Every offseason in the National Football League often features one or two memorable names who had amazing careers. Some were short and sweet and others spanned the majority of two decades with one or multiple teams, filled with highlight plays that fans from throughout the nation can recall at the mention of a player's name.
Football is the type of sport that can make legends of various types of athletes. There are the quarterbacks who can throw a football high through the sky and deep across the field, while there are mountains of men who battle each other on the line of scrimmage. And there are ball carriers who can find ways around defenders with a combination of speed and agility, while others find ways through them with power and strength. It's a sport where we see wide receivers, cornerbacks and safeties fly through the air and snagging the football from an opposing player. The field has often hosted hybrid athletes that are needed for positions like linebackers and tight ends.
The period between the 2015 and 2016 NFL seasons saw plenty of these kinds of players choose to leave the sport for good -- players ranging from youngsters to wily veterans who could have filled an all-star team in the Pro Bowl. There are several who are hall-of-fame bound. With this list, we are going to be assembling an offensive and defensive unit from the players who retired this offseason. You'll see how together, this dream team looks unstoppable.
Let's take a look at who those players are and remember why they will be missed.
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22 Peyton Manning - Quarterback
He might not have as many Super Bowl rings as some of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history, but Peyton Manning deserves to be placed in the same company as Tom Brady, Joe Montana and Terry Bradshaw. Ever since he debuted in 1998 with the Indianapolis Colts, he was a statistical juggernaut during the regular season with nearly 72,000 passing yards and 539 touchdowns, while completing 65.3 percent of his passes.
Despite having earned a win over the Chicago Bears in Super Bowl XLI in 2007 with the Colts, Manning had been thought of as a great regular season quarterback who couldn’t win the big game as he struggled in playoff games against Brady and the New England Patriots and lost in Super Bowl XLVIII against the Seattle Seahawks. But there’s no denying what Manning has done overall on the field and also as one of the best role models in league history.
After an 18-year career filled with five reigns as the league’s Most Valuable Player, Manning was able to walk off into the sunset with one more Super Bowl win (this time with the Denver Broncos) against Carolina, even if he wasn’t the biggest offensive factor for the team, giving him the best way to end his professional run.
21 Marshawn Lynch - Running back
The former Seattle Seahawks running back is just on this list so he doesn’t get fined. Besides that, there will never be another player quite like him – both for his physical abilities and his unique personality. Let’s start with the fact that in only nine seasons in the league, he was averaging about 4.3 yards per carry with a style of running that saw him run over more defenders than the ones he juked around.
The best example of his abilities can be found with the “Beast-quake” run in 2011 where he ran over the entire New Orleans Saints defense for a 67-yard touchdown run in the NFC Wild Card game. It was a highlight play that looked like someone controlling him in Madden and unlocked the unlimited trucking mode. Lynch was a big part of Seattle’s offense during the Super Bowl run in 2013 and the return to the championship in 2014.
But his body started to break down in 2015 with limited time on the field. Fans not only remember how dominant he was on the field, but also remember him for his antics when he gave reporters a hard time getting a usable quote for their story.
20 Calvin Johnson - Wide Receiver
There was more than met the eye when looking at Calvin Johnson on the field. The reason he was nicknamed “Megatron” was because he was much more than just a mortal human wide receiver on the field; he was a six-foot-five, 240-pound machine that dominated secondary units throughout the NFL. He led the league in receiving yards for consecutive seasons in 2011 and 2012, with the latter season of 1,964 yards being a single-season receiving yards record – more than 100 yard ahead of other receivers like Julio Jones, Jerry Rice and Antonio Brown.
Johnson had video game-like numbers during only nine seasons in the NFL with 11,619 yards and 83 touchdowns. The unfortunate thing about Johnson’s career is that despite the high numbers that make him one of the best receivers of all time, he only advanced in two playoff games between 2011 and 2014 with the Detroit Lions. Similar to how Dan Marino is considered one of the best quarterbacks to never win a championship, Johnson has that title among receivers – his six Pro-Bowl invitations and seven 1,000-yard seasons support that claim.
19 Greg Jennings - Wide Receiver
While some receivers like Johnson use their height and size to make catches over opposing defenders, a smaller receiver like Greg Jennings – standing at five-foot-11 and weighing under 200 pounds – was someone who used his speed and agility to get by defenders. Over the course of 10 seasons in the NFL, Jennings had a total of 8,291 yards and 64 touchdowns on 571 receptions. His best years were as the top aerial weapon available to Aaron Rodgers in Green Bay during the 2010 season with 1,265 yards and 12 touchdowns.
That was also the season where the Packers defeated the Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl XLV where Jennings had 64 yards and two touchdowns to help Green Bay win 31-25. He would spend two more seasons in Minnesota before a tough season last year in Miami wherein he only had 208 yards and one touchdown the entire season. But Jennings will always be known best for the time he spent in green and gold at Lambeau Field.
