Every year, the NFL brings out the best and worst of football players on every team. Sometimes, we have gems emerge from the woodwork, and other times, stars fall harder than a fat kid on ice. But as we know, it is difficult to maintain a double-digit year career in the NFL. Whether it is injuries, poor play, or domestic violence incidents (looking at you, Ray Rice). The NFL average career is only 3.3 years!
For every undrafted rookie who gets cut after training camp, there is a player that somehow manages to make it on the final roster in their late 30s, whether they deserve it or not. For some of these guys, you probably haven’t heard from for years, but they continue their longevity in the NFL. There are so many players on each team and you can only catch so much football every Sunday, so you’re bound to lose sight of the fact that some players are still hanging in there.
So without further ado, and other cliches, here are 8 NFL players you didn’t realize haven’t retired yet (specifically ones that are still producing at an older age) and 7 who should have retired long ago!
15. Didn’t Realize: Phil Dawson
We start things out with a kicker! Phil Dawson came into the league as an undrafted free agent in 1998. The now 42-year-old is still going strong, just signing a two-year contract in the 2017 offseason with the Arizona Cardinals. Most notably, Phil Dawson has an NFL rule, and even part of the field goal, named after him.
In 2007, attempting a game-tying field goal, Dawson nailed the left upright, then the curved support of the field goal (behind the crossbar), only to have the ball bounce back into the field of play in the end-zone. Originally, the referees ruled the kick no-good, but while the Ravens celebrated their supposed win in the locker room, the referees ruled the field goal good! The Browns proceeded to beat the Ravens in overtime. Less than a month later, Dawson hit the support post again, and now that curved support is known to many as “The Dawson Bar.”
14. Should Have Retired: Chris Johnson
I genuinely wish Chris Johnson would have retired a few years ago. He was electrifying in Tennessee and even eclipsed the 2,000-yard mark in 2009; truly a running back milestone. Johnson fell off the map after his time with the Titans, jetting off to New York in 2014 and signing with Arizona a year later. During the 2015 season, Johnson resurged in the desert and was one of the top three rushers in the NFL after half the season, but sadly, he suffered a fractured tibia in week 12 and was place on IR. With fellow Cardinals’ running back, David Johnson, emerging as one of the best all-around backs in the league, Chris Johnson’s role was limited, and he was eventually released by the Cards in 2017. While he is still a free agent, I don’t expect him to be productive in the NFL anymore.
13. Didn’t Realize: Karlos Dansby
Another Cardinal! In 2017, 35-year-old Karlos Dansby signed a one-year contract for his third stint with the Arizona Cardinals. Drafted in the second-round of the 2004 NFL Draft out of Auburn, Dansby has been a solid player throughout his career, even making second-team All-Pro in 2013. One of his defining moments was returning an Aaron Rodgers, fumble, in the 2010 playoffs, for the game-winning touchdown.
Most linebackers fall off the map after the age of 30, but Dansby has recorded over 100 combined tackles in four out of the last five years. During his remarkable career, besides playing in Arizona, Dansby has harassed opposing offenses in Miami, Cleveland, and Cincinnati. While he may not be a Hall of Famer, we can’t knock his longevity and sustained production over his NFL Tenure.
12. Should Have Retired: Ryan Fitzpatrick
Why does Brandon Marshall still think Ryan Fitzpatrick is better than Eli Manning? Who knows? Fitzpatrick never had a stellar career, He bounced from St. Louis, to Cincinatti, to Buffalo, to Tennessee, to Houston, to New York, to his current backup position, Tampa Bay. Truly a career backup. But the Harvard grad did have a few solid years with Buffalo, and one outstanding year with the Jets. In 2015, Fitzpatrick threw for 31 TDs and 15 INTs, and led New York to a 10-6 record, despite missing the playoffs. That’s when he should have retired, because in 2016, Fitzpatrick sucked so bad they had to replace him with someone who sucked even worse (Bryce Petty). The Journeyman needed to lay down, but is back at it again, backing up Winston in Tampa.
