In the NFL, guys often retire far too early or play for way too long. This list addresses both. We’ll look at guys like Marshawn Lynch, who should still be playing on the field. We’ll also look at guys like Tom Brady, who should call it quits and hang up his jersey for good while he’s still at the top of his game. It’s awful when we have to watch guys age out of the league and become barely noticeable when compared to the youthful talent they used to exude.
All too often we see guys play one or two or even three seasons too many and either their body or legacy gets damaged. Though, in some cases we see the exact opposite. We see those who we expect to play for many years to come with great success, then out of nowhere comes a retirement announcement and we’re all left wondering what could have been. What could have been if Calvin Johnson laced up for a few more seasons or if Lynch didn’t step away from the field.
Now, this list will surely make you question what some of today’s top stars have left in the tank. It may also tick you off a little bit, especially if you’re one of those New England fans thinking Tom Brady can play deep into his 40s. Sure, the guy just came off one of his best postseason runs, but you should have given him his praise and moved on New England. Tom Brady, like many of the other guys on this list, should have retired by now and they are just risking their body and legacy by continuing on in the NFL.
15 Should Be Retired: Philip Rivers
Like many guys on this list, wanting to finish at the top of their game is an ideal keeping Philip Rivers in the NFL. It’s a bad move for the 35-year-old quarterback. Even though Rivers was selected to his sixth Pro Bowl last season, his increasing risk of throwing interceptions seems to be getting worse as he ages. And we expected it to be just awful over the next couple of seasons. Rivers, at this rate, will be struggling to find a starting job by the time he decides to retire from the league.
That could all be avoided if he threw in the towel before next season. It seems as if Rivers has no chance to get back to the days when he was leading the league in yards thrown or in passing touchdowns. Instead, we should get used to Rivers leading the league in interceptions. In fact, he led the league in that category for two of the last three seasons and last year he completed just 60 percent of his passes. Expect that number to drop even further as he remains in the NFL.
14 Should Still Be Playing: Calvin Johnson
After nine seasons in the league, Calvin Johnson had enough and announced his retirement on March 8, 2016. None of us were happy. We were watching possibly one of the greatest wide receivers of all time walk away from the game. Without a doubt, had Johnson played out his contract, he would have likely gone down as one of the best athletes of all time (and he would have definitely been dubbed the best receiver of all time and would have been in the conversation of best NFL player ever).
Among guys who have played 100 career games, no player has averaged more receiving yards per game (he averaged 86.1 yards per game). Johnson holds the NFL record with 1,964 receiving yards in a season and had just two season with less than 1,000 receiving yards (he had 756 yards during his rookie season and 984 in 2009). It’s tough to imagine records Johnson wouldn’t have broke if he continued in the league.
13 Should Be Retired: James Harrison
At 38 years old any player would be up for retirement consideration. With how much of a beating James Harrison has dished out, and taken, it’s unbelievable he’s still able to compete in the NFL. Although we wish a guy like Harrison could continue forever, he’s long past his Pro Bowl days. Harrison was selected to his fifth and final Pro Bowl back in 2011. The former defensive player of the year and two-time Super Bowl champ has turned into a veteran bench presence rather than the crucial role player he used to be.
We’ve got to thank Harrison for the effort he’s put into staying in the league this long, but he’s far from a relevant producer for the Steelers defense. Harrison, who used to be a consistent starter, has started just 12 games over the past three seasons. Sure, he’s someone they can’t just get rid of, but he should have the self awareness to hang up his jersey for good.
12 Should Still Be Playing: Randy Moss
Randy Moss just turned 40 in February, so this would have been a great time for Moss to announce his final year of play before retirement. Moss was always a scoring machine and it would have been great to see him in the NFL for a bit longer. Moss holds a couple of really nice NFL records – 23 receiving touchdowns in a season and most receiving touchdowns as a rookie with 17. Moss led the league in receiving touchdowns five times throughout his pretty lengthy career, but we’re confident he could have done that a couple more times if he found the right fit in the NFL.
After his time with the Patriots, Moss struggled to find a fit as he moved from the Vikings, Titans and 49ers. If he could have been implemented on a team with a stronger offense, he could have benefited that team for years. Obviously, we wouldn’t expect league-leading numbers for the most part, but Moss would have still been an immense threat in the red zone
11 Should Be Retired: Antonio Gates
Even though Antonio Gates will hold the record for most career receiving touchdowns by a tight end, he should concede that feat and retire before it’s too late. Gates currently has 111 receiving touchdowns and is tied with Tony Gonzalez for the top spot among receiving touchdowns among tight ends in NFL history. Just one more score and Gates will be to sole owner of that record. But he shouldn’t step back on the field as the eight-time Pro Bowl selection isn’t going to do much more to solidify his dominance over league defenders.
