Playing in the National Football League, players are lucky if their career lasts for four seasons, as the average career only lasts for an estimated 3.3 years. Those that have the talent and ability to avoid injury can stick around for much longer, lasting well over a decade in the league. There are plenty of cases like that in the NFL, but the decision to retire has to come eventually. Recently some NFL players have shocked the world by retiring very young just to avoid suffering from too many head injuries and protect their future quality of life.
Certainly players that are well above the age of 30 have to face this question after every offseason as pundits begin to question how much gas they have left in the tank. Some show very little sign of slowing down, while others have hit the inevitable wall. It’s only a matter of time before a player’s career ends, even if they have to be dragged out kicking and screaming from the only profession they know.
Of those players that are among the elder statesmen in the NFL, which ones should finally decide to finish their careers after the 2017 season, and which ones are likely to stick around? Here are eight NFL players who would be better off enjoying life on the golf course in 2018, and seven who should be ready to report for training camp come next summer to try and cement their legacy.
15 Should Retire: DeAngelo Hall
It seems like almost a lifetime ago when DeAngelo Hall was an exciting young playmaker with the Atlanta Falcons. In 2008, Hall joined the Raiders for eight games before being acquired by the Redskins, where he has played ever since. Hall didn’t have many injury concerns until 2014, but he’s missed significant time since then, and has even made the switch to safety from being a full-time cornerback.
Due to his health, it’s not expected that Hall will be able to last beyond the 2017 season, and he’s already missed significant time in the current campaign. It’s been reported that Hall is already discussing his career after football, and has been meeting with investors and is looking for a front-office role somewhere. Expect him to be working behind the scenes in Washington come 2018.
14 Shouldn’t Retire: Drew Brees
Drew Brees isn’t having his greatest statistical season by his own standards, but he’s still having a fine year and the Saints already have as many wins after nine games as they did in each of the previous three seasons. Brees has thrown for 2,398 yards, 13 touchdowns and just four interceptions over that time, as he’s been much more efficient with the ball as his completion rate is on pace to be the highest of his 17-season career.
While Brees might not be a member of the Saints in 2018 due to contract concerns, there’s little doubt that he’ll still be playing in the NFL. There will be plenty of teams that feel they’re just a quarterback away from reaching the Super Bowl that will be lining up to sign him, and he’s said that he has no intention of going anywhere.
13 Should Retire: James Harrison
We’ve already seen Steelers linebacker James Harrison retire once before the 2014 season, but it only lasted for a few weeks before he was back with the team. In 2015, he signed a two-year contract with the team, and then did so again prior to the 2017 offseason. At his prime, Harrison was collecting double-digit sacks in consecutive years, but those days of being a pass rushing threat are all but gone.
Harrison has lost his starting role to rookie linebacker T.J. Watt, and injuries are also becoming a big problem for Harrison as he’s missed several games for the Steelers in 2017. Through Week 10, Harrison has just one sack and three tackles. There’s no doubt that the team would welcome Harrison back in a coaching role, where it seems that he’ll be better suited in 2018 rather than on the field.
12 Shouldn’t Retire: Jason Witten
Like Harrison, Cowboys tight end Jason Witten isn’t putting up the numbers that he once did, as Witten is distanced from the 1,000 plus yard seasons. 2016 saw his worst year since he was a rookie, collecting 673 yards and three touchdowns. However, those are still very solid numbers for a tight end, and something that most teams would love to have. In 2017, he’s on pace to actually improve on those numbers, and he’s already matched his touchdown total.
Witten is also a great presence to have in the locker room that simply doesn’t miss time on the field, able to avoid injury for his entire career. When asked about retirement, Witten said “It’s a really good question to ask after I finished my 14th season. I wasn’t thinking about it, but I was completely just kind of shell-shocked because it’s never entered my mind. That thought process hasn’t.”