11. Didn’t Realize: Julius Peppers
Yup! The quarterback crushing defensive end is still in the league. He signed a one-year contract with the team that drafted him, the Carolina Panthers, in the 2017 offseason. This guy has achieved too many accolades to count, but we will list them hear anyways: nine-time Pro-Bowler, three-time first-team All-Pro, three-time second-team All-Pro, 2002 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year, and NFL 2000s all decade team. I guess that wasn’t so bad.
Peppers is also number five all-time in career sacks currently with 143.5. He only trails NFL legends Bruce Smith, Reggie White, Kevin Greene, and Chris Doleman. All in all, he is most likely a first ballot hall of famer. Also, he’s still not done! Panthers fans will be happy to see this edge rusher’s career end where it started.
10. Should Have Retired: Reggie Bush
Oh, Reggie! Your razzle-dazzle from college is now more like a fizzle-drizzle. Bush was selected 2nd overall by New Orleans in 2006. In 2008, the tainted Heisman winner somehow managed to make All-Pro, but his career never continued to rise. After starting his career with the Saints, he swam with the Dolphins, ran with the Lions, mined with 49ers, and did whatever Bills do. After his most recent season, Bush set a historical milestone; he ran the ball 12 times for a total of -3. Nope, that’s not a typo, he was the only non-QB to rush for negative yards on ten or more carriers in NFL history.
9. Didn’t Realize: Terence Newman
A 39-year-old and playing cornerback! This guy is unreal! Newman was drafted in 2003 by the Dallas Cowboys and has had a hell of a career. As of the end of 2016, he has totaled 838 tackles, 167 pass deflections, 41 interceptions, 8 forced fumbles, and 3 touchdowns. On the list of top Dallas cornerbacks of all-time, he is probably right behind Deion Sanders, and along with Sanders, is the one of the two Cowboys to catch two interceptions in a single game.
Currently, Newman ranks second out of active players for most career interceptions, and he is not done yet, re-signing with the Vikings in 2017. While Newman’s game may have declined, and his quickness not what it once was, his football IQ is incredible, and he continues to dominate opposing wide receivers.
8. Should Have Retired: Marcedes Lewis
There used to be days where any fantasy team would love to have Lewisstashed on their roster. In 2010, ex-Bruin reeled in 58 catches for 700 yards and 10 touchdowns, and made the Pro-Bowl. That’s a damn good stat line for someone that plays for the Jaguars. But now, unfortunately, due to injuries and poor play, Lewis lost the starting role to Julius Thomas, and never saw much playing time after that. Over the past four years, Lewis has never eclipsed 25 receptions, and only has a total of seven touchdowns. Truly a dismal performance for a former Pro Bowler.
On the brighter side, with the exit of Julius Thomas in the offseason, Marcedes Lewis is listed as the top TE on the Jaguars depth chart. If Jacksonville can finally get their quarterback situation figured out, Lewis could be an important red zone weapon.
7. Didn’t Realize: Shane Lechler
Widely regarded as one of the best punters of all time, Shane Lechler makes our list. Back in the 2000s, the kicking duo of Lechler and Janikowski was unstoppable and they played a major role in the Raiders success in the early parts of the decade. Over his career, he has landed the third-most punts inside the opponent’s 20-yard line (437) and will likely be second after 2017 is over.
Currently, Lechler is entering his 17th season and is a member of the Houston Texans. Maybe in a few decades, we will see Lechler’s bust in Canton, but odds are not in his favor, since Ray Guy is the only punter currently in the Hall of Fame. Hopefully someday, Shane Lechler will be the second.
6. Should Have Retired: John Kuhn
Kuhn!!!!!!! The former Packer’s fullback was a secret weapon for Aaron Rodgers and company. He could run flat routes out of the backfield or pound it in from the two-yard line. Packers fans at Lambeau even had a chant when he touched the ball. But all good things must come to an end.
