Football is a dangerous game... this we know by now. Careers are fragile, and one hit can end it all. Others fall victim to father time – after all football (today more than ever) is a young man’s game. Even with that as a glaring reality, certain players have defied the odds with their longevity. Some are able to withstand 10 or more seasons of NFL physicality. A dangerous game indeed... yet many of its participants struggle to leave it. Despite its addictive aura, the NFL stands to lose some of its stars in the upcoming off-season. Some simply have overstayed their welcome in the youthful league. Others are simply too broken by the game that made them famous.
Difficulty staying healthy or staying in shape have certain stars' careers in question and other players have hinted (some confirming) their intent to call it quits. If indeed these stars – of today and/or days past – have played their last games, finding equitable replacements will not be easy. Their veteran leadership and legendary status cannot be replaced over night. Many of the players on this list have had careers worthy of the Hall of Fame. Their absence will be felt both by their own teams and teams they used to terrorize on the field. Some of these players will not be missed too badly by the fans, but the majority are legends of the game and we have already seen them play their last game. These are 15 NFL Stars Who May Have Played Their Last Snap This Year.
15 James Harrison
Harrison has been a star on and off the field. When he wasn't chasing down and mauling opposing quarterbacks, Harrison was working out – many of his gym feats can be watched on YouTube and I'll admit, some of them are insane! A 15-year career, 14 as a Steeler, Harrison helped define the identity of Pittsburgh's defence for over a decade. A brief cameo in Cincinnati is forgotten by most, but his more recent move figures to remain on Steelers' fans minds for a long time...his 2017 mid-season defection to the New England Patriots. Harrison's skills have diminished. He's not as fast or dominant as he once was, having not reached double-digit sacks since 2010. A deteriorating skillset and turning 40 years old in May, I believe the linebacker's days are numbered in the NFL.
14 Adrian Peterson
The accolades surrounding Peterson's career are well known... member of the exclusive 2,000-yard club, 2012 league MVP, and rushing touchdown leader amongst active players. Unfortunately for Peterson, he's always been a one-dimensional running back. Requiring in excess of 350 touches per year to be effective, Peterson has an inability to grasp the pass-catching duties of today's running backs. As a result, his effectiveness in recent years has declined dramatically. He was a swing and a miss in New Orleans following his departure from Minnesota. He showed glimpses in Arizona but with David Johnson set to return, a future in the desert seems unlikely. It wouldn't surprise me if All Day has played his last snap in the NFL. A Hall of Fame worthy career, it almost seems as though it could've been so much better.
13 Adam Vinatieri
Vinatieri has made many clutch kicks in his career on his way to four Super Bowl titles. How could anybody forget the blizzard kick against the Raiders – that game also gave us the Brady Tuck Rule. My inclusion of Vinatieri on this list is not to suggest any level of disrespect. The dude is 45 years old! He's made his kicks, he's won his championships... now he's playing for the lowly Colts. The only thing keeping him around is his pursuit of an NFL record. He currently sits 2nd all-time in points scored, trailing Morten Anderson by 57 points. If he returns for one more season, he's surely going to overtake Anderson. Whether or not a team will give him that chance is the real question?
12 Antonio Gates
The active leader in receiving touchdowns, sixth all-time and has caught the most touchdowns by a tight end in league history. That's quite the resume when you consider all the great pass catchers that have played the game of football. Now, how could a guy capable of those records go un-drafted? – it's a simple answer...he never played college football. Gates was a basketball star in college. Gates would transfer schools and pursue basketball. He would go on to be an accomplished player, helping his team reach the Elite Eight in 2002. Following the conclusion of his college career, Gates was told by scouts he didn't profile as an NBA player, citing his inability to fit a specific position – wrong place, wrong time when you look at how the NBA today has become. He would schedule workouts for NFL scouts, and the rest is history...
11 Frank Gore
His numbers speak for themselves, but it's hard to find a more under-appreciated star than Frank Gore. He sits 5th all-time in rushing yards and is the leader among active players. Gore also sits 7th all-time in career yards from scrimmage, an indication of his ability to run and catch balls out of the backfield. However, Gore is 34 years old, which qualifies as 'ancient' in the RB community. He's a free-agent and could be hard pressed to find work despite his impressive numbers. A part of me feels like he'd be a perfect candidate for a Patriots swan song. He's never won a Super Bowl and could be a beneficial piece in Belichick's perennial championship plan. My gut tells me they, like every other team, prefer youth in the backfield and that's not good for aging runners like Gore.
10 Kam Chancellor
The founding member of Seattle's Legion of Boom is also facing an off-season of uncertainty due to health issues sustained this year. Chancellor has been suffering from a neck injury and has a history of neck issues. When healthy, few safeties could impact a game like Chancellor could. At 6'3", 232 lbs, he is a large force patrolling the middle of the field. Unfortunately, a career spent delivering countless bone-crushing hits has produced some double-edged results. His body is breaking down and ironically so too is Seattle's once-feared defence. If Seattle elects to part with Chancellor, they need to decide quickly as his 2018 salary becomes fully guaranteed February 9th. At only 29, age isn't a concern but his body's well-being most certainly is.
9 Jay Cutler
It took an injury to Ryan Tannehill to draw Jay Cutler out of his first retirement. A season of Jay Cutler ended in predictable fashion, with the Dolphins missing the playoffs and struggling on offence most of the season. Few universal truths exist but one that should be unanimously understood is this: Jay Cutler is overrated and provides nothing to the process of winning. Sorry, but I'm not sorry for that rather harsh assessment. Cutler remains the lone football player I truly have zero time for. Watching him play a full season this past year while Colin Kaepernick remained unemployed is one of the bigger sports travesties in recent memory. Go away Jay, and never come back. And put some clothes on!
