Football's Greatest Generation?: Ranking The Top 30 NFLers Playing In Their 30s

Turning 30 in sports is like a bad omen. That's when guys begin falling apart and injuries become so much more likely. For those who can stay healthy, experience adds an extra level of greatness to their game. In most cases guys playing into their thirties means they have a proven spot on a NFL roster because of years of solid work. This list includes guys who have been all stars in the NFL. These are the guys who you expect to see in the Pro Bowl and they're the league's top veterans. They're the guys who are expected to lead at their respective positions. And everyone on this list will be doing just that next year, though the guy that begins this list at No. 30 could just as easily be back on the bench next season.

Although some of the guys featured on this list could potentially play their last down next season, they will all likely be active and ready to go for Week 1 (unless someone suffers from an offseason injury). Some of these guys don't have much left in the tank, but they have already posted a career that will keep them in the NFL for as long as they can keep playing. On the other side of the spectrum, there are guys on this list who are just beginning to play at their best. You may have forgot that some of these stars are still playing in the NFL, but everyone who follows is more than deserving of their roster spot.

Sure, this list doesn't account for today's young and rising stars. But it does include some of the biggest names in the NFL. Here, we rank the NFL's top 30 playing in their 30s and we rank them from worst to best, but every player on this list is really dang good.

30 TONY ROMO, 36

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This quarterback has been so good but has received more negative criticism than anyone else who has posted comparable numbers. Tony Romo is good. He has the NFL resume to prove it. Romo wins often and posts better stats than most quarterbacks in the league. Before last season, Romo was at times considered as one of the best in the league (obviously that tag didn’t stick as he wasn’t always consistent and didn’t have a great postseason track record).

It definitely took Romo by surprise, but he’s been labeled as a backup. No matter how short that label sticks, it must be tough for a guy like Romo, who is a four-time Pro Bowl selection and has a career total of 248 touchdowns against just 117 interceptions (he also has a 65.3 completion percentage and has a 97.1 passer rating). Romo will no doubt return as a starter in the near future and his performance will either make him fall from these rankings, or he will steadily climb higher. But since this can easily go either way, Romo is stuck beginning this list. He’s one of the better player over 30, just not ranking higher than anyone else on the top 30 over 30.


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Alex Smith will be 33 by the start of next season and has already played 11 seasons in the NFL as a pretty consistent starting quarterback. Though, he has missed some time early in his career, Smith has been a starter for all but a few of the games that he’s been active. Smith was a Pro Bowl selection for the second time after he went 11-4 in the regular season last year. He threw for a career-high 3,502 yards and also added 15 touchdowns with eight interceptions. He just didn’t score that much and didn’t seem to play at the level a star quarterback normally does. Sure, the Chiefs went to the playoffs and only lost four regular season games while Smith was starting. But the passing game always seemed like a struggle as the Chiefs offense wasn’t as fluid as you would hope, and that was showcased during the playoff loss when they lost to a team that didn’t score a touchdown.


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Delanie Walker finds his way on to this list because of the past few seasons. This influx in production is likely because of the new quarterback tossing passes his way, but there’s no reason to think that Walker won’t be a prime target for Marcus Mariota for the next few seasons. As long as Mariota is behind center, Walker’s production will continue increasing. Walker is going into his 12th season in the NFL and the tight end looks to have a lot left in the tank.

Walker has been great for the last three years. He’s proven to be an absolute integral part to the Titans offensive scheme. He’s been targeted more than 100 times each of the last three seasons. Although he’s only recorded more than 1,000 receiving yards once, he’s had 800 or more receiving yards in each of the last three seasons. His best season was in 2015 when he caught 94 passes for 1,088 yards and six touchdowns. That year was the best in his career as he averaged about 73 yards per game and caught 70.7 percent of the passes thrown his way.


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Joe Flacco is the only guy on this list who hasn’t been selected to a Pro Bowl, but that doesn’t make his career any less successful. Flacco has been starting in the league since he was drafted with the 18th overall pick out of Delaware. Flacco missed six games in 2015, but has not missed a start in any other season. The craziest part about Flacco’s career is that he has not posted a losing record except for his 3-7 record in 2015.

