There are only a handful of certainties in life, and one of them is the fact that everyone ages, a fact that no person can escape no matter how many different methods they use to “defy” the aging process. In several parts of the world, age is something that is revered and celebrated, but in many places, including North America, getting older can be seen as a detriment, as people regard a person’s age as a sign of their diminishing physical ability in regards to work. No occupation places a greater emphasis on age like being a professional athlete, and it is true whether you play a solo sport like golf and tennis, or if you play in one of North America’s four major professional sports leagues.
In virtually every sport, an athlete is usually considered to be in their prime when they are between the ages of 25 and 32, and when most players pass that age, they seemingly tend to become slower, less productive, and more prone to injuries. The sports world though, is filled with examples of athletes who managed to remain productive and impactful players well into their late 30s and even older. Cal Ripken Jr. played until he was 40, Gordie Howe played hockey into his 50s, Tim Duncan played until he was 40, and Peyton Manning played until the age of 39; and those are only some examples of now retired players, there are still many good currently active players in every sport who are considered to be old. In the NFL, a player’s career usually lasts only a couple of years due to the physicality and injuries associated with football, but that does not stop certain players from continuing to play well past their designated prime years. Here is a list of the 15 oldest players heading into the NFL season.
15. Ben Roethlisberger – 34
The Pittsburgh Steelers are one of the most storied franchises in the NFL, with a rather hefty list of Hall of Fame players, and six Super Bowl Championships, making them tied with Dallas for the most championships won by any team. The franchise has had several quarterbacks over the decades, with the most decorated being Terry Bradshaw who won 4 Super Bowls; but in 2004, the Steelers drafted Ben Roethlisberger, who will undoubtedly one day join Bradshaw in the Hall of Fame. In his 12-year career with Pittsburgh, Roethlisberger has so far earned accolades such as being named 2004’s offensive rookie of the year, becoming a four-time Pro Bowler, being the league’s leader in passing yards in 2014, and winning 2 Super Bowls. Coming into this season, he will be 34 years old, and even though most of society does not consider that to be old, it still makes him one of the oldest players in the entire league.
14. Karlos Dansby – 34
In football, the linebacker positions himself behind the defensive line, and it is his job to back up the line by providing extra protection during either a running play or passing play. Karlos Dansby is one of these linebackers, and he has been in the NFL now for 12 years, ever since the Arizona Cardinals first drafted him in 2004. He played with the Cardinals until 2009, when he signed with the Miami Dolphins as a free-agent; but 3 years into his 5-year deal, the team decided to release him. In 2013, he returned to Arizona on a one–year deal, which he managed to turn into a new 4-year deal that offseason with the Cleveland Browns, who ultimately released him in March of this year. A few days later though, he was signed by the Cincinnati Bengals for one year, and for his sake he better actually produce because at 34 years of age, teams can probably find younger and more effective linebackers.
13. Andre Johnson – 35
Throughout the NFL season, there are always dozens of highlights of wide receivers making incredible catches when the football is thrown towards them, which makes sense because wide receivers are often times the fastest and most athletic players on the field. There have been many great wide receivers in the NFL, with the pinnacle being Hall of Famer Jerry Rice, and Andre Johnson is hoping to retire with at least accomplishing one thing that Rice did: winning a championship. Johnson started his 13-year career with the Houston Texans who drafted him in 2003, and after 12 years with the team, he signed a 3-year contract with the Indianapolis Colts in 2015; but the team ended up releasing him after just one year. Fortunately, the Tennessee Titans came along this offseason and signed Johnson to a 2-year deal, and at 35 years old, not only is he one of the league’s oldest wide receivers, but he is also one of its oldest players overall.
12. Eli Manning – 35
Despite many playoff failures, Peyton Manning will go down as of the best quarterbacks in NFL history, and even though he was not really a factor in last year’s Super Bowl, he still managed to win, making him a 2-time champion like his little brother Eli. Believe it or not, it was the San Diego Chargers who initially drafted Eli Manning first overall back in 2004, but they then proceeded to immediately trade him to the New York Giants in order to get Philip Rivers, which in hindsight turned out to be a terrible move for the Chargers. In his now 12 year career with the Giants, Eli has led the team to 2 Super Bowls, where both times he was named the game’s MVP. Throughout their time together in the league, people have wondered which Manning brother would finish their career with more Super Bowl wins, and although they are currently tied in that regard, there is still a good chance that Eli, now 35, will be able to surpass his brother.
