The National Football League is an extremely competitive job market in the sense that every year there are players coming into the league trying to take somebody else's roster spot. For the guys that are good enough to make it to a point where they get to choose to retire instead of being forced out or losing your job, they are usually big name players. For older players, they are often fighting father time in an effort to keep their athleticism or skill-set. But the end comes for every player at some point regardless of how good they are. This list takes a look at 10 big name stars that could possibly choose to retire this offseason.
But there is also a flip-side to the retirement of an aging star player and that is the effect it has on their team. Because retirements can be expected as players get older, teams will often start to have a contingency plan for how they will replace that player when the time finally comes. For that reason, this list also provides a prediction on what players the teams will bring in to replace the retired stars. Some of these replacements are found in the NFL Draft, while others are signed in free agency or picked up in trades. Whatever the situation is, it's important to find a suitable replacement for when your star players decide to hang up their cleats. Which stars could we possibly be watching play their final games this season? Read below to find out.
20 Retire: Larry Fitzgerald - Arizona Cardinals
Let's start this list off by knocking off the guy whose name has swirled in retirement talks the past couple of seasons, Larry Fitzgerald. The 2018 season certainly has not gone the way the Arizona Cardinals and Fitzgerald were hoping, but Fitz has shown that he can still produce at a top-notch level when he gets an adequate amount of targets. The Cardinals are already bad enough as it is so it would be a devastating blow for the franchise and its fan base should Fitz call it a career.
Not only would the team be losing their franchise face, but they would also be losing their best receiver (yes, he's still that good). If Fitzgerald does retire this offseason, he will surely be a first ballot hall-of-famer when that time comes.
19 Replacement: N'Keal Harry
What better way to replace a legend like Larry Fitzgerald then to draft his heir apparent in local Arizona talent N'Keal Harry. As a wide receiver for the Arizona State Sun Devils, Harry has proven himself to be the undisputed No. 1 receiver prospect in the 2019 NFL Draft. His size (6'4"), speed (4.5 40-yard dash) and hands make him the perfect prototype for an NFL receiver. Harry is from Chandler, Arizona and so he spent his childhood and teenage years watching Fitzgerald play every Sunday for the hometown team.
It's apparent that Harry models his game after Fitzgerald in his ability to go up and get contested 50/50 balls down the field. Losing Fitzgerald would be a downer for Cardinal fans, but adding Harry would at least provide some solace.
18 Retire: Marshawn Lynch - Oakland Raiders
Nobody was a more fierce running back than Marshawn "Beast Mode" Lynch during his glory days with the Seattle Seahawks. Lynch produced some of the greatest runs in recent NFL history and was the heart and soul of the Seahawks Super Bowl runs. After his short retirement, Lynch felt compelled to return to the league for his hometown Oakland Raiders.
While Lynch has been fairly productive in his time with the Raiders until injuries cut his 2018 season short, he just hasn't had the same physicality that once made Beast Mode. Given the Raiders are in a full rebuilding mode, it's likely Lynch will not want to play for a struggling team and will choose to retire for a second (and final) time.
17 Replacement: Le'Veon Bell
Don't fret about losing Marshawn Lynch to retirement, Raiders fans, because this will open up the door for a lot of Le'Veon Bell speculation. The Raiders will have money to spend and will be looking for a new face of the franchise (sorry, Derek Carr) and bringing in a running back like Bell would do wonders for the organization. Bell is the kind of running back that can put a team on his back and carry them back into relevance, but it won't come cheap. Given that the Raiders will soon be playing in Las Vegas, it would be well worth the gamble to ink Bell to a major deal to put him in Silver and Black.
16 Retire: Eli Manning - New York Giants
The writing is on the wall for Eli Manning and the New York Giants. This team is going nowhere and Manning is showing his age week in and week out. While he is still capable of putting up monster stats on occasion, he can also be almost unwatchable at other times. Given that the Giants will be picking near the top of the draft for a second straight season, this will finally be the year that the team selects Manning's replacement. Manning is a prideful guy and will refuse to return in a backup role, thus he will choose to retire after it becomes clear that no other team wants him either.