Flacco is a winner and has posted an 83-55 record. He’s got some issues with interceptions at times, but he still has a 117-95 touchdown-interception ratio. Regardless of the fact that Flacco’s only award in the NFL has been his Rookie of the Year selection, he’s been an NFL starter deserving of much more recognition.


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Although Jordy Nelson led the league in touchdowns last season and was also named the NFL’s Comeback Player of the Year, he does not have the career we would expect from a wide receiver that has Aaron Rodgers throwing him the ball. This is one of the teams where we can guarantee that Rodgers would succeed without Nelson, but Nelson would not star without his Hall of Fame bound quarterback. But Nelson sill has proved to be one of the best players over 30. I mean, he still has to catch the ball, right?

Nelson has been named to the Pro Bowl just once in 2014, then he missed all of the 2015 season because of an injury. Nelson has had three 1,000-plus receiving yard seasons in the last three years while he was on the field, but the weird thing is it seems like he should have had more accomplishments with how often he’s thrown to. Here’s the rundown: 127 targets in 2013, then 151 targets in 2014 and 152 targets in 2016.


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Michael Bennett went undrafted in 2009 then had a very brief stint with the Seahawks before playing with the Buccaneers through 2012. Bennett has been back with Seattle since 2013 and has since been part of the Seahawks Super Bowl championship. He has also been selected to two Pro Bowls (2015 and 2016). He was the Pro Bowl’s Defensive MVP during his last appearance in football’s all-star game.

Bennett hasn’t had the best career among defensive ends, but he has been far better than anyone could have expected when he went undrafted. Throughout his career he’s been a top-notch run stopper and pass defender. Bennett has recorded 45.5 sacks, forced eight fumbles and has three pass deflections. Bennett seems to be getting better with age and made his second-straight Pro Bowl last season even though he played in just 11 games.


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For a tight end, Greg Olsen has been a great receiver. A large part of that is the way he integrated into the Panthers offense. But Olsen did play well with Chicago in his early years. He was even named to the All-Rookie Team by the Pro Football Writers Association in 2007 (Olson was drafted with the 31st pick that year).

Olsen has really stepped things up since the 2014 season. He has been selected to the Pro Bowl three-straight times since then. That’s a big part of why Olsen is on this list. He doesn’t have the NFL resume like other guys on this list, but he has proved to be a star in the last few seasons. In 2014, Olsen caught for more than 1,000 receiving yards for the first time in his career and he’s continued that trend every year since. Since Olsen is a huge part of Carolina’s success, you can expect this tight end to keep climbing this list year after year.

23 SEAN LEE, 30

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Sean Lee has only made the Pro Bowl during the last two seasons, but he’s been deserving of the NFL’s all-star game just about every season he’s been in the league (well four out of his six seasons were good enough to be selected to the Pro Bowl). Lee is a really good pass defending linebacker, and in the years to come he will prove to be quite possibly the best in the NFL. And he’s even better at stopping the run. That’s what earned him a Pro Bowl and first-team All-Pro selection last season.

That was the second Pro Bowl that Lee has been selected to. But he’s put up numbers deserving of the game for most of his career (except for his rookie year and in 2012 when he played in just six games). Lee has started every game he has been active since his rookie season when he came off the bench for the entire season. Lee is one of the younger guys on this list, and at this rate he’ll likely be near the top of this list in a couple of seasons.


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Since turning 29, Derrick Johnson’s career has been better than just about every linebacker in the NFL. Johnson has been a four-time Pro Bowl selection (he was even the Defensive MVP from the 2013 Pro Bowl). Except for 2014 when he was active for just one game, Johnson has been a consistent factor on the Chiefs defense and he hasn’t missed much time. The funning thing is he wasn’t active for just five games before his first Pro Bowl season, yet he didn’t get much recognition from the league for his play.

But in 2011 everything seemed to change as he was a first-team All-Pro selection. He’s recorded more than 90 solo tackles in four seasons and has missed just four games when you don’t count the 2014 season. But you have to factor in the time he’s been off the field, and that’s why Johnson doesn’t get any higher on this list. But he still has at least a couple more seasons to add to his resume.