11. Anquan Boldin – 35
Like Andre Johnson, Anquan Boldin is a wide receiver, but unlike Johnson, when he retires, he will do so having already won a Super Bowl. So far, Boldin has played in the NFL for 13 years, a career which started in 2003 when he was drafted by Arizona, the team that he ultimately spent 7 years with before moving on to the Baltimore Ravens in 2010. He stayed with Baltimore for 3 three years, where in 2013, he won the aforementioned Super Bowl by helping to defeat the San Francisco 49ers, the team that he was ironically traded to shortly after beating them in the championship game. This past offseason, Boldin was signed by the Detroit Lions, and even though he is currently 35 years old, he will be 36 by the time October comes along, which will in fact make him both the oldest player on the Lions’ roster as well as one of the oldest in the league.
10. Antonio Gates – 36
Antonio Gates is a tight end, which means that his role on the team is that of a hybrid between a wide receiver and an offensive lineman, meaning that they are capable of both blocking, and catching a ball thrown at them. Gates has played in the NFL for 13 years now, all of which have been spent with the San Diego Chargers, the team who signed him as an undrafted free agent in 2003. As of now, Gates has still not won a championship, but he has been named to the Pro Bowl 8 times, he has received for over 10,000 yards, and he is currently the franchise’s leader in receiving yards, receptions, and receiving touchdowns. He is now 36 years old, and this offseason, the Chargers signed him to a 2-year contract extension, which means that the team believes he will continue to be an effective tight end until he is at least 38 years old.
9. Julius Peppers – 36
A defensive end is a player whose position is located at the end of each team’s defensive line, and for the first 12 years of his career, that is the role that Julius Peppers played on his teams. His career began in 2002 after he was drafted by the Carolina Panthers, a team that he ultimately spent 8 years with before signing with the Chicago Bears for six years as a free agent. His time with the Bears only lasted 4 years though, as he was released in 2014; but fortunately for him, he was signed to a 3-year deal by the Green Bay Packers just a few days later. As a defensive end, Peppers was named the league’s best defensive rookie in 2002, his conference’s best defensive player in 2004, and he made the Pro Bowl 8 times. For the past two years though, the Packers have been using Peppers as an outside linebacker, which has worked out well so far for both the 36 year old and the team.
8. Steve Smith – 37
In 2001, the Carolina Panthers drafted Steve Smith in the third round, and since then, he has so far had a lengthy 15 year career in the NFL as a wide receiver. Overall, Smith spent 13 years with the Panthers, which were unsurprisingly the best years of his career, as he was named to the Pro Bowl 5 times, and led the entire league in both receiving yards and receiving touchdowns for the 2005 season. When the 2014 offseason came around, it was time for Smith to move on, which is why he signed a 3-year contract with the Baltimore Ravens, and after sustaining a torn achilles tendon in the middle of last season, he is returning to the team this season for what may in fact be his last year in the NFL. A torn achilles can be devastating for a wide receiver’s career even when they are young, but at 37 years of age, it is an unfortunate possibility that the league’s oldest wide receiver may not even be able to finish the season because of it.
7. Drew Brees – 37
Drew Brees is known for being the great starting quarterback for the New Orleans Saints, but some football fans may have forgotten that he in fact began his career with the San Diego Chargers back in 2001. The Chargers kept Brees for the better part of 5 years, and after they offered him a contract that he deemed to be an offer of no confidence, he went and signed with the Saints, who he has been playing for since 2006. As it turns out, the move was a terrible decision by San Diego, because in the 10 years since he left, Brees has gone on to lead the NFL in passing touchdowns 4 times, and he has led the league in total passing yards 6 times; he was also named Super Bowl MVP in 2010 when he led the team to its first ever championship. At 37 years old, Brees will be one of the league’s oldest players next season, as well as the second oldest quarterback.
