No sport has as many moving parts year to year as the NFL. Part of the things that make the NFL great is the fact that the star players stay on the same team for multiple years at a time. There is a storyline that takes place over five to seven years of time with star quarterbacks like Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Drew Brees, and Ben Roethlisberger. However, the other interesting part of this is that players on those teams get lost and people lose track of them when they aren’t in those big moments anymore.
While it happens to big-time players on those teams, there is a group of other players that don’t get mentioned anymore because they have around a season or two in which they are one of the best players in the league. Because the NFL is a league which consistently changes almost every week it is hard for some players to keep adjusting to the new NFL given how often things are turned around. Players move in the off-season but if they don’t go to a superstar team, and don’t have the same numbers that they had before, they are quickly forgotten about. What this does is also gets them out of Pro Bowl conversations even if they bounce back a few years after that.
And then, of course, there is the case of the backup quarterback. It's a list which changes and moves every year to the point where you don’t know who’s retired. Without further ado, here are 10 players people thought are retired who weren’t and 10 that retired without people noticing.
20 Didn't Know Retired: Matt Forte
Matt Forte was taken in the second round of the 2008 draft by the Bears as a running back. Forte was never the most respected running back in college and the NFL was no different.
In his first season, Forte had 1,238 rushing yards and 8 TDs on the ground.
After making that splash, he never really slowed down, gaining at least 900 yards from 2008-2014 on the ground and proving to be a dual threat with 300 yards in the air in each one of those seasons as well.
Forte also made the Pro Bowl twice in 2011 and 2013. Forte left the Bears in 2015 but still was productive. But this year, Forte ended his good career and retired from the NFL.
19 Still Playing: Antonio Gates
Once you make your mark in the NFL and have longevity on your side, offseason workouts and training camp isn't something you look forward to year after year and organizations understand that. If you followed this team last season passively then you may have wondered whatever happened to Antonio Gates. Last year was assumed to be the final season for Gates, and no team signed the 38-year old tight end until Gates got a call from the Chargers.
An ACL tear sidelined the incumbent Hunter Henry for the year and Gates agreed to a one-year stop-gap deal. Gates is not done yet, but once Henry returns from injury, Gates will officially be a former Los Angeles Charger.
18 Didn't Know Retired: Antonio Cromartie
Antonio Cromartie was drafted in the first round of the 2006 draft with the 19th overall pick in the draft. In his second year, Cromartie was one of the best playmakers in the NFL getting 10 interceptions in 2007 with him making the Pro Bowl and being an All-Pro that season. He was solid until 2010 when he joined the Jets and continued his good play. When the Jets defense was at their peak Cromartie was back to making Pro Bowls from 2012-2014. Cromartie started to slow down over the last two seasons, but with some seasons struggling at corner, it’s surprising that he retired from the NFL.
17 Still Playing: Sebastian Janikowski
Undoubtedly one of the best kickers of all-time, Sebastian Janikowski is still around today for the Oakland Raiders at the tender age of 40. For reference, Adam Vinatieri, who helped lead the Patriots to a lot of success, is still in the NFL at the age of 45.
It's not hard to imagine that Janikowski may be around for a few more years.
Janikowski was nicknamed "The Polish Cannon" for his legendary kick strength, and at 260 lbs, he doesn't look like your everyday kicker either. Hopefully, Janikowski plans to play as long as Vinatieri and further add to his Hall of Fame resume.
16 Didn't Know Retired: Vincent Jackson
Vincent Jackson was drafted in the second round of the 2005 draft by the Chargers. The tall wideout took a few years to get going with the Chargers but in 2008 he got his first 1,000-yard season with 7 TDs. In 2009, he made his first Pro Bowl with 1,167 yards and 9 TDs during the season. In 2011 he reached 1,100 yards for 9 TDs and another Pro Bowl. Jackson joined the Buccaneers in 2012 and got 1,384 yards and 8 TDs while making the Pro Bowl in 2012.
Still, after all of that, it has been a quick drop off for Jackson. With wideouts like Brandon Marshall still around, it’s surprising that he’s retired at the age of 34.
15 Still Playing: Julius Peppers
Once one of the best pass rushers in all the NFL, Julius Peppers is still hanging around with the Carolina Panthers at the age of 38. Surprisingly, Peppers is still a starter for that team and that defense has been known to make plays. Pass rushers that have come into the NFL and selected high in the draft have compared favorably to Peppers. Whether it's Myles Garrett or Jadeveon Clowney, Peppers' influence is there and that is a major reason why he is still able to do some of the things he does. Peppers doesn't appear to be ready to hang them up after this season either.