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At 34, Cameron Wake showed no signs of slowing down last season. He turned 35 in January, but there’s no reason to think he won’t add to his already stacked stat sheet in the years to come. But even if he doesn’t do anything more in the NFL, Wake has put together a career that no one would have expected after he went undrafted in 2005 after his collegiate play at Penn State.

Wake didn’t make it with the Giants during his first attempt at the NFL in 2005 and started his professional career in the CFL. That turned out to be a great move. Wake was an All-Star both years and was the Most Outstanding Defensive Player each year in the CFL. That vaulted him into the NFL. Wake began with the Dolphins in 2009 and has been with the team since. He’s been a Pro Bowl selection five times and he’s been an All-Pro selection four times (he was named to the first-team in 2012 and second team (2010, 2014 and 2016). Wake’s CFL days are long gone and don’t look to ever be returning.


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The first year this quarterback started was in 2006. Philip Rivers led the Chargers to a 14-2 record that season and three 22 touchdowns and just nine interceptions. That was a great year to start off his time as the main man in Charger Nation, but it wasn’t nearly the best year that Rivers has had. The Chargers quarterback led the league in passing touchdowns in 2008 when he threw for more than 4,000 yards and had 34 touchdowns and just 11 interceptions (the odd thing was that he didn’t make the Pro Bowl during this amazing season).

That year started off a stretch where Rivers threw for more than 4,000 yards four-straight seasons, and he led the league with 4,710 yards in 2010. The crazy thing is that Rivers hasn’t seemed to slow down. He is throwing more interceptions now (he actually has led the league in interceptions twice in the past three seasons), but he has more than 4,000 passing yards each season in the past four years and threw less than 30 touchdowns just once – that was in 2015 when he had 29 passing touchdowns.


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Three years have been pretty average and four seasons have been great during Jimmy Graham’s start in the NFL. Last season, the tight end was selected to his fourth Pro Bowl (it was his first selection in two years playing for the Seahawks). It looked concerning when Graham first joined the Seahawks. He went from the Saints, where he once led the league in touchdown receptions as Drew Brees was firing him passes. Graham had three Pro Bowl selections in four years with the Saints and he was considered one of the NFL’s best receivers, not just one of the league’s best tight ends.

But then he had just 48 receptions for 605 yards and two touchdowns during his first season in Seattle. But last year he returned to his normal looking self and caught nearly 70 percent of his passes for 923 yards and six touchdowns, making him a worthy Pro Bowl selection. It looks like Graham has a chance to keep getting better in Seattle.


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Carson Palmer has quietly been a star for his lengthy career in the NFL. And he seems to be approaching the dreaded 40-year-old mark without issue. It was back in 2003 when Palmer was the first overall pick out of USC, and he quickly proved that was the right spot for him in the draft. Palmer reached his first of three Pro Bowls in 2005 and was named the AFC Player of the Year during that season. It was just his second season in the league, but he was already leading all quarterbacks with passing touchdowns.

At this point in his career, Palmer has put up some insane numbers. He currently has 44,269 and 285 touchdowns with 180 interceptions. He has led the league once in interceptions, and has had issues throwing the ball to the other team. Although Palmer had a losing, 6-8, season last year, he won 13 regular season games the year before and missed just one start. He has a chance for another playoff run or two if he can stay healthy.


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This wide receiver made a name for himself back during his initial stretch in Denver where he was selected to two Pro Bowls. Since, he’s played with the Dolphins, Bears and Jets. The impressive part is that he has been a Pro Bowl selection on each of those teams (he reached the Pro Bowl twice in Chicago, but he was there for three years while he has played in Miami and New York for two seasons a piece).

Brandon Marshall has been one of the NFL’s best wide receivers and has been showing up consistently on the field. Other than his rookie season when he started just one game, Marshall has started at least 13 seasons every season. It’s rare that Marshall doesn’t lead his team in receiving during any game no matter who he’s going up against. He’s already recorded six seasons with more than 100 receptions and he has eight seasons with more than 1,000 receiving yards.


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Offensive linemen aren’t normally considered a top choice when comparing them to the NFL’s best playmakers. But Joe Thomas has separated himself from that distinction. Thomas has proved to be among the league’s best players. And the craziest part is Thomas has done that while playing with a Browns team that constantly finishes at the bottom of the league. Yet, Thomas has been a first-team All-Pro selection seven times and has been to the Pro Bowl after all 10 seasons in his career.