11 Should Retire: Joe Thomas
The Browns haven’t had much success in the past decade, but one player they’ve always been able to rely on is Joe Thomas, the left tackle that was drafted third overall back in 2007. Up until the 2017 season, Thomas hadn’t missed a single snap in his career, but that ended in his seventh game of the year with the Browns, and he’s now going to miss the rest of the season. With the Browns in full rebuild mode (again), it might be time for Thomas to call it quits.
Because of his torn triceps injury and the fact that he’ll be 34-years-old in the 2018 season, Thomas has already noted that he’s contemplating retirement. “If you’re asking, ‘Am I done playing?’ I don’t know,” he said. “I think that’s a decision that’s best to be talked about in the offseason. Right now is obviously too soon after the injury and before the surgery.” If the rehab process doesn’t go well, expect Thomas to call it a career.
10 Shouldn’t Retire: Ben Roethlisberger
Before the 2017 season started, Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger hinted that the 2017 season might be his final one in the NFL. At the time, he said “I’m gonna take this offseason to evaluate, to consider all the options, to consider health and family and things like that and just kind of take some time away to evaluate next season - if there’s gonna be a next season.”
Roethlisberger added to these rumors after a poor performance against the Jaguars in Week 5, saying “maybe I don’t have it anymore.” If you take away that one game however, Roethlisberger is still throwing for nearly 2,000 yards, 12 touchdowns and five interceptions in eight other games. With some valuable weapons such as Antonio Brown, Le'Veon Bell and Juju Smith-Schuster still around him, Roethlisberger should consider sticking around for one more run.
9 Should Retire: Antonio Gates
We already discussed how Jason Witten should stick around despite seeing his numbers drop from his prime, but Chargers tight end Antonio Gates has taken an even bigger hit, and he’s older than Witten at 37-years-old. Through his first nine games of the 2017 season, Gates has just 147 yards through the air and one touchdown. Before that, he was still pulling in just 548 yards over the course of a full season.
Gates will easily go down as one of the best tight ends to ever play, but it appears the Chargers are already looking toward the future with the much younger Hunter Henry now starting. Gates will be an unrestricted free agent after the 2017, as well, and it doesn’t appear that many teams will be in the market for a 38-year-old tight end.
8 Shouldn’t Retire: Adrian Peterson
After dominating with the Vikings for many years, it looked like Adrian Peterson’s career was all but over before the 2017 season. Peterson signed a contract with the Saints, where he received just 81 rushing yards in four games. Thankfully for Peterson, it looks like 2018 might still present an opportunity to play as he’s joined the Arizona Cardinals, where he’s been receiving a heavy workload.
Of course, David Johnson is expected to return for the 2018 season and take much of the load away from Peterson, but he’s a great back to stash for the Cardinals in a more limited role. One thing that could deter Peterson from coming back next season is the fact that he said offseason work is “boring,” but if he’s able to suck it up, he should be fine.
7 Should Retire: Philip Rivers
There was a time when the younger Philip Rivers replaced Drew Brees as the quarterback of the Chargers, but he might end up retiring before Brees. Rivers isn’t having his worst season in 2017, but at nearly 36-years-old, he’s taken a lot of abuse over the years. The Chargers don’t seem to be playoff bound, and the team hasn’t had a winning season since 2014 as they look to rebuild.
Now he has to deal with a concussion in 2017, which has raised some questions about retirement. Rivers has already said that he’s not happy with the team’s move from San Diego to Los Angeles, and he’s the type of player that would leave the game to focus on his family. Having to make the daily drive from San Diego to Los Angeles has been a grind for Rivers, and he might think that enough’s enough and hang up his cleats.
6 Shouldn’t Retire: Julius Peppers
One of the greatest pass rushers to ever play the game of football, Julius Peppers is back with the Carolina Panthers where he spent the first eight seasons of his career before heading to Chicago and Green Bay. Since 2008, Peppers hasn’t had fewer than seven sacks in a season, and he’s already matched his sack total through 10 games that he had in 16 games with the Packers in 2016.
