The rosters are mainly set for the upcoming NFL season, and on them we can see players who are among the most tenured in the league. Most of them were expected to be playing in the 2017 season, but their long-term future remains very much in doubt. A long NFL career can prove to be a difficult one. Between injuries, contract disputes, scheme changes, in-fighting with teammates and coaching staff, any veteran player is liable to retire at the end of any season. They rarely let on what they’re going to do, but it’s always possible to render a guess depending on their situation.
Following the conclusion of the 2017 season, there’s no doubt that we’ll see some players hang up the cleats. It may seem unpredictable now, but examining some of the specifics of the various current situations that these veteran players fall under, does glean some insight as to what their decisions will be. Some will elect to press on and keep playing, while others will call it quits. Sooner or later, a decision will have to be made.
Ranked below are 8 veteran NFL players who will retire after this season, and 7 who will keep playing.
15. Jay Cutler – Retire
His retirement may have only lasted for a cup of coffee before returning, but Cutler will indeed be playing in the NFL this year. In what was one of the most shocking developments of the offseason, Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill suffered a season-ending injury in training camp, only to be replaced by Cutler roughly a week later. Miami coach Adam Gase had Cutler on his offense while he was the offensive coordinator for the Bears, and many believe that they will pick up right where they left off.
This is more than likely just a 1-year stop for Cutler, only to retire once again at the end of the year. It’s clear that his heart wasn’t in it anymore during last season, and this is just an easy way to make a cool $10 million in a familiar offensive system on his way out the door. Don’t expect any longevity with him on the Dolphins.
14. Ben Roethlisberger – Keep Going
There’s no about that Roethlisberger has suffered some terrible injuries over the past few seasons, and that he’s squarely in the home stretch of his career at this point. The Steelers are all-in on winning one last Super Bowl with him at the helm, and have constructed the team around him as such. There’s some speculation that this will be the last NFL season for Big Ben, but certain outcomes of the 2017 season may warrant him sticking around for a bit longer.
If Roethlisberger is able to stay healthy for the vast majority of the season and the Steelers don’t win a Super Bowl, there’s a good chance that he’s willing to return the following year. Another title would almost certainly cause him to elect for retirement, but he could be willing to stay if he doesn’t have to go through the process of rehabilitating another injury. Most likely, expect Roethlisberger to stick around for 2018. He’s due for a healthy season, as he’s gotten unlucky the past few years.
13. Jonathan Stewart – Retire
It appears as if Stewart’s time in Carolina is coming to an end. He’s one of the longest tenured players on the roster right now, and has been their go-to running back (when healthy) since 2008, when he was drafted with the 13th overall pick. Now knocking on the age of 30, and facing a scheme change that was indicated by the draft picks of Curtis Samuel and Christian McCaffrey, it’s fair to question how much longer Stewart is going to want to play.
He’s played his entire career with Carolina, and the prospect of going to another team likely won’t be very appealing at this stage. If Stewart sees his carries drop significantly this season, he could consider retirement. He’s under contract for next season, but that hasn’t stopped players from retiring before. Given his extensive injury history on top of it all, it remains a very distinct possibility.
12. Brandon Marshall – Keep Going
Marshall signed with the Giants knowing full-well that he would be playing second-fiddle to Odell Beckham Jr. for his duration there. He’s under contract for another season, and he wants to prove that last year’s debacle with the Jets was just an anomaly in the late stages of his career. Marshall has been one of the game’s best receivers over the years, and while he won’t be the number one guy in New York, he’ll have enough significance attached to his role that he’ll want to stick around.
He’ll still be a dangerous red zone threat, and he’ll get enough targets between the 20s for a rebound season this year. His retirement will probably come following the 2018 season, when he’ll be knocking on his late-30s, and likely have regressed to the point where it’s just not worth the effort anymore.
11. Alfred Morris – Retire
The Ezekiel Elliott suspension may give Morris slightly more of a role that he would have had otherwise, but it still won’t be a primary role. Darren McFadden is expected to take the bulk of the carries, leaving Morris as a situational runner at best. After a torrid start to his career, which began in 2012, Morris has steadily declined throughout the years, and is nothing more than a depth running back.
Even though he’ll be below the age of 30 by the time the season ends, it wouldn’t be surprising to see him pack it in. He’s not under contract with the Cowboys next year, and there’s probably little interest in bringing him back, even on a cheap deal. Getting older and mostly ineffective, Morris isn’t a prime candidate to stretch his NFL career out to the maximum.
10. Victor Cruz – Keep Going
After suffering a horrible injury in 2015 which kept him out for a year and a half, Cruz has made strides in working his way back as a certified quality receiver. Last year with the Giants yielded solid numbers for a player coming off of such a major injury, and this year he’ll figure to work his way into the passing offense for the Bears.
While Chicago made a concerted effort to load up on the wide receiver position this offseason, Cruz is one of the most accomplished names on the roster right now. It’s hard to see a scenario in which he won’t at least make the team. If he can get a consistent target share, he’ll likely return for 2018, after being out of the league for most of the last 3 seasons. Despite playing at 30-years-old this season, there’s still gas left in the tank for Cruz.
9. Alex Smith – Retire
The writing is on the wall for Smith in Kansas City, as the team drafted (traded up for) quarterback Patrick Mahomes in the 1st-round of the draft this year. Early reports indicate that Mahomes is making an impact right away, and that could signal the end of Smith sooner rather than later. After 11 seasons of NFL mediocrity coming off of a 1st overall draft selection, Smith may just opt to call it quits all together, rather than stick around in a backup role.