In fact, the longer Gates plays the tougher it is getting to remember the days when he truly dominated the opposition. Back in the day, well actually not too long ago, Gates was tearing apart defensive game plans. In 2014, he managed 12 receiving touchdowns (that was the fourth time he had double-digit touchdown receptions). But since, he’s struggled to stay healthy and last season he had a career-low 57 percent catch rate.
10 Should Still Be Playing: Rolando McClain
This 2010 first round, top 10 draft pick is the youngest player featured on this list. Rolando McClain was drafted with the eighth pick by the Oakland Raiders, and his last time on the NFL field was in 2015 with the Dallas Cowboys. McClain actually agreed to a one-year deal with the Cowboys in March 2016, but he was later suspended for the second season in a row for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy. Just a couple of months later it was reported McClain had been addicted to coedeine and that he was a long way from resuming his NFL career.
This was a tough blow for fans of McClain (although there might not be many out there). McClain was one of the best defenders ever to play for Alabama and it was tough to watch McClain bottom out of the NFL at such a young age. He’s just 27 (he’ll be turning 28 in July), so we’re hopeful that McClain can one day return to the NFL and show us why team’s will continue to gamble on his potential talent. Who doesn’t love a comeback story?
9 Should Be Retired: Tony Romo
Currently Tony Romo is just a pawn in Cowboys owner Jerry Jones’ elaborate game of chess. Although he often doesn’t get the credit he deserves, Romo is far better than the bench player it looks like he’s set to be for the upcoming season. Although it might not seem like it to some, this is the best possible time for Romo to retire. He’s still got a great career to look back on (well, a good career to look back on if we consider his awful playoff history). And he’s still relatively healthy, though one more hard hit might give him some sort of lifelong injury to deal with.
Still, you might be wondering why Romo should hang up his jersey for good. It’s simple. During his last full season he lost just three games and led the league with a 70 percent completion rate for his passes while throwing for 34 touchdowns and just nine interceptions (for his career he’s thrown 248 touchdowns and just 117 interceptions). Sure, he could risk his legacy by sitting on the bench, but it’s better suited for his image if he bows out of the league now.
8 Should Still Be Playing: Percy Harvin
This 28 year old (who will be turning 29 in May) still has seemingly a lot left in the tank, yet announced his retirement nearly a year ago. On April 15, 2016, Harvin announced his retirement, but didn’t rule out the possibility of a return after he recovered from injuries that forced him out of the game. Harvin did return in November 2016, but experienced headaches that forced him to retire for a second time in March. If you ask us, Harvin just returned a little bit too early the first time around.
Harvin just needs a little bit more rest before he can suit back up in the NFL. With just a little more time off, we can see more of the talent that led to Minnesota’s most career kickoff return touchdowns (he had five while playing with the Vikings). He also has the NFL’s longest non-scoring play, which was 104 yards. We hope to see Harvin back on the field one day, but for now he’s among the other retired athletes we wish were back on the field.
7 Should Be Retired: Frank Gore
Frank Gore has quietly had one of the best careers that a running back has ever recorded in the NFL. Of course, he’s going up against a lot of talented, really talented guys who rushed the ball in NFL history (he ranks eighth in terms of career rushing yards with 13,065). But Gore is still wildly underrated when you look at the career he’s posted. However, that doesn’t mean that Gore should still be suiting up every Sunday.
Gore still rushed for more than 1,000 yards last season, but he’s failed to rush for more than four yards per game for the past two seasons. Those have been the only two seasons that Gore has failed to post an average of more than four yards per game. Gore, who will be 34 this season, shouldn’t be expected to get back to that average. He’s old for a running back and there’s no reason to expect he’ll be able to start every game, like he has for the past five seasons. Here, we would urge the running back to hang it up before it’s too late and he tarnishes his body or legacy.
6 Should Still Be Playing: Brett Favre
This one might make you laugh a bit, but it would be awesome to see the gray-haired Brett Favre tossing the deep ball for whatever team wants to give him a chance (heck I’m sure the Browns or the Bills would take that chance). But the fact that Favre was inducted to the Hall of Fame last year pretty much solidifies the fact that there will be no return for Favre, though we’d like him to challenge that statement.