8 Ben Roethlisberger
Big Ben hinted at retirement several times this past off-season, ultimately deciding to return. Does another playoff heartbreak, combined with a widely known rift with OC Todd Haley drive him into his post-football chapter? My gut tells me no, considering Haley is supposedly on his way out, Roethlisberger has two years remaining on his contract and the Steelers don't really have a succession plan as of yet. How could you fault him though if he elects to call it a career? Roethlisberger has always played a physical game, and with the growing concerns surrounding concussions and CTE, the chances of him sustaining a life-changing injury increase the longer he stays in the game. He's mentioned these concerns in past interviews, citing his wife (along with his own concerns) as the main driver behind him considering an early retirement.
7 Julius Peppers
Julius Peppers returned to Carolina this season in hopes of contending for a title with the team that drafted him 2nd overall back in 2002. While it didn't go according to plan, Peppers has little to frown about when you look at how his career has unfolded.
He is the active leader in sacks and sits fourth on the all-time sacks list with 154.5. This season, he notched 11 sacks at the age of 37. Peppers has been practically indestructible, having played in every game of every season since 2008. There's certainly a chance a team gives Peppers another opportunity if the price tag is reasonable. Teams value athleticism and versatility at the defensive end position and will resort to drafting and developing players rather than overpay for aging veterans. You can never have too many players capable of rushing the quarterback.
6 Darrelle Revis
The self-proclaimed greatest cornerback to ever play is suddenly 32 years old and looking every bit his age. In 2017, after being released by the Jets in February, Revis played 5 games for Kansas City down the stretch, starting two of them. He would finish the year with 10 tackles and two pass defences. He hasn't had double-digit pass defences since 2014 and has one interception since 2016. Under contract for 2018, the Chiefs have until March 2018 to decide if they want to guarantee Revis' 2018 base salary ($4.5M cap hit). He is not the blanket he once was and teams should be able to do far better than what Revis has to offer at this point in his career. Go retire on Revis Island once and for all.
5 Le'Veon Bell
Coming off a 2017 campaign that saw him play on a 1-year franchise tag, the Steelers are entertaining the idea of tagging Bell for 2018. This has not sat well with Bell. The Steelers running back led the league in rushing attempts and overall touches in 2017. He continues to be a focal point in the offence and routinely dazzles on the field with his unique running style. Few backs have the game breaker label that Bell has. He is capable of taking over games and should be compensated accordingly. This past off-season, Bell made headlines when he applied for a position at Dairy Queen in the midst of a contract holdout. He's threatened to retire if he's tagged in 2018, a reality that seems more likely by the day. If Bell follows through on his promise, the league may be losing one of its marquee stars in their prime.
4 Terence Newman
Terence Newman is 39-years old and still playing defensive back at a high level. That is truly mind-boggling. He certainly isn't as quick as he was in his prime, but he still thinks the game better than any defensive player in the game today. He's a throwback DB, both in age and style of play. He's a sure tackler, something you don't see with younger DBs who struggle with conventional wrap tackling. Newman's longevity and ability to maintain a high level of play as he approaches 40 years old qualify him as an NFL star. The Vikings have Mackenzie Alexander and Trae Waynes, two young and talented defensive backs. Newman has mentored both of them, a testament to Newman's character. It would be a storybook finish to his career if the Vikings can win the Super Bowl, but either way, this figures to be his final kick at the can.
3 Cliff Avril
Much like Ryan Shazier, Avril suffered a potentially career-ending neck injury this past season. Avril, coming off a 2016 campaign that saw him earn Pro Bowl honours, remains optimistic about and committed to resuming his football career, but it's far too early in the recovery process to draw any conclusions. He is under contract for 2018. In 10 seasons in the NFL, Avril's estimated before tax earnings are just shy of $50 million USD. If he's been smart with his money, he doesn't need to get his head thrashed anymore. When you've made all the money you'll ever need, does the passion for the game make it worth literally risking your neck for a chance at some glory?
2 Ryan Shazier
I for one hope this is not the end of Ryan Shazier. He has quickly become one of the league's most dynamic defensive stars. Shazier was involved in a scary incident late in the 2017 season. Following a tackle, Shazier stayed down in serious discomfort. He eventually was carted off the field and diagnosed with a serious, potentially 'career-threatening' neck/spinal injury. Having undergone successful surgery, those close to him, and Shazier himself remain optimistic about a return to football. Optimism aside, it remains to be seen if this young explosive talent will get a chance to return to the gridiron. Long-term health must be taken into account, as a repeat occurrence could carry a more devastating outcome than the first.
1 Carson Palmer
Carson Palmer, as many know, never won a Super Bowl. As a matter of fact, he only played four playoff games in his entire 14-year career. Palmer himself produced numerous quality seasons, including an inspiring 2015 campaign coming off a devastating injury the previous year, at the age of 36! The Cardinals are going through a changing of the guard. Head coach Bruce Arians announced his retirement earlier, and Palmer has publically stated his intentions to 'hang them up'. Where the Cardinals go from here is anybody's guess, but drafting (or signing) a quarterback seems like a necessary move. A clean slate can be a good thing, but the Cardinals need to get their act together fast in order to remain relevant in the NFC West. We don't think Palmer will be pulling a Favre, so his retirement should stick permanently.