Father Time eventually catches up with every professional athlete regardless of workout regimes, injury history or accomplishments. New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady may honestly want to play deep into his 40s, but the numbers and logic tell us that he is closer to retirement than he is to his physical prime regardless of his diet and how much avocado ice cream he eats each and every week. Heck, one may even say the same about Indianapolis Colts signal-caller Andrew Luck as of the winter of 2018. Luck has taken beatings during games thanks to the Colts not putting a legitimate offensive line in front of him, and the possibility exists that he’ll never be as good as he should’ve been because of the club’s failures in surrounding him with talent.
While Brady and Luck will almost certainly take the field come August 2018, a plethora of players need to read the writing on the wall and just retire already. The list of such athletes includes quarterbacks who have won championships and also offensive leaders who are now journeymen and who are collecting checks while featuring for losing franchises. Placekickers who are able to remain in the league through their 40s do well to earn millions of dollars, but those players and the teams that pay them should realize when the music has stopped and when it’s time to leave the dance floor. A few future Hall-of-Famers are also among players who should retire before the 2018 season begins. There’s no shame in not sticking around for too long.
15 Ben Roethlisberger
We are starting with Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger if only because rumors about him wanting to hang his cleats up aren’t going away anytime soon. Roethlisberger is a two-time Super Bowl winner, he has suffered numerous injuries over the year due to his willingness to take hits and punishment in the pocket, and he will be 36 years old in the spring.
Big Ben can still get the job done on the field, but he has nothing left to prove to anybody if he is, indeed, feeling that he is finished playing in the league. Any questions about his future could be answered if the Steelers win it all in February and, in the process, give Roethlisberger the opportunity to walk away as a winner.
14 Matt Cassel
If you’re anything like us, you actually forgot that Matt Cassel was still in the league and serving as a backup quarterback for the Tennessee Titans. After all, it doesn’t feel like it was all that long ago when Cassel seemed to be the next big thing filling in for an injured Tom Brady.
Cassel went on to earn millions of dollars off that one season, but he never even flirted with being a franchise quarterback before becoming a backup with the Buffalo Bills and, later, with the Titans. Cassel will turn 36 years old before the next training camp sessions open. Teams and the player need to realize that the time has come for him to leave the playing field healthy and a very rich man. That one season in New England changed his life forever.
13 Brandon Marshall
It was only last spring when it felt as if the New York Giants were going to feature an unstoppable passing game with Eli Manning, Odell Beckham Jr., Sterling Shepard, rookie tight end Evan Engram and veteran wide receiver Brandon Marshall leading the way. Just about anything that could’ve gone wrong for the Giants did, including Marshall being lost to injury in October.
Marshall will be 34 years old come springtime, but his age is only part of the equation. He has already embraced a career as an analyst for television programs, and the time has come for him to walk away from the field and into the booth either as a commentator or a host on pre-game and post-game shows. Odds are the Giants will part ways with him in March if he doesn’t retire beforehand.
12 Sebastian Janikowski
It finally happened. After years of defying the odds and remaining one of the most dependable kickers in the NFL, Sebastian Janikowski went down to injury and missed the 2017 season. Janikowski can probably still go, but he will be 40 years old before next season begins, and the Oakland Raiders could save some money and cap space by moving on from the proven veteran.
Janikowski dealt with a bad back during the summer months, and such issues don’t magically disappear for a pro athlete in his 40s. Harsh reality has set in, and Janikowski should realize that it’s time to retire and enjoy the riches that he earned throughout his service to the Raiders. If nothing else, he’s one of the best players in the history of that club.
11 Ryan Fitzpatrick
Losing Ryan Fitzpatrick to retirement would mean we would lose out on those always funny “did you know he went to Harvard?” jokes, but it’s time. Ryan Fitzpatrick is no longer a starting quarterback for any team in the league — no, not even for the Cleveland Browns — and he turned 35 years old during the summer.
While 35 isn’t ancient for a signal-caller who still has the goods to lead an offense, Fitzpatrick simply isn’t that guy. His age began to show during his stint with the New York Jets, and he’s now a backup for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Bucs could get the same output for cheaper by signing somebody else, as could every other team in the league. Fitzpatrick’s time in the NFL has run out.
10 Antonio Gates
There is already a spot in the Pro Football Hall of Fame reserved for Los Angeles Chargers tight end Antonio Gates. In fact, Gates will go down as one of the greatest undrafted players in the history of the league. The legendary tight end isn’t what he once was, however, as age caught up with him even before the start of the 2017 campaign.
Those running the Chargers realized this, as the club acquired Hunter Henry as Gates replacement in 2016. Henry has some big shoes to fill, but the Chargers need to move on from Gates once the new NFL calendar opens. It’s possible Gates could find a home with a different franchise in the spring or summer, but he should retire as a Charger and while he is still healthy.
9 Darren Sproles
Somewhere, Philadelphia Eagles running back Darren Sproles is making life miserable for somebody playing against him in an edition of Madden. Unfortunately, the real Sproles is no longer as dynamic. In fact, Sproles actually publicly announced that 2017 would be his final season before the start of the campaign, and he then went down to injury in September.