18 Percy Harvin - Wide Receiver
Maybe Percy Harvin is a case of a player who divided locker rooms and wasn’t exactly the best teammate in the league. Or we can think about what could have been possible if he would have stayed healthy and had a chance to play more than the seven seasons in the NFL. But Harvin definitely had a positive impact for the Minnesota Vikings after he was drafted from the University of Florida in 2009. He would become one of Brett Favre’s favorite deep threat targets as Harvin had 790 yards and six touchdowns in his rookie season and his numbers would grow to 967 yards to lead the Vikings in 2011 as the top receiver for Minnesota.
But he was also a big benefit in the special teams department, which was a key reason the Seattle Seahawks wanted him in a 2013 trade. Despite injury struggles, Harvin would have a kickoff return in the second half of Seattle’s big 43-8 blowout win in Super Bowl XLVIII, where he had an 87-yard kickoff return touchdown. A combination of injuries and personal issues shortened his NFL career to just seven years, but he was still electric when he was at full health.
17 Heath Miller - Tight End
Not many players who are tight ends are the biggest contributors in terms of fantasy football statistics. While he wasn’t a top target like Tony Gonzalez was for the Kansas City Chiefs and Atlanta Falcons, Heath Miller was one of the best tight ends and spent all 11 seasons of his career with the Pittsburgh Steelers. Overall, Miller had 6,569 yards and 45 touchdowns on nearly 600 career receptions.
But another part of his job was being a great run blocker for a Steelers offense that won two Super Bowls (2005 and 2008). He utilized every bit of his six-foot-five, 256-pound frame to help a variety of running backs that included Jerome Bettis in his final season, as well as new names like Le’Veon Bell. It was a shame that Miller was only invited to a couple of Pro Bowls, but earned those invites with six touchdowns in 2009 and another eight in 2012.
16 D’Brickashaw Ferguson - Offensive Tackle
It is hard for anyone in the NFL to go an entire career without missing some time due to the physical toll that playing football professionally can put on someone. But D’Brickashaw Ferguson is not your average NFL player as he was able to play 10 seasons with the New York Jets – never missing a game or practice.
It’s a little tougher to rank offensive tackles because there aren’t as many statistics like other positions offer. But Ferguson was the type of football player any franchise would want -- someone who was able to stay healthy for a long period of time. However, his retirement came as his abilities on the offensive line were declining. While he could have continued in 2016 as a serviceable left tackle, he made the choice to leave and not be a hindrance on the Jets. He could be counted on to make every snap – except for a trick play in 2008.
15 Logan Mankins - Guard
Playing the offensive line can be quite a difficult challenge with an offense that is developing behind you; just ask Logan Mankins. But he was playing at the Pro-Bowl level last season in his second year with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers – helping protect a developing Jameis Winston, who threw for more than 4,000 passing yards in his rookie season, and then helped block for Doug Martin as he rushed for more than 1,400 yards.
But Mankins started his career playing nine seasons with the New England Patriots after being drafted in 2005. He learned how to protect quality with players like Tom Brady behind him. Mankins was someone who was good for every game in the first five seasons. He even played most of the 2011 season with an ACL injury, which only proved that he was truly one of the toughest men to play on the line of scrimmage.
14 Manny Ramirez - Center
While Manny Ramirez is not going to be joining the Pro-Football Hall of Fame in the future, he is still going to be remembered for being a serviceable offensive lineman who was able to go in for the occasional start. His first eight seasons in the NFL were split between the Denver Broncos and Detroit Lions, where he was able to play in a total of 83 games – he spent most of his time playing as an offensive guard that could play either side of the offensive line.
Unfortunately, injuries were a big factor in him struggling to get regular time as a starter with the Detroit Lions in 2015. He was signed to a one-year contract to play with the Chicago Bears. The team was hoping that Ramirez would provide more depth to their line, but he announced his retirement in July, citing multiple injuries that impacted him so much that he didn’t feel he could be able to give the proper effort to playing in the 2016 season.
13 Phil Loadholt - Guard
Phil Loadholt was someone who was a very dependable offensive lineman for the Minnesota Vikings, who drafted him in 2009 after he made an impressive career playing at the University of Oklahoma. The former Sooner was able to start every game for the Vikings between 2010 and 2012 and was usually a dependable player who was a difficult tackle to get by because of being such a, well, load of mass at six-foot-eight and 343 pounds.
Overall, Loadholt played in a total of 89 games as a starter for Minnesota before he suffered a torn Achilles tendon just before the 2015 preseason. Injuries would continue to hamper one of the league’s best run blockers. His announced retirement came in the same tough week as when the Vikings also said goodbye to longtime defensive tackle Kevin Williams – both made quite the impression with the fans in Minnesota and definitely left a void on the team.