The former pride of Shippensburg University signed with New Orleans in 2016, and his career came to an end in Green Bay. While he was still productive, scoring five touchdowns for the Saints in 2016, it would have been glorious if Kuhn retired among Green Bay fullback lore. He’s not on the “should have retired” list because of his on-field performance, but because his legend would have been even more amazing in the frozen tundra, not the Superdome.
5. Didn’t Realize: Antonio Gates
Honestly, I thought Gates retired last year. I’m a pretty big football fan and realized how much of an idiot I was when I saw him on the 2017 roster. The guy is an absolute legend. He honestly could be the best tight end ever to catch a pass! Currently, he leads all active players in the most touchdown catches and if my prediction is correct, will be a first ballot hall of famer.
Although legendary, Gates’ production has declined in the past couple years. This is mainly due to old age and the emerging of the young blood, Hunter Henry, who is also destined for greatness. Either way, I’m sure Gates has been a wonderful mentor and any football fan of the last decade will remember the Rivers-Gates connection.
4. Should Have Retired: Shaun Hill
The career backup! Acutally, Hill started a decent amount of games, 35 to be exact. His best year came with the Lions in 2010 when he threw for 2,686 yards, 16 TDs, and 12 TDs. Pretty mediocre numbers, but hey, you can’t blame the guy for making a living.
In 2017, Hill is currently a free agent, but in all honesty, he should retire. We all know what will happen though, some high profile QB will go down in the first quarter of the season, and Hill will be picked up. Shoot, he’s already played for five different teams. Why not make it a sixth? But again, if I was a mediocre quarterback, I would milk it as long as I could, as long as those game checks kept coming in.
3. Didn’t Realize: James Harrison
The man, the myth, the legend! Honestly, take a look at this guy’s Instagram account. That man is at the gym every single day. He is in his classic gray sweat pants and sweat shirt. After games, after weddings, after everything! A true beast among men!
James Harrison came in undrafted out of Kent State. Undrafted! The dude is amazing! He made five straight Pro-Bowls (2007-2011), and is a two-time Super Bowl champion. The DE/LB is an incredible force on the Pittsburgh defensive front and continues his career in 2017. Unfortunately, coach Mike Tomlin and company named rookie T.J. Watt the starter over Harrison to start the season, but I can guarantee you that won’t stop Harrison from working his tail off to get to the quarterback.
2. Should Have Retired: Mario Williams
The 2006 NFL draft was definitely one for the non-record books. Third overall was the future bankrupt bust, Vince Young. Second overall was the a player that should have retired long ago, Reggie Bush. Finally, first overall was the number one player that should have retired long ago, Mario Williams.
Out of the eleven year Williams has been in the league, he has reached double-digit sacks five times. Not too bad, but not the production you are looking for out of number one overall pick. Clearly, Williams did not live up to his hype, but he did have a solid career. He should have retired after his 14.5 sack year in 2014 with the Bills, his best year ever. He would have gone out on top and every one in Buffalo would be chanting to retire his jersey. Now, he is a free agent after being cut by Miami earlier in the offseason.
1. Didn’t Realize: Adam Vinatieri
The final man on our list, Adam Vinatieri. I will sell my soul if this man isn’t a first hall of famer. You heard it! Vinatieri is a legend. Guess what? The legend continues! He started off in NFL Europe in 1996. Cassette tapes were still the norm in 1996. Vinatieri’s career is older than CDs. How crazy.
At 44 years old, he enters his ump-twentieth NFL season as the Colts place kicker. He has appeared in five Super Bowls and has an 84.3% lifetime field goal percentage. Selected as a member of the 2000s NFL All-Decade Team, I hope Vinatieri is still playing when he can qualify for AARP. I’m not going to list his other accolades, just go google it for yourself! This guy is the best NFL player you didn’t realize hasn’t retired yet, and he’s a damn kicker!
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