Sometimes, a pro athlete who missed out on the majority of what he hoped would be his last season attempts to come back for one more run so that he can go out on his own terms. While such tenacity and grit is admirable, Sproles will be 35 years old next summer, which makes him downright ancient in the land of NFL running backs. The time has come for Sproles to retire.
8 Jay Cutler
Critics and those who make fun of Jay Cutler can say whatever they want about the quarterback who played for the Miami Dolphins in 2017. Nobody should forget that Cutler was fine and happy heading into retirement and into a FOX commentary booth ahead of the season before Ryan Tannehill went down to injury and the Dolphins called for his services.
Cutler cannot be blamed for accepting a contract reportedly worth $10 million, in total, to play for the Dolphins. No pro who is still able to take snaps and throw passes would reject such an offer. The veteran has made a fortune playing in the league, and all indications are that any love he had for being under center has dwindled away. Enjoy your retirement and commentary gig, Jay.
7 Darrelle Revis
Fans of the Kansas City Chiefs may be less than pleased with the perceived lack of effort they saw from veteran cornerback Darrelle Revis, particularly during the playoff loss to the Tennessee Titans. Those people should actually be mad at the franchise that paid him money even though anybody who watched him during his second and final stint with the New York Jets could tell he was washed up and a shell of his former great self.
Revis has always been a mercenary who played for money over love of the game and of a franchise. There’s nothing wrong with that, but league executives and coaches should know by now that the All-Pro who will be 33 years old next summer isn’t what he was even a few years ago.
6 Marshawn Lynch
We’re still not completely sure why running back Marshawn Lynch left retirement and signed with the Oakland Raiders other than the fact that he was paid millions of dollars to do so. Sure, Lynch ripped off some runs that brought memories of when he was an elite running back to mind, but the veteran who turns 32 years old this coming spring isn’t what he was when he was able to plow through would-be tacklers as a member of the Seattle Seahawks.
Lynch is a Super Bowl Champion who should have two rings to his name had the Seahawks given him the ball late in that championship contest against the New England Patriots. He’s done it all in the league, and he should retire before training camp.
5 Joe Thomas
Legendary Cleveland Browns offensive lineman Joe Thomas finally missed a snap, a series and games because of injury in 2017. That may have been his body telling the 33 year old that it’s time to hang the cleats up and head into an executive role or a job as an analyst.
The Browns are literally the worst team in NFL history from the start of the 2016 season up through the typing of this sentence, and there is zero chance Thomas is going to win anything of note with the franchise. He could find employment with a different team, but he has not been keen on accepting a trade and moving his family away from northeast Ohio. He can remain in the area after retirement, as the Browns would be lucky to have him in the front office.
4 Larry Fitzgerald
Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald will enter the Hall of Fame five years after he retires, which means he should probably have his day in Canton five years from now. Fitzgerald will be 35 years old next summer, and he has started to slow down despite showing that he could still start for a majority of NFL teams.
The Cardinals are about to hit the figurative reset button with a new quarterback and new coaching staff guiding the club. Fitzgerald likely won’t be part of the equation as the team attempts to rebuild, and the all-time great who has spent his entire career with the franchise since 2004 should retire as a member of the Cardinals. We would love to see Fitzgerald in the booth calling games for a major network.
3 Adam Vinatieri
Placekicker Adam Vinatieri turned 45 years old during the holiday season. It’s incredible Vinatieri has managed to remain in the NFL at this point of his life, but nobody should ignore that he will be closer to 50 years old than to 40 at the start of the 2018 season.
Any kicker is only worth so much as it pertains to salary cap space, regardless of talent, and Vinatieri is undeniably no longer one of the best kickers in the game today. Yes, some team may be willing to give Vinatieri work in the summer, but he has nothing left to give to game. When all is said and done, Vinatieri very well may be the greatest kicker of all-time, but he should enter retirement and call time on what has been an amazing and historic career.
2 James Harrison
Anybody who follows James Harrison on social media platforms knows he works hard to remain in incredible physical shape. Harrison will turn 40 years old in May, but he looks like a player in his 20s about to enter his prime. The Pittsburgh Steelers allowed Harrison to enter free agency in December after largely stashing him on the bench, but he found a home with the New England Patriots ahead of the playoffs.
Harrison has a future selling nutritional products online, and he doesn’t need to play beyond February 2018 to be financially secure for the rest of his life. His journey in the NFL is wrapping up, and he should retire, this time for good, once the Patriots either lose a game or win the Super Bowl.
1 Josh McCown
Nobody can question the toughness had by quarterback Josh McCown, who exceeded expectations while with the New York Jets in 2017. McCown will turn 39 years old on July 4th, and it’s no secret that he can no longer physically survive a 16-game season without experiencing some type of injury.
There will come a day, perhaps sooner rather than later, when McCown acquires a job as a coach or even a coordinator. He’s intelligent and well-respected throughout NFL circles. His body has been telling him for years that it’s time to retire. McCown needs to listen to those voices before he suffers a serious injury that does more than keep him from playing for a team. Here’s hoping McCown gets to mold young QBs as a coach and mentor long into the future.