6. Terence Newman – 38
In football, a cornerback is a member of a team’s defensive backfield whose job it is to cover the opposition’s receivers, to tackle, and to defend against the other team’s pass offence. Terence Newman has been a cornerback in the NFL for 13 years now, and he started his career in 2003 after being drafted by the Dallas Cowboys. Newman stayed with the Cowboys for 9 years, where he became a 2-time Pro Bowler, but in 2012 the team released him due to cap reasons, which is why he was able to sign a 5-year deal with Cincinnati. In 2015, after spending 3 years with the Bengals, he was released by the team and then quickly signed by the Minnesota Vikings for one year, and it was a fairly decent season for him because the Vikings re-signed him for another year this offseason. He just recently celebrated his 38th birthday, which means he will be the oldest cornerback in the league this season.
5. Sebastian Janikowski – 38
The job of a placekicker is primarily to kick field goals and to get his team the extra point after a touchdown, and sometimes they also serve as their team’s punter and kickoff specialist as well. There are those who consider kickers to not be all that important to a football team, but the truth of the matter is, they are indeed important, especially when many important games actually do come down to a field goal. Sebastian Janikowski is one of these kickers, and he has been kicking footballs since the 2000 season, and he has so far played his entire 16 year career with the Oakland Raiders. In his time with Oakland, Janikowski made the Pro Bowl once, in 2011, and he has also successfully scored 385 field goals for his team, including one which was 63 yards. He is currently in the final year of his contract, and if he performs as well as he did last year, the 38 year old will likely see another contract extension.
4. Tom Brady – 39
He has not even retired yet, and Tom Brady is considered by many to be the greatest quarterback to ever play in the NFL, and seeing as he has won 4 Super Bowls while also being named the MVP in three of those championship games, it is a hard assertion to dispute. Brady has been a member of the New England Patriots’ roster for 16 years now, ever since they drafted him in 2000, and for the past 14 years, he has been the team’s starting quarterback Aside from the championships, Brady has also been named to the Pro Bowl 11 times, he was named the NFL’s MVP twice, the NFL’s offensive player of the year twice, and he has led the entire league in passing yards twice, as well as passing touchdowns 4 times. At 39 years of age, Brady is still an elite player, and even though he will miss the first four games of the season due to a suspension, he will be the league’s oldest quarterback once he returns.
3. Shane Lechler – 40
Punters are a part of the special teams unit, and it is their job to punt the football towards the opposing team as far as possible in order to take away as much of the opposition’s field advantage as possible. Like placekickers, punters are not really given much respect, but many of those people do not understand that without a decent punter on your team, you will likely be getting scored on more frequently. Shane Lechler has been a punter in the NFL for 16 years now, and his career started in the 2000 season when he debuted with the Raiders, after they drafted him earlier that same year Lechler stayed with Oakland for 13 seasons, where he became a 7-time Pro Bowler, before moving on and signing with the Houston Texans, the team that he will have spent the last 4 years with. At 40 years old, this could be Lechler’s last season, but depending on how he kicks the football, he may be able to stretch his career one more year.
2. Phil Dawson – 41
Phil Dawson began his NFL career in 1999, but he would have joined the league a year earlier had the Raiders and Patriots both decided to not cut him from their training rosters in 1998. It was the Cleveland Browns who eventually signed him, and he would go on to spend a total of 14 years with the team, before signing as a free agent in 2013 with the San Francisco 49ers, whose roster he is still a part of today. In his 17 year career, Dawson has successfully completed 386 field goals, the longest of which happened to be from 56 yards away, which gives him an overall completion rate of almost 85%. By the time this upcoming season comes to an end, Dawson will have celebrated his 42nd birthday, which will cause him to remain the NFL’s second oldest player, but unfortunately that does not mean he will be able to claim the title of the league’s oldest kicker.
1. Adam Vinatieri – 43
As most of the previous 4 entries on this list seem to indicate, kickers appear to be the most likely individuals to have a long playing career in the NFL, a career that can see them playing into their 40s. Adam Vinatieri started his NFL career in 1996 when he debuted as the placekicker for the Patriots, and he would stay with New England for 10 seasons which saw him help the team to win 3 Super Bowls. In 2006, the Indianapolis Colts signed Vinatieri as a free agent, and he has remained on the Colts’ roster ever since, where in 2007 he won his fourth Super Bowl. Vinatieri is currently 43 years old, and by the time New Year’s Eve comes around, he will be 44, making him the NFL’s undisputed oldest active player; and that will be a title which he will hold for at least a few more years, as the Colts re-signed him to a 2-year extension this past offseason.
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