12 Eugene Monroe - Offensive Tackle
There was plenty of expectation around the Jacksonville Jaguars offices when the team decided to select Eugene Monroe with the eighth overall selection in the 2009 NFL Draft. He might not have been the greatest athlete at six-foot-five and 310 pounds, but he was good enough to be a regular left tackle for the Jaguars offense with 53 starts on the offensive line in his first five season, with the team before he was traded during the 2013 season to the Baltimore Ravens.
After two seasons with the Ravens, Monroe was given a surprise release from the team. One would have thought he was destined to find a new team quickly, but he decided to retire with concerns of wanting to preserve his long-term health. He did mention that he could have played the 2016 season with the same intensity, but he made a decision that others at his age have also chosen.
11 Jared Allen - Defensive End
One of the best defensive ends in the past decade originally started his career with the Kansas City Chiefs in a rookie season that saw Jared Allen collect nine sacks. His numbers would continue to grow with his run as the league leader in sacks on two separate occasions, including a career-high 22 sacks in 2011 with the Minnesota Vikings. The one thing he didn’t have for most of his career was a chance to play for a Super Bowl championship.
After a short stint with the Chicago Bears, he was able to have a chance with the Carolina Panthers in 2015, even though he was on the losing end against the Denver Broncos last season. However, Allen finished his 12-year NFL career with nearly 500 tackles, 136 sacks and six interceptions. He was truly a nightmare for opposing quarterbacks throughout the league as he played for four different teams.
10 B.J. Raji - Defensive Tackle
The Chicago Bears already had a refrigerator, but the Green Bay Packers got someone called “the Freezer” when they drafted the six-foot-two, 334-pound B.J. Raji out of Boston College. While he didn’t put up the same monster numbers as other great defensive tackles, Raji was known for creating memorable plays that started during his breakout season in 2010, when he had 6 1/2 sacks and 29 tackles.
But his big play in that season was an 18-yard interception return for a touchdown to help the Packers defeat the Bears, 21-14, in the NFC Championship that helped Green Bay advance to Super Bowl XLV -- a game in which they would defeat Pittsburgh, 31-25. He had some troubles staying healthy in 2014 and would play his final season in 2015. Raji would finish his career with 11 sacks and 104 tackles as a nose tackle for Green Bay’s defense. One could only imagine how those numbers would climb if Raji was returning to Green Bay for this season’s training camp.
9 Darnell Dockett - Defensive Tackle
Darnell Dockett was one of the key factors in helping the Arizona Cardinals find success in a very tough NFC West, especially in recent years with the Seattle Seahawks. After building up a great resume at Florida State University, Dockett continued his success with having 349 tackles and 40-and-a-half sacks in a career where he was mostly used as a defensive tackle. However, he did spend some time as a defensive end in the 2007 season for the first of three Pro-Bowl invitations.
Dockett was also very good at causing turnovers as he would force nine fumbles in his career and had snagged four interceptions as part of the 18 passes he defended on the line of scrimmage. His career had a tough ending after the 2013 season, when he had an ACL tear before the 2014 season began and was unable to remain on the San Francisco 49ers roster in 2015 – ultimately leading to his retirement last month.
8 Justin Tuck - Defensive End
It may have taken Justin Tuck a few seasons to get into his groove as a defensive tackle, but he began to flourish in the 2007 season after the New York Giants moved him into the defensive end role. It was during that season that he had 48 tackles and 10 sacks during all 16 games (he only started two) as part of a defense that would surprise the league by handing the New England Patriots their first loss of the season at Super Bowl XLII in 2008. Tuck sacked Tom Brady twice as the defense kept the Patriots to only 274 yards in a 17-14 win.
Tuck would have most of his success with the Giants, including having one touchdown in his career on a 41-yard interception return during the 2008 season. However, Tuck made the decision to leave for Oakland, where he only had six sacks between two seasons. His overall career numbers included 66.5 sacks and more than 350 total tackles.
7 Jon Beason - Linebacker
Jon Beason is another talented player who could have further established his career if he would have been able to stay in the NFL a little longer. But he retired at the age of 30 after only nine seasons in the league that started with his rookie season with the Carolina Panthers – a season where he was an immediate impact with 106 tackles. He would return with three consecutive Pro-Bowl appearances from 2008 to 2010.
His performance earned him a contract that made him the highest paid in his position within the franchise history, but he would go on the injured reserve one game into the 2011 season and lost his starting job to Luke Kuechly, who was the new top middle linebacker for the Panthers. Beason would then be traded to New York, but struggled to stay healthy beyond the 12 games he played for the Giants in 2013. He would retire after health prevented him from playing more than nine games between the 2014 and 2015 season.
