Through all the blood sweat and tears the hardest thing a player has to do in their career is say goodbye to the game that they love. It is hard for teams to move on from some players as well, but when it is all said and done the business of football ends up making players retire sometimes before they want too. The average NFL career is only around 3 seasons and the average age of the NFL player continues to get younger. Due to the NFL being a capped league the best valued players are young players playing well on rookie contracts. This means it is becoming more and more difficult for players to land big money later in their careers when there is so much young talent around the league.
This list consists of players who have announced retirement and ones who are likely to retire soon because they are some of the oldest players in the league. There is a multitude of reasons that the players on this list might retire. Those reasons range from a rapid decline in play and simply being stuck on a bad team for too long. Other players have done enough in their career to justify walking away right now. Half of these guys should leave the game as soon as they can because they have dropped off dramatically. The second half of the list consists of players that will be hard to see say goodbye when their career is over.
16 Glad They're Leaving: Carson Palmer
Carson Palmer is the only player on the list who actually has announced their retirement and its probably because he had a ton of time to think it over due to him ending the season on injured reserve. It seems like it’s the end of an era in Arizona with both Palmer and head coach Bruce Arians calling it quits after this season. They definitely underachieved in their final season going 8-8 and never really coming close to sniffing the playoff picture all year long. Palmer also could never win the big game. There are a bunch of different reasons why, but the biggest issue of his career was staying healthy. With all the injuries that piled up over the course of a 14 year career it probably a good thing that Palmer decided to hang up his cleats this year.
15 Still Want Around: Larry Fitzgerald
Larry Fitzgerald has been the best player on the Arizona Cardinals for almost his entire career. During that time he has cemented his legacy as a First ballot hall of fame receiver. The one thing missing from his great career is a Super Bowl victory. He appeared in one Super Bowl and played really well in the game, but was ultimately beaten by a better Pittsburgh Steeler team. If he wants to win a Championship he will likely have to do it elsewhere because the Cardinals will be going through a rebuild with both the head coach and starting quarterback leaving the team. Either way Fitzgerald will go down in history as one of the best receivers of all-time and perhaps the best possession receiver ever.
14 Glad They're Leaving: Marshawn Lynch
Marshawn Lynch has already retired once, so it would not be that big of a deal if he did it again after this year. The Raiders and Lynch both had disappointing seasons in his return to the NFL and it is unlikely that new head coach John Gruden will bring back Lynch as his lead back next year. The days of him going into beast mode and running over half of the defense on one play are long behind him. Lynch is actually better at being hilarious on television than he is at being a running back these days. He did rush for over 800 yards and 7 touchdowns last year, but he missed a games due to a controversial suspension and injuries. At this point in his career Lynch’s antics are not worth what he produces on the field.
13 Still Want Around: Drew Brees
It was clear on wild card weekend against the Carolina Panthers that Drew Brees is still one of the best quarterbacks in all of football. It has been a long time since the Saints held up the Lombardi trophy back in 2009 and they are still in it to win another this season. Brees has the best running attack he has ever had with Mark Ingram and rookie sensation Alvin Kamara both going to the Pro Bowl this season. Brees still has a lot of good football left in him, so there is no rush for retirement. The Saints could possibly draft his heir apparent in this years draft and let him sit behind Brees the next couple of seasons. If he wins another championship that will cement his legacy as one of the best quarterbacks of all time.
12 Glad They're Leaving: Dwight Freeney
NFL quarterbacks would probably be the most glad if Freeney decided to call it quits after this season. Freeney has tormented them for the better part of the last two decades. He has played for 15 seasons and made the Pro Bowl in seven of those seasons, so it is safe to say he will end up in the hall of fame when his time comes. However in his last two seasons playing with the Falcons, Seahawks, and Lions he only managed to get 3 sacks in both years. This was far below his career average and it diminished the legacy Freeney earned during his dominant days with the Indianapolis Colts. Since Freeney is not playing with a Super Bowl contender right now he might as well retire since he has accomplished enough already.
11 Still Want Around: Ben Roesthlisberger
Big Ben has taken a lot of snaps since he won his first 10 starts to begin his career with the Steelers. He has already contemplated retirement during last offseason and even suggested he didn’t have it anymore this season. The key to his decision will be what happens in the playoffs. He plays the Jaguars this weekend and the last time he played the them he threw 5 interceptions, 2 that were returned for touchdowns. He will most likely handle them easily but the tough test will be against the Patriots. If the Steelers and Big Ben do run the table, and he wins his third Super Bowl. Then he could decide to go out on top like his former teammate Jerome Bettis. He has a ton of weapons at his disposal, so if they lose in the playoffs he should come back for another run at a Championship.
10 Glad They're Leaving: Adrian Peterson
Peterson’s career has gone majorly downhill ever since his controversy involving him hitting his kid with a switch back in 2014. Since then the Vikings moved on from arguably their best running back ever, the Saints could not figure out how to use him, and he most recently ended the season on injured reserve with the Arizona Cardinals. One could say that karma came back to bite Peterson. However it is more logical to blame his decline in production on Father Time who is undefeated. It is safe to say that his best football is long behind him, but he did show at times this season that he can still be a solid running back when given a good amount of carries. Unless he can sign somewhere where he could get that Super Bowl ring that has alluded him his entire career, he should retire.