15 Replacement: Justin Herbert
Last season the New York Giants selected Saquon Barkley with the No. 2 overall pick. It's hard to critique that choice as Barkley looks like a legitimate franchise running back in his rookie season. But drafting Barkley, instead of grabbing one of the top young quarterbacks in last year's draft, has only delayed the inevitable. Yes, the Giants will feel the pressure entering this draft to grab a talented young arm and will be willing to trade up (if necessary) to select Justin Herbert out of Oregon. Herbert is widely considered the best QB prospect in the draft (if he enters it) and would be a solid transition out of the Manning years in New York.
14 Retire: Rob Gronkowski - New England Patriots
Out of all the selections on this list, this is probably one of the more likely ones to happen. Even though he is only 29 years old, Gronk has taken a pounding in his NFL career and we've seen more and more players retire at younger ages. The fact that Gronk has openly considered retirement means his mind is already leaning there.
Gronk seems to get hurt every season and it appears to be taking a toll on his body, so it could be in his best long-term interest to call it quits now. Being that Bill Belichick is running the show, the Patriots likely already have a plan in place to find Gronk's replacement. After all, Belichick already tried to trade Gronk this past offseason.
13 Replacement: Noah Fant
Let's be honest, there is no way to simply replace a player like Rob Gronkowski. This is because there's never been a player like Gronkowski before and it will be a long time before another Gronk caliber player comes around. But one college player that could help immediately fill the Gronk void in Foxborough is Iowa University tight end Noah Fant. Fant is a big and athletic tight end that has shown he can dominate at the collegiate level. His skill set would create match-up nightmares for opposing defenses and he would quickly become Tom Brady's most favorite target... that is, if Brady doesn't choose to retire this offseason too.
12 Retire: Jason Peters - Philadelphia Eagles
If Jason Peters were to retire this offseason, it could lead to a lot of sleepless nights for Carson Wentz. Peters is the left tackle for the Eagles and that makes him the "blindside" tackle for the star quarterback. Not only would the Eagles be losing the most important piece of their offensive line, but they would also be losing a nine-time Pro Bowl left tackle in Peters. He's been one of the best at his position for the past decade and this would be a big blow to the Eagles' Super Bowl hopes. Although Peters is still playing at a high level, he is about to turn 37 years old so he is absolutely on retirement watch this offseason.
11 Replacement: Greg Little
While missing the playoffs this season would be a major letdown for the Eagles following their championship season, one positive would be having a higher draft pick in the 2019 NFL Draft. The Eagles would like to bolster their defense more through the draft, but they would have almost no choice but to select a young offensive tackle to replace Peters if he chose to retire.
If they lose enough games the rest of this season, the Eagles just might be able to sneak up high enough to draft Greg Little out of Ole Miss. Little is a massive human with supreme athleticism for his size. It's very easy to see him having a similar career path as Jason Peters if all goes according to plan.
10 Retire: Jordy Nelson - Oakland Raiders
It wasn't that long ago that Jordy Nelson was still considered an elite receiver in the NFL. But ever since his significant injury in 2016, Nelson has never returned to his previous Pro Bowl form. The injury definitely plays a role in his decline, but it's also possible that Nelson is finally starting to age out of the NFL as he loses his athleticism and desire. Nelson is again struggling to stay on the field so far this year and has been underwhelming even when he is healthy. It's possible that some team gives him another chance next season, but it's more likely that 2018 is his final season.
9 Replacement: Kelvin Benjamin
Most Raider fans probably won't be thrilled with this prediction, but it's very possible that the Raiders make a play for Kelvin Benjamin in free agency this offseason. The Raiders need young building blocks to help in their rebuild and Benjamin could provide a relatively discounted option at that. In Benjamin's first two seasons in the NFL, he had over 1,900 receiving yards. Benjamin is still only 27 year old and if he can find his skills again, he could still be a dominant receiver given his physical gifts. Can Benjamin resurrect his career with Jon Gruden in Oakland?
8 Retire: Julius Peppers - Carolina Panthers
It was kind of surprising to realize that Julius Peppers was still playing at a fairly high level at the age of 38. So far this season Peppers has 4 sacks, giving him 158.5 total sacks for his career. Clearly, he is one of the greatest pass rushers in NFL history and is responsible for the new wave of big, athletic defensive ends that we see in the NFL today. There has been speculation that Peppers may finally be ready to call it quits following the 2018 season. If that happens, the Panthers will be ready to find his heir apparent in this year's defensively stacked draft class.