6 Jerod Mayo - Linebacker
While his career only lasted eight seasons in the NFL, Jerod Mayo was making an impact as a linebacker for the New England Patriots. He started off strong after collecting 98 tackles in his rookie season in 2008. After some minor injuries in 2009, he would bounce back with 114 tackles, two sacks and three fumble recoveries in a 2010 season for the first and only Pro Bowl invitation.
Overall, Mayo finished his career with 535 tackles and 11 sacks and was worthy of being a top-10 draft choice out of the University of Tennessee. But he struggled with shoulder injuries in each of his final three seasons and was held to a cap of $11.4 million with a $4 million bonus for the beginning of training camp. It was an understandable decision, but Mayo obviously made himself one of the team’s best linebackers in franchise history. Not too shabby after eight seasons.
5 A.J. Tarpley - Linebacker
It’s not often that players retire from professional football shortly after their NFL debut. A.J. Tarpley was a unique case after he was able to make it to the league as an undrafted free agent out of Stanford University. He played his one and only season in the league last year with the Buffalo Bills after building quite the resume as one of the top pass-covering linebackers in college football the year prior.
In that one season, Tarpley showed some promise with a few tackles and a sack. However, he was making the biggest contributions in pass defense as he had two interceptions that included a 37-yard return. He also forced a fumble as part of the 15 games he played, mostly as a non-starting linebacker for the Bills. The unfortunate thing is that Tarpley decided to leave the game after he had concerns about concussions and head trauma that others have suffered, which makes one think how good he would have been if he was able to work through those fears.
4 Charles Tillman - Cornerback
The man known as “Peanut” wasn’t the most physically imposing defensive back in the NFL, but he made quite the impression early in his career with the Chicago Bears when he was able to intercept a pass right out of the hands of the taller Randy Moss during a 2003 game against the Minnesota Vikings. Charles Tillman was also known for his signature “Peanut Punch” that would force 10 fumbles as part of a memorable Chicago defense in 2012.
Many football fans in Chicago consider Tillman a Bear 'til the end, but he would leave the team after 12 seasons and play one season with the Carolina Panthers – part of it due to playing only 10 games between two seasons. With a limited role, Tillman still contributed to a Panthers team that would advance to last season’s Super Bowl. Overall, Tillman finished his career with nine turnovers turned into touchdowns and a total of 38 interceptions over the course of 13 years in the league.
3 Rashean Mathis - Cornerback
When looking at the career numbers for Rashean Mathis, one would think how he would have done with a team that had better success. His career started in Jacksonville, where he was the top defensive player for the struggling Jaguars. He only earned one trip to the Pro-Bowl in 2006 after he collected eight interceptions to go along with 56 total tackles, but Jacksonville was only good for an 8-8 record and third place in the AFC South Division that year.
Mathis would then take his talents away from Florida and sign a contract with the Detroit Lions, where he had some moderate success in the Detroit secondary. His second year in Motown included a 41-yard interception return for a touchdown and two forced fumbles. Mathis called it a career after 13 seasons, when he had more than 600 tackles and 32 interceptions – not bad for coming from the lesser-known Bethune-Cookman football program.
2 Charles Woodson - Safety
He was a corner for most of his career, but for the sake of building the best team possible, we'll put Woodson at safety here.
Consider the number of NFL players who are retiring before the age of 30, it’s important to show respect for someone who is able to play in the league for a lengthy run. It’s especially noteworthy when a player is able to establish himself as someone who probably earned himself spots on two team’s Hall of Fames, in addition to the main hall located in Canton, Ohio. Woodson was able to show he belonged as one of the best safeties in the league with five interceptions in his rookie season with Oakland.
After eight seasons with the Raiders, he would be a big contributor to the Green Bay Packers, with 38 interceptions over seven seasons in Lambeau Field, winning his one and only championship ring in the 2010 season. He was able to finish his career in the black and silver, collecting another five interceptions last season before ending his career after 18 total seasons.
1 Husain Abdullah - Safety
Before the 2008 NFL season, many football fans were not aware of who Husain Abdullah was, as he didn’t pop up during the 2008 NFL Draft. The former safety out of Washington State University would get a chance with the Minnesota Vikings as an undrafted free agent signing. He didn’t get his first start until the 2010 season, which would be his breakout season in which he had 50 tackles and three interceptions. A concussion would impact the 2011 season before he was signed to Kansas City in time for the 2013 season.
After three seasons with the Chiefs, Abdullah made a tough decision to retire from professional football at age 30. He was just another NFL player leaving the league due to concerns about the effects of concussions. He even wrote an essay on the Players Tribune explaining how he felt it was the right choice to leave football.
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