14 Didn't Know Retired: Elvis Dumervil
Elvis Dumervil was taken in the 4th round of the 2006 draft by the Broncos. As a pass rusher Dumervil was undersized but had the speed and quickness to disrupt people in the backfield. In his first year he got 8.5 sacks. He continued to dominant with 12.5 sacks in his second year in the NFL. In 2009 Dumervil got 17 sacks and made the Pro Bowl.
He was a dominant force in the NFL for several seasons, making the Pro Bowl in 2011 and 2012.
In 2013 he joined the Ravens with 9.5 sacks. 2014 and 2015 were more Pro Bowl years for Dumervil. In his career he had 105.5 sacks made five Pro Bowls and ended with 6.5 sacks. He could easily still play now but hung them up after the season.
13 Still Playing: Karlos Dansby
In the second round of the 2004 NFL draft, the Arizona Cardinals selected Karlos Dansby. Dansby spent his 14 seasons between the Cardinals, Dolphins, Bengals, and Browns. After last season, Dansby expressed his desire to play during the 2018 NFL season. Dansby feels he still has something to contribute to an NFL club. We are midway through the season; injuries happen and will continue to happen throughout the year. Dansby is still preparing as if that phone call will come any day now. Don't be too surprised if you're watching games and Dansby is making plays out of nowhere in a big time game.
12 Didn't Know Retired: Paul Posluszny
Paul Posluszny came around in the NFL with as much hype as any college player could imagine. He got most of his fame playing for Penn State as a middle linebacker and making impact plays all over the field in Big Ten games. He was taken in the second round of the 2007 draft by the Bills to be their linebacker of the future. Posluszny had a solid career with the Bills, getting over 80 tackles in three years. In 2011 he joined the Jags and became the leader of this defense, even making a Pro Bowl in the 2013 season. He started 11 games for the team last year but decided to retire after the season at the age of 34.
11 Still Playing: Donte Whitner
When the Seattle Seahawks defense was at their peak, there was another team on the west coast with a really stingy defense. That was the San Francisco 49ers and Donte Whitner was the guy that helped set the tone on the back end of the defense.
The former Ohio State Buckeye played in 11 games in the 2016 season for the Washington Redskins and has not been on a team since.
Whitner has not announced a retirement so there is a reason to believe that Whitner has intentions of playing again if asked. Just as easily as you didn't notice Whitner slip through the cracks, you probably won't notice if he sneaks his way back in again either.
10 Didn't Know Retired: Nick Mangold
Nick Mangold was taken with the 29th pick of the 2006 draft by the Jets. As the center of the Jets, he was solid in his first two years and started making the Pro Bowl in the 2008 season. Mangold led the Jets running game from 2008-2011 and was the premier center in the NFL. After not making it in 2012, he came back in 2013 and made the Pro Bowl for three straight seasons. But after 2016, Mangold started to slow down and decided to stop playing. It's an interesting decision for someone who can still make Pro Bowls at the level he was playing in a league always looking for offensive linemen.
9 Still Playing: Jay Cutler
The Denver Broncos drafted Jay Cutler with the 11th pick in the 2006 NFL draft. Some people look at the career of Cutler and belie he was a disappointment because of his lack of success in the postseason. But when you look back at the quarterbacks in the 2006 draft, in comparison to guys like Vince Young and Matt Leinart, Cutler had by far the most successful career.
In Miami a season ago, starting quarterback Ryan Tannehill sustained an ACL injury and Cutler got off his couch and started a season for the Dolphins.
Cutler is still an active free agent and if a similar situation arises and a team needs a quarterback, Cutler's phone will ring again.
8 Didn't Know Retired: Brent Celek
Brent Celek was taken in the fifth round of the 2007 draft by the Eagles. Celek was a consistent threat for the team in three different eras. He was a solid player during the Andy Reid years and really took off in 2009, getting 971 yards and 8 TDs that year. Over the next four seasons, with the combination of Reid and Chip Kelly's speed system, Celek remained effective and got 500 yards a year. When Zach Ertz started to come around Celek’s production started to slow down and he became a blocker. But with the Eagles, he won the Super Bowl last year before ultimately retiring.
