It can be hard to keep track of all of the transactions and roster moves that occur during any given NFL season. The offseason is a given for a lot of shifting around with personnel, but even in-season can observe some chaos in that department as the season goes on. As such, there are some NFL retirements that get lost in the shuffle. Not every player follows the same trajectory with their career, and some may call it quits earlier than others, or in a less public fashion. It can be difficult to know who exactly is in and out of the league anymore.
Conversely, there are some players who are still hanging on to a roster spot that many gloss over. Somehow, they’ve been able to defy their age and tenured nature in the league, and still be relatively productive at an age where most players have called it quits. There’s plenty of both examples to go around right now, so let’s take a look at which players are shockingly still around the league, and which have surprisingly hung up the cleats.
Ranked below are 8 NFL players you didn’t realize are still active, and 7 you didn’t know are retired.
15. Julius Peppers (Still Active)
Without question the overall best pass-rusher of the past 20 years, Peppers’ longevity has been almost unprecedented, considering the high-quality of play he’s sustained the entire time. He’s a pro’s pro, a player who we’ll rarely ever see again in the same form. To play the defensive end position to effectively for so long has only been rivaled by the aforementioned Dwight Freeney in recent history.
Peppers signed with the Panthers in the offseason, who were his original team in the league, and the one where he achieved the most individual success. He’s been a key piece to the defensive line this season, and is probably the single-best player on it right now. That’s simply remarkable for a player who is almost old enough to be a father to some rookies on the team.
14. Percy Harvin (Retired)
Perhaps one of the best gadget players we’ve ever seen in the league, Harvin was a matchup nightmare for years to opposing defenses. His prime may have been short-lived, but at its height, he was a truly dangerous player. At 29-years-old, you would think he’d still be surfing around on someone’s roster, but alas, he is retired, and likely for good.
Harvin’s career went into limbo when he left the Vikings, and went on to stints with the Seahawks, Jets and Bills. Nothing really panned out, and the eagerness to use him creatively as he was in Minnesota was dwindling quickly. His retirement makes sense in a way, but given that he’s sub-30, it still comes as a bit of a surprise.
13. C.J. Spiller (Still Active)
Spiller’s breakout 2012 season seems so long ago, and it wasn’t long before he was reduced to a peripheral player in the league. It was clearly a fluke year, as he never came close to similar production for the rest of his career. Most recently, he spent the offseason with the Chiefs, after coming off stints with a slew of teams, all of whom decided to move on from him.
Yet miraculously, Spiller still hasn’t announced his retirement. Moreover, he may get signed by a team this year that needs a change-of-pace running back because of injury. It’s not a guarantee, but Spiller clearly isn’t giving up quite yet, even though he’s essentially been a shell of himself for a while now. Look for him to officially sign with a team later in the year.
12. Andre Johnson (Retired)
Seemingly having been one of the best wide receivers in the game forever, Johnson called it quits after the 2016 season, which he spent with the Titans. The longtime Texans standout could probably still have a job as a situational receiver for many teams in the league, but his sheer age at 36 played the biggest factor in his decision to hang it up.
Given that he was such a constant presence in the league, it’s difficult to imagine Johnson being out of the league all together. He was an absolutely elite force for so long in Houston, that it’s strange to see him not even be listed on a roster. In the end, it was probably the best decision, and Johnson can now enjoy a well-earned retirement.
11. Phil Dawson (Still Active)
Kickers generally have a long shelf life in the NFL, but in contrast to some other notable players at the position such as Adam Vinatieri, Dawson has remained one of the less-publicized names. Regardless, he’s seemingly been on TV screens for the last 20 years or so. And that’s because he basically has been. He’s mainly spent his career with the Browns, but then moved on to the 49ers for a few years, and is now in his first year with the Cardinals.
It can be easy to lose track of kickers, and Dawson isn’t one of the more popular ones anyway. He’s still on the Cardinal roster for now, but you’d have to think that retirement is coming down the pike for him. He’ll finish out the season, and maybe call it quits after, but no matter what, it’s been a long and productive career for Dawson since his start in 1998.
10. Reggie Bush (Retired?)
So technically, Bush isn’t retired, but any team that signs him would have to be ridiculously desperate for running back talent. The former USC standout and 2nd-overall pick spent some time with the Bills last year, but actually rushed for negative yardage on the season. He’s been part of the league so long that you would expect him to be on a roster somewhere, but that has not been the case in 2017. He wasn’t even able to land on a team during the offseason as a training camp body.
If Bush does “officially” retire soon, it will be the end of a solid overall NFL career, but one that was often plagued by injury. He’ll remain one of the most fondly remembered college players of all-time, but his time at the highest level was only so-so at the end of the day.
9. Shane Lechler (Still Active)
Lechler was on the Raiders’ Super Bowl-appearing team in 2003, and has been the less-publicized member of that special teams unit in the years since. Everyone seems to be aware of Sebastian Janikowski, but Lechler is the oft-forgotten punter on the team, and he’s actually still in the league, miraculously. The Texans have his services now, and he’s been just as reliable in recent years as he was when he was in Oakland.