7 Replacement: Montez Sweat
If the Carolina Panthers lose Julius Peppers to retirement, they would be hard pressed to find a better replacement than Mississippi State standout pass rusher Montez Sweat. This guy is still pretty raw in the run game, but he is outstanding as a pure pass rusher, which is exactly what the Panthers would want in a Peppers replacement.
Sweat has the skill-set to have a very long career in the NFL and would be a great get for the Panthers in the second half of the first round. The only question here is whether or not Montez Sweat will fall to where the Panthers are picking.
6 Retire: Drew Brees - New Orleans Saints
Is it possible that Drew Brees could possibly win the NFL MVP award and lead the Saints to a deep playoff run before choosing to retire this offseason? The short answer is yes. It's very possible that Brees is ready to call it quits after this 2018 season as he will be 40 years old in January. If the Saints are able to win the Super Bowl this season, expect Drew Brees to ride off into the sunset as a champion. If they don't win the Super Bowl, it would be very difficult for Brees to not come back for one more shot with the talent the Saints have on the team right now. Will Brees retire? We will know more when the playoffs unfold.
5 Replacement: Teddy Bridgewater
There's no way to replace a player like Drew Brees (come on, he's literally the all-time NFL leader in passing yards), but the Saints just might have their future starting quarterback already on their roster in Teddy Bridgewater. Is this an exciting replacement for a guy like Brees? Of course not, but Bridgewater deserves the chance to prove his legitimacy again. The guy was a Pro Bowler before he sustained a serious injury that almost derailed his career.
We're not saying that Bridgewater would work out as the starter or not, rather saying that he deserves a shot at being a starter in this league and why not have that shot be with his current team. Also, no, Taysom Hill is not a viable starting quarterback in the NFL.
4 Retire: Terrell Suggs - Baltimore Ravens
It would be a sad time to see the NFL lose two of its most prolific pass rushers in the same offseason but that is very possible if both Julius Peppers and Terrell Suggs decide to hang up their cleats after this year. Peppers is an old-school style pass rusher who plays with a tough attitude and wants to destroy opposing quarterbacks each week. He's also been one of the bigger personalities for the Baltimore Ravens throughout the years. Suggs is one of the final pieces still around from the Ravens last Super Bowl squad, but all good things have to come to an end at some point, right?
3 Replacement: Josh Allen
No, not that Josh Allen from the Buffalo Bills. This is another Josh Allen that is about to shoot up teams draft boards as we get closer to the 2019 NFL Draft. This guy is a freak athlete that will scare opposing offensive lines in a way similar to the intensity that Terrell Suggs brings. The Ravens have been built around their defense ever since Ray Lewis was manning the middle of the field, so they should continue with model of success by drafting their next defensive star in Josh Allen. Even if Terrell Suggs doesn't retire this offseason, the Ravens should still select Allen in the draft anyways.
2 Retire: Tom Brady - New England Patriots
How crazy is it going to be to enter a post-Tom Brady NFL when he finally decides to retire? It's getting to the point that is really indisputable that Brady is the greatest quarterback of all-time, so it's important to enjoy watching him play while fans still can. Even if some fans can't stand him, they have to respect his greatness.
Although Brady has said that he wants to play until he's at least 45 years old, there appears to be an ongoing drama within the Patriots organization. They have been good for so long, can they keep it up for a few more seasons? Or is this the final curtain call for Brady if he wins a Super Bowl this season?
1 Replacement: Jameis Winston
Many are probably saying "What???" But it's not as surprising as it may sound to say that Jameis Winston could be the starting quarterback in New England next season if Tom Brady were to retire this offseason. Winston has the talent to be a good starting quarterback in the NFL. He has all the physical assets that a coach would love to work with and develop. The Patriots wouldn't have to give up more than a fifth-round pick in order to get Winston from the Buccaneers and it would give Bill Belichick a big-armed, tall quarterback to help lead his offense. Would it work? Maybe not, but it could be the Patriots' best option should the G.O.A.T hang it up this offseason.