7 Still Playing: Matt Cassel
Matt Cassel was taken in the seventh round of the 2005 draft by the Patriots. They expected him to just hold a clipboard for most of his time, with the team seeing as how they already won three Super Bowls with starting QB Tom Brady. But in 2008, when Brady went down with an injury in the first game of the season, Cassel came in as a reserve and played very well. Cassel went 10-5 with the team, with 3,900 yards and 21 TDs. Even though they missed the playoffs, Cassel joined the Chiefs and made a Pro Bowl, throwing for 27 TDs in 2010. But what most don't know is that he's still in the NFL as a backup for the Lions.
6 Didn't Know Retired: Fred Jackson
Fred Jackson was undrafted out of college and got his first chance with the Bills in 2007. He didn’t take off until 2009, gaining 1,062 yards and 2 TDs that season. Over the next two years, Jackson continued to stay efficient, with 900 yards and 5 TDs in each year. He did struggle over 2012 with less than 500 yards, and in 2013, he came back with 890 yards and 9 TDs.
His career ended after only nine seasons, but the biggest reason wasn’t his production; it was his age.
Jackson joined the NFL at the age of 26, as opposed to the 22 and 23 for most other players. For those who didn’t know that fact it seems like he retired quickly, but in reality, his NFL career ran its course.
5 Still Playing: Tramon Williams
Tramon Williams was undrafted when he was eligible for the draft and wasn't signed until 2007 with the Packers. Williams was one of the best stories in the NFL as the Packers were making their run to the Super Bowl in 2009. That year Williams had 4 picks and made big plays all season. He backed that up with 6 Interceptions in 2010 and the only Pro Bowl appearance of his career. Williams played for the Packers until 2014, racking up 28 interceptions over 9 seasons. After that, Williams bounced around two other teams but at the age of 35, he hasn't retired yet and is back on the Packers as a corner.
4 Didn't Know Retired: Danny Woodhead
Danny Woodhead was undrafted out of college and was picked up by the Jets in 2009. He didn’t have much success with the team but of course he joined the Patriots in 2010 and became a very good two-way player. In 2010 he got 500 yards rushing and over 300 receiving. In 2012 he ran for 300 yards but was much more powerful as a receiver with 446 yards through the air.
The Chargers signed him in 2013 and he continued to be efficient with 600 yards through the air and 429 on the ground. Woodhead continued to do that for the Chargers and the Ravens but in the offseason, he retired. It was strange because he had the ability to play for years with his style as a quick slot receiver, but injuries caught up to him in the end.
3 Still Playing: Josh McCown
Josh McCown was taken in the third round of the NFL draft by the Cardinals in 2002 as a quarterback. McCown wasn't named the starter of the team until 2004 when he went 6-7 with the team, passing for 2,500 yards and 11 TDs to 10 interceptions. From that point on, McCown bounced around the NFL and was on their other teams until he had his last big year with the Bears.
With Jay Cutler down McCown came in and went 8-5 with the team in 2013.
He had an incredible 13 TDs to only 1 interception in his time as a starter. That was the peak of McCown's career, but at the age of 39, he remains in the NFL as a backup to Sam Darnold on the Jets.
2 Didn't Know Retired: David Harris
David Harris was taken in the third round of the 2007 draft by the Jets. As a middle linebacker, the Jets started to give him the keys to the car early starting him in 9 games in his rookie season. Harris was the perfect leader for those powerful Jets defenses in the last 2000s and early 2010s alongside Bart Scott. Both of them roamed on defense and led the Jets to two straight AFC Championship games. Harris joined the Patriots in 2017 in a move to expand his career but instead that had the opposite effect. After starting in only 6 games, Harris retired in the offseason after his solid NFL career.
1 Still Playing: Adam 'Pacman' Jones
Adam 'Pacman' Jones was drafted by the Titans with the sixth overall pick in the 2005 NFL draft. He was supposed to be a shutdown corner as well as a great punt returner coming out of college, but that didn't happen early in his career because of a variety of off-field issues. Jones didn't get his act together until 2010 when he signed with the Bengals. At that point, Jones was one of the better corners in the league and made the All-Pro team in 2014 and the Pro Bowl in 2015.
Still, Jones started to slow down in 2016 at the age of 33, and 2017 was his last year with the team. However, Jones is getting one more NFL chance with the Broncos this season and has started several games for the team.