There’s no telling how much longer he’ll want to play, but it’s safe to assume that he could go for a few more years if he wanted to. The length of an NFL season could be a deterrent to a 41-year-old player, but Lechler has stuck around this long, and there’s really no reason why he couldn’t continue to for the foreseeable future.
8. Jordan Cameron (Retired)
For a while with the Browns, Cameron seemed to be an up-and-coming tight end that had the ability to morph into one of the game’s best. He nearly had a 1,000 yard receiving season in 2013, and it prompted the Dolphins to give him a shot as their starter a few years later. Unfortunately, Cameron was forced to retire at the end of last season due to a myriad of concussions he had suffered in the league.
He was only 28, but this is the kind of thing we could be seeing more of in the proceeding seasons. Players who are at the most physical positions on the field may not want to have a career that stretches into their 30s. Ultimately, Cameron made the right choice, as mental health takes priority over everything else for an athlete, at the end of the day.
7. Terence Newman (Still Active)
Everyone always talks about the draft busts, but Newman is someone who absolutely lived up to his 5th-overall selection. That was back in 2003. Since then, Newman has gone on to become one of the best defensive backs in the league, and contribute to numerous winning teams. He’s about as consistent of a player as you can be in the NFL, and while he’s never been the best player at his position at any time, he’s always been in the top-10, no questions asked.
The Vikings have a talented defensive right now, and sometimes Newman gets lost in the shuffle. He’s still going strong at the age of 39, and though it may be his last year in the league, making it to that age in the NFL is a feat in and of itself. Newman has had a great career, and could end it by making some noise in the playoffs in Minnesota this year.
6. Justin Forsett (Retired)
For a while it seemed like Forsett was on the verge of breaking out as one of the league’s best running backs with the Ravens. He had a scattered past before that, spending time with the Seahawks and Jaguars, among others. Unfortunately, his 2014 season turned out to be a fluke, and he regressed after that until he retired earlier this year.
A short stint with the Lions never worked out, some time spent on the Broncos roster never amount to anything, and Forsett spiraled downward until he conceded, and called it quits in March. He was never a great talent, and wasn’t drafted as such, so his career hasn’t really been a disappointment. A marginal talent that probably hung on for longer than he should have, all things considered.
5. Dwight Freeney (Still Active)
Freeney is a pass-rushing machine, and it’s simply incredible that he’s been able to be so productive for such a long amount of time. He spent his prime years with the Colts years ago, winning a Super Bowl with them in the process, and his other stops with the Chargers, Cardinals and now Seahawks have all at least seen him be a formidable player at defensive end. It’s amazing for a player in his late-30s to still have use at such a physical position.
In fact, he could turn out to be an integral part of yet another playoff run in Seattle. The team signed him in late October, and Freeney will be able to fresh for late in the season, and will likely rack up some important sacks for the Seahawks along the way.
4. Vince Wilfork (Retired)
Probably the most popular nose tackle of the past 15 years, Wilfork is a monster of a human being, and has consistently been able to pulverize offensive lines with his size. He was a mainstay with the Patriots for over a decade, and recently finished up his career with the Texans over the last two seasons. After being such a prominently advertised player in the NFL during his time, it’s often forgotten that he no longer dons a uniform.
In fact, Wilfork still appears in several commercials for the league, so it is an easy mistake to make. He’s been one of the most recognizable figures the league has had over his career, and easily one of the most renowned defensive lineman. As one of the most physically dominating players in league history, we’d all assume he’d be around forever, but retirement has to come at some point for everyone.
3. James Harrison (Still Active)
Though his snap count has been reduced over the years, Harrison is still an important piece to the Steelers defense. Stories of his raw strength and training regimen are legendary. There are few players with the kind of pedigree that he carries, and there will be few after he retires as well. Logic would dictate that this would be his final season. A linebacker playing in the NFL at the age of 40 would be absurd, but if there’s any player that could do it, he’d be the one.
2. Michael Vick (Retired)
Vick had been bouncing around across several different rosters over the last few years as a backup quarterback, after his run with the Eagles ended in 2013. He was one of those players who was seemingly around the league forever, creating highlight reel plays on a weekly basis (except for the two years he was suspended). Vick never ascended to the heights that some thought he would, but overall his career was very good, and he was just one of the most exciting players we’ll ever witness. An unparalleled scrambling ability will do that for a quarterback.
So now he’s not even playing backup duty. Vick is 100% out of the league, and now serves as an analyst for Fox Sports. It’s a job that suits him well, and he’ll be able to contribute to the game for the long-term in this regard.
1. Mark Sanchez (Still Active)
There was a time when Sanchez could be counted on to manage a game for a team with an elite defense, but the successful Rex Ryan-led Jets teams of the past (even saying that feels weird) may as well have occurred 50 years ago. Sanchez went from New York to Philly, where he played at an increasingly mediocre level, until having a backup stint in Dallas last year. Now, he’s a backup for the Bears, hanging on to what will probably be the last roster spot available to him.
Of course, he may as well be retired because there’s no way Chicago would ever give him a start with the rising Mitch Trubisky under center for the team long-term. Sanchez is dead weight until he does retire, which should be sometime within the next couple of seasons.
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