Peppers is producing at a high enough rate that even when he’s 38-years-old for the 2018 season, it looks like he’ll be coming back. He’ll be a free agent after the 2017 season, but with as rejuvenated as he’s looked about being back in Carolina, Peppers would likely take another one-year deal to stick around with the team, especially as they continue to be competitive.
5 Should Retire: Phil Dawson
A former Pro Bowl player, Cardinals kicker Phil Dawson enjoyed the bulk of his success in 14 years with Cleveland, and is one of only a couple of players that started their careers in the 1990s. Dawson would be 43-years-old if he were to stick around for the 2018 season, though it doesn’t look like that will be the case. Many think that he just doesn’t have it anymore, and the stats would suggest that’s accurate.
Through the first nine games of the 2017 season, Dawson has connected on just 13 out of his first 19 field goal attempts (and missing an extra point). That gives him just 68.4 percent for the season, which would be the worst by far since his rookie year when he went eight for 12. Kickers enjoy long NFL runs, but they have to end eventually.
4 Shouldn’t Retire: Adam Vinatieri
On the other side of the kicking coin, there’s a player that’s been around since 1996, and still doesn’t seem to be slowing down despite being 45-years-old by the end of the 2017 season. In 12 seasons with the Colts and 10 with the Patriots, Adam Vinatieri has been incredibly accurate with an 84.6 percent field goal conversion rate. In 2017 alone, he’s drilled 18 of his first 19 through nine games and has hit a 53-yarder.
It should be noted that Vinatieri has missed two extra points, but the fact that he’s hitting nearly 95 percent of his field goal attempts at his age is incredible. Vinatieri will be a free agent after the 2017 season, so it’s hard to say if he’ll still be a member of the Colts, but there’s little doubt that a team desperate for a kicker will be willing to sign him.
3 Should Retire: Carson Palmer
Arizona Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer has an out in his contract that would result in $6.625 million in dead cap for the team. If they keep him, it’s going to cost $20.625 million, and it’s highly unlikely that a rebuilding team would pay that much to a 38-year-old quarterback. Had he been healthy and successful it would be a different story, but Palmer suffered a broken arm that will cause him to miss the season, and hadn’t been as efficient as he was earlier in his career.
Palmer had already been teasing the idea of retiring even before the 2017 season, and the latest injury might just push him into confirmation. With head coach Bruce Arians possibly departing and Larry Fitzgerald also mulling retirement, it’s hard to imagine Palmer back in an NFL uniform.
2 Shouldn’t Retire: Tom Brady
Eventually, Patriots quarterback Tom Brady is going to have to retire and stop terrorizing the other teams in the AFC East (and the whole league, for that matter), but it won’t be after 2017. The team already decided to trade away backup quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, cementing the fact that Brady will be around for the 2018 season. Somehow, the 40-year-old hasn’t slowed down at all.
Through his first nine games, Brady already has seven wins with 2,807 passing yards, 19 touchdowns and just two interceptions. It doesn’t seem fair for the rest of the league that a 40-year-old continues to dominate the way that Brady has, but it’s going to keep happening beyond 2017. In fact, Brady is still under contract through the 2019 season, so he’s not going anywhere just yet.
1 Should Retire: Eli Manning
There’s a chance that the successful members of the 2004 NFL Draft class of quarterbacks could all go out together after the 2017 season if Eli Manning, Ben Roethlisberger and Philip Rivers all retire. Of the three, the soon-to-be 37-year-old Manning might be the best candidate to step away from football. The Giants are going nowhere fast with a 1-8 record through their first nine games, and it looks like the team will begin a rebuild.
Manning has cut down on his interceptions in 2017 and increased his accuracy, but he hasn’t been a difference maker, and not having his two best targets certainly doesn’t help. Manning still being under contract through 2019 certainly doesn’t help the Giants in terms of their salary cap figures, and they could look to trade Manning after the season. If he doesn’t want to play anywhere else, he might just call it a career.