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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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