9 Still Want Around: Antonio Gates
Antonio Gates went from college basketball star to one of the most prolific tight ends the game of football has ever seen. It is obvious his career is near its end, but it will be hard to see him go when it is all said and done. He is an 8 time Pro Bowler in his 14 year career and it hard to believe that he once went undrafted in 2003. He is surely going to end his career in Canton with a gold jacket even if he does decide to retire this year. However it would be nice to see a great player like Gates end his career on top with a Championship. Yet it is unlikely that will happen if he finishes his career with the Chargers because they have failed to go on a deep playoff run since early in Gates' career.
8 Glad They're Leaving: DeAngelo Hall
It is hard to believe DeAngelo Hall is still playing NFL. He was considered a shut down corner when guys like Terrell Owens and Chad Johnson were still in their prime of their careers. Hall has actually made a smooth transition from corner to safety to make his career last longer. He has played 13 seasons in the NFL which is somewhat unheard of for a defensive back. Darrell Green was a notable Redskin corner that played into his forties, so maybe that is what Hall is trying to replicate. Hall should try to be an analyst sometime soon, considering he is has been one of the best trash talkers in the league throughout his entire career. Hall should call it quits before there is a major decline in his production.
7 Still Want Around: Jason Witten
Jason Witten has been one of the best Dallas Cowboys of all time and one the best tight ends in the league since he started playing back in 2003. He was a steal of a pick in the third round and will most likely be a hall of famer when it is all said and done. He will be most remembered for his days of catching passes from Tony Romo, but he has proven to be one of Dak Prescott’s favorite targets being a security blanket for him to go to on third down. Witten was rumored to have been offered the University of Tennessee coaching job when it was available, so it is obvious he is close to life after football. But it would be nice to see a hard working player like Witten win a Super Bowl before he calls it quits.
6 Glad They're Leaving: Josh McCown
It’s hard to find a quarterback who has played for more teams than Josh McCown. He has played for 10 teams in his 15 year journeyman career playing for almost a third of the teams in the league. He recently told Newsday that he was contemplating retirement, so he can go into coaching high school football in Texas with his friend and former NFL quarterback John Kitna. They apparently both want their sons to eventually play together on the same team. McCown could probably get another team to sign him and he could play mediocre football for another season. He ended this season on injured reserve and this is not the first major injury he has had to go through, so he is probably better off spending more time with his family and coaching football at home.
5 Still Want Around: Julius Peppers
Somehow Julius Peppers entered the NFL as a dominant force winning the rookie of the year and his play has still not diminished much at this point. He is now playing for the team that drafted him number two overall the Carolina Panthers, but he has flourished everywhere he played during his 15 year career. He is a 9 time Pro Bowler and he is definitely a first ballot hall of famer because he is one of the best defensive ends of all time. Carolina had a solid season this year and they are only 3 seasons removed from playing in a Super Bowl. Peppers should keep playing until his play dramatically drops off because the Panthers are in the title hunt for the time being.
4 Glad They're Leaving: James Harrison
The Benedict Arnold of the NFL has tarnished his great Steeler legacy by switching over the dark side with Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots. The Patriots have been known to pick up players just for insight and it looks like that is the case with Harrison because of the inevitable match up of Patriots and Steelers in the AFC championship game. He could actually help the Patriots because the are ranked the 29th best defence in football. Harrison was a fan favourite before the switch, he embodied the steeler grit and determination that defines their defensive history. He should be remembered for his great interception return at the end of the first half against the Cardinals in the Super Bowl. Now he might be remembered for turning his back on the black and gold to win another ring with a rival team.
3 Still Want Around: Eli Manning
Manning was in a position very unfamiliar to him this season when he was benched and did not start a game for the first time since his rookie season. Now that the Giants have the number two pick in the draft they are in a very good position to select one of the two draft prospects from Southern California, either UCLA’s Josh Rosen or USC’s Sam Darnold. If that happens then Manning might be better off retiring or switching teams this offseason. Manning has two Super Bowls to his credit and he believes he has enough in the tank to win another. If he does decide to retire, the NFL will feel strange because it will be the first time since 1998 that there will not be a Manning starting at quarterback for a team.
2 Glad They're Leaving: Jay Cutler
Cutler already had a job lined up to be a broadcaster with Fox before he decided to come back and play with his former offensive coordinator Adam Gase in Miami. He had another typical Jay Cutler season starting for them showing flashes of brilliance but ultimately being consistently average. No one would bat an eye if Cutler decided to retire again. The Dolphins still have question marks at quarterback, but former starter Ryan Tannehill will surely get the first chance to start if he is healthy by the time the season starts. The Dolphins could also draft a quarterback considering this years draft class is stacked at the position with at least 4 first round talents. Either way Cutler has looked bored in the NFL for years and he might be better in the booth like his fellow quarterback Tony Romo.
1 Still Want Around: Tom Brady
Tom Brady could possibly be the greatest quarterback of all time and he was somehow drafted in the sixth round back in 2000. He came into the starting lineup after an injury to Drew Bledsoe and immediately set the league on fire leading the Patriots to their first Super Bowl in franchise history. Since then he has won 3 more Super Bowls with Bill Belichick and to this day he has still no signs of slowing down. He is one of the leading candidates for NFL MVP this year and he has said he plans to play until he is at least 45. That is why the Patriots traded both Jimmy Garropolo and Jacoby Brisset. Brady and the Patriots are in the hunt for another Super Bowl this season and as long as Brady and Belichick are still around they will stay in the hunt.