for any and all players. The 2017 regular season could prove to be the final year we see multiple respected veterans and even some future Hall-of-Famers play in the NFL. The upcoming campaign will also serve as an opportunity for multiple noteworthy stars to revive their careers and, depending on their circumstances, either make triumphant returns from injuries or show that they still have plenty left in their tanks to compete with the young guns looking to establish themselves as faces of the league. While most will be expecting Brady and the Patriots to dominate the AFC, an older QB who features in the NFC could, yet again, end up standing between Brady and the Vince Lombardi Trophy.
15 Adam Vinatieri: Retire
Per a story posted on the official website for the Indianapolis Colts in July, it seems veteran placekicker Adam Vinatieri would like to continue playing in the NFL up through the end of the decade. Vinatieri turns 45 years old before the end of 2017, he's out of contract with the Colts following the conclusion of the season and Indianapolis could potentially find a cheaper option via either free agency or next year’s draft.
While Vinatieri may be able to impress either the Colts or a different team at some point between August and next February, it’s more likely he'll play out the remainder of his current deal and then ride off into the sunset as one of the greatest kickers in the history of the league.
14 J.J. Watt: Revive
Casual football fans who concentrate mostly on their favorite teams rather than the entire NFL may not realize Houston Texans defensive superstar J.J. Watt struggled dealing with a variety of injury woes throughout the past two seasons, to the point that there could be concerns he could end up being a contract bust if he is unable to live up to the $100-million deal awarded to him by the Texans.
Before we start burying Watt’s career, let’s all agree to remember he's 28 years old, and he should be rather rested considering he only participated in three games during the 2016 season. Unless Watt is again haunted by the injury bug during the fall, expect to see him revive his career and reestablish himself as one of the best defensive players in the NFL.
13 Darrelle Revis: Retire
There are several reasons why cornerback Darrelle Revis remains unsigned as of July 26, 2017. For starters, Revis has earned himself a reputation for being a mercenary concerned more about earning as much money as he can off of NFL contracts than he is about making a defense better. That’d be fine if he was the shutdown corner of old, but all indications are that Revis is, instead, just an old former shutdown corner.
While the 32-year-old did well to thrive playing underneath Bill Belichick with the New England Patriots, Revis is no longer a top option worthy of being paid as one. While he'll likely find an NFL home before September, don’t be surprised to see him retire at some point in 2018.
12 Eric Decker: Revive
Wide receiver Eric Decker did well to step out of the shadows of playing alongside Peyton Manning with the Denver Broncos by finding success with the New York Jets. The beginning of the end of his Gang Green tenure started in October 2016, though, when the club had to place him on injured reserve because of a partially torn rotator cuff.
The Jets are in the middle of a massive rebuild, so it only made sense when the club parted ways with Decker earlier this year. Decker eventually landed with the Tennessee Titans, where he'll be able to line up with quarterback Marcus Mariota so long as Mariota is fully healthy. Those of you looking for a value pick in fantasy football may want to take a flier on Decker reviving his career with the Titans.
11 Julius Peppers: Retire
Defensive end Julius Peppers has been one of the true ageless wonders in the NFL who has been able to secure NFL contracts for himself up through his 37th birthday that occurred this past January. Peppers came to terms on a one-year deal with the Carolina Panthers in March, and that decision served as a homecoming for the future Hall-of-Famer who was drafted by the Panthers all the way back in 2002.
Peppers has proven that he can still go in the league, but it’s clear to all observers he's in the twilight of what has been an incredible career. Retiring after playing one final season with the Panthers would make for a great conclusion to this story, and it may be inevitable considering his age and his diminishing skills.
10 Keenan Allen: Revive
San Diego Chargers wide receiver Keenan Allen has been rather unlucky the last two seasons. His 2015 campaign ended prematurely due to a lacerated kidney, and what was supposed to be a happy return to the field ended disastrously when he was downed by a torn ACL during the 2016 regular season opener.
Whether or not you want to believe Allen can be as good as he was in September 2015, it shouldn’t be forgotten he turned only 25 years old this past April. It is believed, as of late July, Allen is fully healthy and ready to thrive reeling-in passes thrown by quarterback Philip Rivers. We’re adding Allen to the list, in part, because we’re hoping he can remain on the field for 16 games and revive his career.
9 Carson Palmer: Retire
The figurative writing may be on the wall as it pertains to the future of Arizona Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer. Palmer may still have the goods to earn votes for the Pro Bowl squad, but the zip he has on his passes this summer can’t cover the fact he'll be 38 years old at the end of the 2017 season.
He has suffered multiple serious knee injuries during his career, he matched 26 touchdown passes with 14 interceptions last season and he hasn’t yet won the “big game” as a member of the Cardinals. The Cardinals have the ability, per Palmer’s contract, to move on next March without suffering much financial peril. If that happens, expect Palmer to call time on what has been quite the roller-coaster career.