Thomas is one of just five players to make the Pro Bowl in his first 10 years. Thomas is really tough, too. He’s played and started in all 160 games of his career. To do that, Thomas has played through multiple MCL and high ankle sprains, but that hasn’t seemed to phase the O-lineman and future Hall of Famer.


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Antonio Gates isn’t currently playing as well as the other guys up here on this list, but Gates has a career that qualifies his position above the players that have come previously. Gates last Pro Bowl appearance came in 2011, but he’s still been targeted more than a lot of receivers and has not slowed down in terms of the amount of scoring he brings to the Chargers. Gates is unbelievably good in the redzone and there hasn’t been any signs of him slowing down in that area. Gates already has recorded 111 touchdowns and has 11,192 receiving yards in his career.

Gates has missed time over the past couple of seasons, and he will be 37 by the start of next season so there’s concerns about how much longer his body can keep up. Gates, who is part of the NFL’s 2000s All-Decade Team, has been selected to the Pro Bowl eight times and is a five-time All-Pro selection (three first-team selections).

14 MATT RYAN, 31

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Although Matt Ryan would have finished much higher on this list if he won that Super Bowl game, he still has put together a solid career and has ample time to accomplish more in the NFL. The first reason that Atlanta loves Ryan, who was the team’s third overall pick in the 2008 draft, is that he has started every single game since he became an NFL quarterback. More importantly, he only has two seasons with losing records during his time in the league.

Ryan had his best year last season as he finished as the league’s Most Valuable Player and received a first-team All-Pro distinction for the first time, and he was also named to the Pro Bowl for the fourth time in his career. Ryan has been consistently good since he was named the Offensive Rookie of the Year in his first season and he’s never had a season where he’s thrown more interceptions than touchdowns. At this rate, he’ll be climbing this list each season he remains in the league, which could be a very long time.


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Darrelle Revis has been a lockdown cornerback since he started with the Jets in 2007. Revis was the 14th overall pick, and will be 32 by the start of next season. Revis has been so good that he’s been to the Pro Bowl seven times (2008-2011 and 2013-2015) and has been a first-team All-Pro selection four times. Revis is all over the field and has played nearly every game if you don’t count the 2012 season when he played in just two games. The year before that, he recorded four interceptions and 21 pass deflections. That was a really good season, and it was one of the four times he recorded more than four interceptions.

But the season that really captured Revis’ shutdown presence against the league’s best receivers came in 2009. Back in 2009,Revis was considered one of the best players in the NFL. During that season Revis had six interceptions and 31 pass deflections, which were both career highs. Sure, the opposition has avoided throwing his way as much as possible, but he’s still proved to be one of the best corners in the NFL.


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It’s ironic that Eli Manning has been so good, but he still has no chance to be the best quarterback in his family. Manning has been one of the NFL’s best quarterbacks during his time in the league, but his brother was better and there’s no way that the younger Eli will ever catch up to Peyton’s historic career. So, the younger Manning has suffered a bit from these comparisons, but he’s still posted a career that will likely get him into the Pro Football Hall of Fame one day.

Manning’s biggest accomplishment to date has been two Super Bowl victories, which included two Super Bowl MVP awards. In a league that has been absolutely littered with very talented quarterbacks, Manning has been to the Pro Bowl four times, he also received the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year award last season. The most respectable stat of Manning’s career (which he clearly beat out his older brother in this category) is the fact that he’s started every game since seeing just seven starts during his rookie year.


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Any team would love Eric Weddle as a safety on their defense. Although he was a second round pick back in 2007, Weddle has become possibly the best safety in the NFL and has shown no signs of slowing down his production. During Weddle’s first season, he did not have a start but was active for 15 games. Since he’s started every game he’s played and has only missed just a handful of games.

Weddle really broke out as a star in 2011 when he was named to his first Pro Bowl and was also a first-team All-Pro selection. During that season he led the NFL with seven interceptions. But before that he showed us why he was truly great. Weddle is not only a good pass defender, he’s a great all-around defender. In his second year, he recorded 105 solo tackles. Although both of those stats were career bests, he has posted similar numbers each season and has been a four-time Pro Bowl selection (including last season during his first season with the Ravens).