Smith is the ultimate risk-averse player, and that strategy has been good enough to win games at times, but never good enough to carry a team to deep postseason success. He seems like a player who would just want to cut his losses. Expect Mahomes to take over the Chiefs’ starting quarterback job by next season at the latest, and for Smith to hang it up.
8. Larry Fitzgerald – Keep Going
A model of stability and excellence for one team, which is a rare thing to find in the NFL these days, Fitzgerald has been one of the league’s top-flight receivers since entering in 2004. They simply don’t come any more professional and consistently great than Fitzgerald, and he’s been the most notable Cardinals player of his era, without a doubt.
While others member of the Arizona roster will be fixing to retire after this season, there’s actually a decent chance that Fitzgerald is willing to stay on. If Bruce Arians is able to remain the head coach, he’s shown that he’s able to continue to have Fitzgerald be a key cog in the offensive system, without asking him to do as much as he once did. Approaching his mid-30s, Fitzgerald is no longer in his prime, but don’t count him out yet after 2017,
7. Carson Palmer – Retire
Fitzgerald’s teammate Carson Palmer however, will likely be hanging up the cleats after this season. It’s been a long, difficult career for Palmer who is now looking at one last chance to be at the head of a team competing for a playoff spot. The Cardinals took a step back last season, and Palmer will have to be better if he wants to make another deep playoff run before retirement.
If it doesn’t happen this year, then it likely never will. Between Palmer’s injury history and his increasing age, there’s no way Arizona can commit to him being their quarterback beyond this year. In all likelihood, this is the last year we see Palmer as an NFL player. He has no reason to take a backup job anywhere.
6. DeMarco Murray – Keep Going
It’s really a matter of “when”, not “if” Derrick Henry is going to take over the starting running back job for the Titans at some point. Murray had a great rebound season last year, proving that he can still be a top-tier runner when he’s used properly in any given offensive system. So while he’s probably going to bleed carries to Henry at some point, he should still be useful in the Tennessee offense.
All of this adds up to Murray staying on the Titans for the near future, even at an age where some running backs consider retiring. Murray may not be top-5 at his position this year, but he still has a ton of value and will continue to play at a high level into his 30s.
5. Mark Sanchez – Retire
Ever since the infamous “butt fumble” it’s been a slippery slope for Sanchez’s career, and now he’s toiling as a backup in Chicago, not even a lock to make the roster. After fizzling out in a backup role in Philadelphia, it’s been hard times for Sanchez, who failed to beat out a pair of inexperienced quarterbacks on the Broncos’ roster during the 2016 offseason. This may be the last chance he gets in the NFL, for any team.
And really, at this point, there’s nothing left for him to do. He’s been paid well during his career, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see him retire after the season. Sanchez has regressed mightily over the years, and it just makes sense from all angles.
4. Philip Rivers – Keep Going
Rivers is getting up there in age, but it’s highly unlikely that you’ll see him call it quits anytime soon. The Chargers have made efforts to surround him with a better offensive line, and he has a bevy of receivers to throw to on the Chargers’ offense right now. Rivers may be numerically old for an NFL player, but he’s suffered little to no major injuries in his career up to this point. He’s about as healthy as you can be at this stage of the game.
So expect to see him remain the franchise quarterback of the Chargers for the foreseeable future. They have nobody to really replace him with, and they won’t find anyone with better talent who can fill in immediately. Rivers is one of the best quarterbacks in the league, and he won’t be leaving until it’s abundantly clear that he can’t play at a high level anymore.
3. Anquan Boldin – Retire
Finally inking a 1-year deal with the Bills in August this year, it’s obvious that at this point in his career, Boldin is just a part-time rental for teams looking to add depth at wide receiver. Once one of the best receivers in the league, Boldin can still contribute, but it depends on how long he’s willing to keep signing these throwaway contracts.
Just a hunch, but Boldin will likely stop playing after this season. The Bills aren’t going to keep him long-term, and he’ll be 37 by the time next season starts; downright ancient for a skill player in today’s game. Fair to say that Boldin has probably reached the end of his rope here, and that he’ll call it quits to a great career.
2. Drew Brees – Keep Going
Brees is knocking on the age of 40, but he’s still going strong in the Saints offense until proven otherwise. He’ll be there past this season to finish out his contract. It’s unlikely that he decides to stop playing after this season, regardless of what happens with the overall record. There’s been no sign of regression with Brees, and he’s still at the helm of one of the best offenses in the league right now.
So while his age would indicate that he’s considering retirement after 2017, that probably isn’t the case. Brees has been remarkably healthy over the course of his career, and if he’s still playing at an elite level, there’s no reason for him to stop now. After the 2018 season is when we can reasonably open up the conversation about Brees walking away from the game.
1. Tom Brady – Retire
If the Patriots’ roster is as good as everyone believes it will be and how it projects, then the the team will undoubtedly be in contention for yet another Super Bowl. If Brady can win one more, there may be rumblings about retirement that begin to surface. Of course, he says he’s fine now, that he can play another 5 years and whatnot. However, Brady just turned 40, and no quarterback has ever been able to play well into that decade of their lives, and still be effective.
The fact is, that if Brady is able to notch his 6th Super Bowl, it would be an opportune time to retire. He would go out while he was on top, and wouldn’t have to suffer through the embarrassing stretch of regression that often times closes out a quarterbacks career. If New England comes out on top this year, expect Brady to at least consider the prospect of walking away, whether or not he admits it.
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