8 Rob Gronkowski: Revive
Make no mistake about the fact that New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski needs to revive his career during the 2017 season. The boisterous offensive player affectionately known as “Gronk” has taken beatings over the years, and his injury history may be as long as his player resume at this point. Most recently, Gronkowski was placed on injured reserve last December after he underwent back surgery.
While history tells us athletes often fail to fully return from back problems, Gronkowski has shown, over the years, that he's no mere mortal or just a regular tight end. We believe Gronkowski will revive his career and, once again, show he's a vital part to the New England offense even though the Patriots did manage to win the Super Bowl without his services last February.
7 Phil Dawson: Retire
Placekicker Phil Dawson is bound to start showing his age at some point, something the San Francisco 49ers apparently banked on when they allowed the veteran to leave the club earlier this year. Dawson put pen to paper on a deal with the Arizona Cardinals in March, less than two months after he celebrated his 42nd birthday. That contract is, essentially, a “prove it” deal, and it only makes sense the Cardinals will allow Dawson to walk next March to save money against the salary cap.
We’d like nothing more than to see Dawson’s story come full-circle and for him to sign a one-day contract with the Cleveland Browns, the team he played for when the Browns returned to the NFL in 1999, before officially announcing his retirement next spring.
6 Karlos Dansby: Revive
Linebacker Karlos Dansby will be looking to show that age is only a number during the 2017 season. Dansby made a second return to the Arizona Cardinals when he signed a one-year contract with the club in March, and the fact he could once again enter free agency in 2018 should serve as all the motivation he needs to revive his career.
While he started in only seven contests for the Cincinnati Bengals in 2016, he did accumulate 114 combined tackles in 16 games. There is currently no indication Dansby is ready to hang his cleats up and move on to something away from football, and he has to realize he probably has only one more opportunity to cash-in on a deal. We advise betting on the veteran in a contract year.
5 Antonio Gates: Retire
Antonio Gates is, at absolute worst, one of the greatest tight ends in NFL history and one of the greatest offensive weapons to ever feature for the San Diego/Los Angeles Chargers. That aside, there comes a time when even beloved legends need to step away and embrace retirement.
Gates will be 38 years old next summer, he's out of contract following this season and the Chargers already have a suitable replacement in Hunter Henry, who excelled during his rookie campaign. Even thinking about seeing Gates wearing a different jersey and finishing his career with a club other than the Chargers feels wrong. The 2017 season should provide Gates, who unquestionably can still contribute during games, with the type of retirement tour a Hall-of-Fame talent deserves.
4 Adrian Peterson: Revive
'Maybe we are simply struggling to believe Adrian Peterson will ever hit the wall that often stops veteran running backs in their tracks, or perhaps we want to hope Peterson will be able to retire on his terms and after he enjoys multiple successful seasons before the end of the decade. What cannot be denied is that conventional wisdom has not applied to Peterson’s status and gifts on multiple occasions during his career, and it’s also likely he feels as if he has something to prove after signing a two-year deal with the New Orleans Saints in April.
Betting against Peterson has been a wrong decision more often than not over the past decade, which is why nobody should be shocked to see him revive his career as a member of the Saints.
3 Josh McCown: Retire
38-year-old veteran journeyman quarterback Josh McCown is a warrior willing to sacrifice his body even when playing for losing teams, and he's a player who is well-liked and well-respected by teammates. McCown also happens to be living out the closing acts of his career with a New York Jets side that could seriously struggle to win more than a couple of games in 2017.
He's now little more than a bridge QB playing for a bad club that is waiting to acquire its future franchise player at the position, and it's difficult to believe any team will offer a contract to a 39-year-old QB who is, at best, a backup for a decent team these days. All should envision McCown retiring after the 2017 season.
2 Eli Manning: Revive
Don’t look now, but New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning could be on the cusp of forever silencing critics and enjoying the best season, to date, of his career. Manning has become comfortable playing underneath head coach Ben McAdoo, he has the best young wide receiver in the NFL in Odell Beckham Jr. and promising talent Sterling Shepard in his arsenal, and the Giants signed veteran Brandon Marshall in free agency and then added highly-rated tight end Evan Engram via the draft.
The Giants are a “championship or bust” team with a two-time Super Bowl MVP at QB. Manning often doesn’t get enough credit for all of the good things he does for Big Blue, but that could change after the first Sunday of February 2018.
1 Marshawn Lynch: Retire
Running back Marshawn Lynch returning to the NFL to play for the Oakland Raiders in 2017 makes for a nice story, but all should be realistic about what he'll be able to achieve after a one-season hiatus. Lynch, you’ll remember, was banged up and missed seven games the last time he attempted to participate during a regular season, and he turned 31 years old this past March.
While he likely won’t be tasked with carrying an Oakland offense currently led by quarterback Derek Carr on his back, one has to wonder if Lynch will eventually realize being an NFL player at this stage of his life is a better idea, on paper, than in practice. There are already whispers the Raiders could limit Lynch’s workload during what could be the final season of his career.