The gunslinger is 47 and we have faith that the 11-time Pro Bowl selection (and three time MVP) would be able to lead a struggling team to at least an 8-8 record. And it would be truly amazing watching a guy nearly 50 tearing up defenses. Although this would definitely be a longshot, we think it’s a shot that Favre should seriously consider.
5 Should Be Retired: Julius Peppers
Julius Peppers is still a star despite his age, but the 37-year-old should hang his jersey up while he’s still at the top of his game. But it seems that risking his legacy is worth the extra year or two that Peppers will be able to squeeze out of his career. The Panthers are the team allowing this to happen. Carolina signed Peppers to a one year contract, allowing the superstar one more chance to play for the team where he spent his first nine seasons. Peppers is going to suit up in No. 90, which is the same number he wore during those early years.
Although we hope Peppers will find a way to produce like we’ve grown to expect, we doubt it. His days of leading the league are far gone. His last Pro Bowl was in 2015, but that can’t possibly be an expectation for a defensive end approaching 40. The former defensive player of the year is probably just on his victory lap before announcing retirement.
4 Should Still Be Playing: DeMarcus Ware
This guy retired just a year or two too early. Heck, DeMarcus Ware probably could have played for another five years in the NFL, but the 34 year old defensive star announced his retirement in March after playing for 12 seasons in the NFL. But we are holding out hopes that some team will convince Ware to suit up for at least one more season. C’mon, we deserve at least that. His retirement shocked us all as Ware announced the decision through his Twitter account.
The nine-time Pro Bowl selection, who’s last selection was in 2015, still had more to give. His body seemed ready to continue and although he likely wouldn’t have posted league-leading numbers like he had in the past, he would have been one of the better defenders on his team. There’s still hope that Ware will return, but as each day passes that possibility seems to become less likely.
3 Should Be Retired: Ben Roethlisberger
The funny thing is that even if Big Ben were to announce his retirement today, we’d agree with his motives but would have him on this list as a guy who should still be playing. The unfortunate thing is, more than any other athlete on this list, Roethlisberger seems in extreme danger of that big hit that will affect him for the rest of his life. We’re not talking a football injury, we’re talking about the type of injury that Roethlisberger will feel for the rest of his days. It’s unfortunate, but Roethlisberger has already been beaten up more than most quarterbacks and his style of play leads us to believe that he’ll take some absolutely frightening hits as long as he takes the field.
So this is our plea to Big Ben, please retire before it is too late. You’ve got the two Super Bowls and the five Pro Bowl selections, so we ask, what’s left to achieve. At 35 years old you’re surely not going to be leading the league in any statistical categories and being on the Steelers naturally means you’re in for a rough road ahead. If you do make it to Week 1, don’t be surprised if you’re sidelined for a good chunk of the year after your first big hit.
2 Should Still Be Playing: Marshawn Lynch
Like many guys on this side of the list, Marshawn Lynch shocked an awed football nation when he announced his retirement. Although it seems very likely that Lynch is on his way back to the league, we aren’t holding our breath. Though we would be ecstatic if Lynch announced his return, and it’s seeming like it’ll be obvious that he will return. Those around the superstar running back say that he’s itching to get back in the league and that he’s in better health than ever.
Lynch initially retired to recover from injuries, so if he’s healthy, why not return to a team ready to make a postseason run. And team’s around the league will be drooling at the possibility of acquiring Lynch. Who wouldn’t want a guy that’s been to the Pro Bowl five times and led the league in rushing touchdowns twice. Plus, Beast Mode is just as entertaining off the field as he is on the field.
1 Should Be Retired: Tom Brady
With nothing left to prove, this five-time Super Bowl champion should have announced his retirement after receiving his most recent trophy. Tom Brady is one of the best NFL players of all time, and he played that way last season. Now, he’s just risking that legacy by continuing for another season, and he’ll continue to risk his legacy each time he signs on for another season. The 12-time Pro Bowl selection and two-time MVP has absolutely nothing left to prove.
You have to look at the risk-to-reward ratio when considering Brady’s career in the NFL. Why risk another season? Sure, he can return and play like he’s been for the past decade. But that won’t add much to his legacy unless he wins another ring, which is unlikely given the strength of his opposition. And what’s the negatives in retiring? Sure, some New England fans will be furious but they’ll come around once the initial sting wears off. Plus, that would ensure his legacy remains intact.