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Ndamukong Suh just turned 30 in January, so there’s a lot of time for him to improve his ranking on this list. And at the rate Suh has been producing, it’s likely that he’ll continue climbing each year that he plays. Suh is already a six-time All-Pro selection (four first teams and he was named to the second team twice). Suh started hot as he was named the Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2010 and has been selected to the Pro Bowl five times in his career.

Suh has often been criticized by players, media and fans for his aggressive style of play. But that’s what makes him so good and that’s what makes him such a fun talent to watch. That’s why the Dolphins made Suh the highest paid defensive player in history back in 2015 as he signed a six-year contract worth more than $114 million, with nearly $60 million guaranteed. To this point of his early career, Suh has recorded 47 sacks and 26 pass deflections, and has added two forced fumbles and one interception. Suh hasn’t made the Pro Bowl the last two seasons in Miami, but that won’t likely be the case during the remainder of his time with the Dolphins.


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Ben Roethlisberger seems like he’s probably on the verge of retirement with how often he’s been beat up in the NFL. It seems he’s just one Super Bowl win away from hanging up his jersey for good. He’s not nearly the oldest guy in the league, but he’s rarely seen a full season because of various injuries and it wouldn’t be surprising if he were to call it quits after one more successful run.

Roethlisberger is a guy who doesn’t seem to get the credit he deserves as a good chunk of fans either don’t like him because of his character, or because of the team he plays on, or both. But Big Ben is one of the best quarterbacks of this era and he deserves more praise for his play on the field. Roethlisberger, the co-leader for passing yards in 2014 and a five-time Pro Bowl selection, has 46,814 career passing yards with 301 passing touchdowns and just 160 interceptions. He has a career record of 123-60.


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Adrian Peterson hit the 30-year-old mark going into the 2015 season. Turning 30 is often an age where people begin worrying about running backs stability. Especially with guys like Peterson, who have had major injuries in the past. Running backs take terrible beatings on the field and it often means they cannot produce as well after turning 30. Well, that’s been partly true for Peterson (he played in just three games last season), but that’s been largely untrue as well (he led the league in rushing yards, rushing attempts and rushing touchdowns in 2015 when he turned 30).

Peterson will be 32 later this month, and there’s a lot of good reasons to think his career has seen its best days. But Peterson has proved to be able to return to the field as the same power rusher he was before missing time. So, predicting the future is tricky in this case. Peterson could bust out more league-leading numbers, or we may see Peterson, who has been a seven-time Pro Bowl selection and also the league MVP in 2012, fall from relevance as he struggles to stay healthy.


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Larry Fitzgerald has, without a doubt, been one of the best wide receivers in the league throughout his entire career (which began when the Cardinals drafted him with their third overall pick in 2004). Sure, Fitzgerald had mediocre production during his first season, but by his second year he led the league in receptions with 103 catches. He’s been an absolute star ever since, but doesn’t always receive the amount of credit that is deserved since he’s playing out in Arizona. Of course, every NFL market has a huge following (unlike some teams in other sports), but if Fitzgerald were on a powerhouse squad like New England or one of the New York teams, he’d be hailed as the best in the NFL.

But Fitzgerald has still proved to be one of the best with the Cardinals. He’s been the receiving touchdowns co-leader twice and has been selected to 10 Pro Bowls. Fitzgerald barely misses time from the field and has recorded more than 100 receptions in four different seasons. The crazier part is that he’s finished with more than 1,000 receiving yards eight times in his career.8


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Julius Peppers has been one of the NFL’s most dominant defensive forces since he joined the league and there’s only been brief, very brief, stretches where he hasn’t produced at the highly skilled level we’ve grown used to seeing. Peppers may still add to his already amazing resume. But even if he doesn’t, there will be a spot waiting for him in the Pro Football Hall of Fame as he’s proved to be one of the greatest players in NFL history.

Peppers has recorded 143.5 sacks, 73 pass deflections, 47 forced fumbles and even 11 interceptions with six touchdowns. He started in the NFL as the Defensive Rookie of the Year and just a couple years later he was named the NFC Defensive Player of the Year. Peppers has been a nine-time Pro Bowl selection, and was selected to the game when he was 35. Peppers still has time to strengthen his already amazing career, but he looks to be a first ballot Hall of Famer even if he doesn’t play another snap.


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This position was also deserving for Julius Peppers. Both of these guys have very similar careers and have similar resumes. The only reason DeMarcus Ware has the edge is his age. Although he finished last season with an injury, we’re betting that he’ll have a few more seasons (at the least) to overcome anything else that Peppers will be able to do. They’re careers are already pretty even (although Peppers has a slight edge), but it’s a safe bet that Ware will surpass Peppers career output.

Ware has already recorded a total of 138.5 sacks, 35 forced fumbles and even has three interceptions. Ware is a nine-time Pro Bowl selection and a Super Bowl champ. He’s been a first-team All-Pro selection four times and a second-team selection three times. Ware has even led the league in sacks twice and was the NFC Defensive Player of the Year in 2008. He may never return as the same player after having season-ending back surgery last year, but we have high hopes that he’ll still perform well.


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One of the only guys older than Drew Brees is the only guy who tops the Saints quarterback on this list. Brees has put up a Hall of Fame worthy career and he’s done it without getting the recognition he deserves, both from the fans and the media. In talks about greatest quarterbacks in the game, Brees should have been considered for most of his career. But in a passing heavy era, Brees often gets overlooked for some of the quarterbacks who seem to have a more consistent winning record.

But Brees will go down as one of the best passers in history. He’s already got the best career completion percentage, most touchdowns in a game (seven) and most consecutive games with a touchdown (54). More importantly Brees is always near the top of all performances as he consistently one of the highest finishers in passing yards and touchdowns each season. In fact, Brees has led the NFL in passing touchdowns four times and passing touchdowns seven times. The 10-time Pro Bowl selection was named the AP Male Athlete of the Year and the SI Sportsman of the Year in 2010.


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James Harrison turned 38 last year and he looks like he can still compete for a few more years if he wants to continue in the NFL. And for now, it looks like he does. Earlier this month Harrison signed a two-year deal with the Steelers. He hasn’t been a consistent starter since 2013, but that doesn’t matter, he’s still a powerful force in the league. Harrison was selected to the Pro Bowl five consecutive times between 2007 and 2011. Although he didn’t get selected the next couple of years, he extended his streak to seven straight seasons of starting in 10-plus games.

But Harrison has started in just 12 games over the past three seasons. You can’t blame the guy. His body has got to be wearing down after playing in the NFL for nearly two decades. But the former Defensive Player of the Year and former Super Bowl champion has a very successful track record, so he can stay in the league as long as he wants.


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Unless Aaron Rodgers can’t play into his late-30s or unless he suddenly loses all of that skill that has led him to such a great career, this quarterback has a chance to contend with Tom Brady as one of the best ever. But Rodgers will need to find a few more Super Bowl championships before that becomes an option. Rodgers though, is on track to post career numbers that were once thought to be absurd. So far, Rodgers has a few amazing NFL records. These could change, but if they remain, Rodgers will no doubt be a first ballot Hall of Famer. Rodgers currently holds the record for career passing rating (104.1), passing rating in a season (122.5) and career touchdown-to-interception ratio (4.13).

Rodgers is a two-time league MVP and has been selected to six Pro Bowls. He has a Super Bowl ring and was the biggest game’s MVP during his championship run. Just think about it for a minute. If Rodgers can play until his 40th birthday at this pace, he might knock Brady off from the top.


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When you have a career like Tom Brady’s, there’s not a lot of rankings where you won’t be at the top and this list is no exception. Brady is considered by many the best quarterback in NFL history and there’s not many arguments against that statement. The superstar quarterback is about to be 40, yet we wouldn’t be surprised to see him in another Super Bowl next year.

Brady is already a five-time Super Bowl champion with four Super Bowl MVP’s. Brady has led the league in touchdown passes four times and he has been the passing yards leader twice. He’s been selected to the Pro Bowl 12 times and has been named the league MVP twice (in 2007 and 2010). The best part about Brady is that he is an outright winner. He’s won about 80 percent of his games in the NFL, which is unprecedented for someone who’s been in the league as long as Brady. No doubt, Brady’s skill leads this team to many victories.

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