Chances are, you've heard of the 1985 pop rock hit "Don't You (Forget About Me)" by Simple Minds even if you were a '90s baby like myself. And, frankly, some of those song lyrics apply to the NFL and how its business operations work on a day-to-day basis, like, say, "Don't you, forget about me" or "Will you recognize me? Call my name or walk on by."
When it comes to the NFL, there are a lot of football players who roll into the league with their high-profile talents, stumble into the league only to tumble down and vice versa. While the ups and downs of a player's career tend to be unexpected, I can reassure you that not all of life's situations pan out in a positive way. There are plenty of players who flame out over the course of months and years and you won't hear a word about them again.
But what about the players who were pretty much always bad and weave their way out of the limelight in less than a few years? They're also players and they deserve some attention, too. Not necessarily for their achievements, but the fact that the topic of possible retirements is always an intriguing angle, as the NFL tends to see some players retire quite surprisingly. We also see some players have to sit a season out for various reasons.
Here are 20 players who won't be returning to the NFL next season. As always, feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section.
20 Josh Gordon
With his "Flash" nickname, Josh Gordon hasn't shown many flashes since his first full season with the Cleveland Browns. Sure, Gordon finished among the top rookie wide receivers in 2012, but he has crossed the line on several occasions and the Browns eventually parted ways with him in 2018. They traded him and a 2019 seventh round pick to the New England Patriots in exchange for a 2019 fifth round pick. The Patriots knew they were taking a risk, but it was also a high reward move.
Gordon, however, stepped away from football on December 20, 2018 to focus on his mental health. That's not a bad thing. In fact, that's a wise choice if it's a true statement. But he remains as a question behind a curious thought of what could've been if he stayed in good shape inside and out.
19 Kareem Hunt
The Kansas City Chiefs have been one of the biggest storylines of the 2018 NFL season due to their explosive offense. You could thank Andy Reid and company for the Chiefs' recent success. After all, who saw Patrick Mahomes coming the way Reid and the Chiefs staff did?
Anyway, Kareem Hunt was another Chiefs star not named Patrick Mahomes... but due to an off-field incident from last offseason and a video surfacing, Hunt was released on November 30, 2018. They now have a challenge of finding another running back to replace him, but I'm sure they could find a solution in the near future. Hunt is still on the commissioner exempt list and with a looming suspension hanging over his head, we may see teams avoid signing Hunt this offseason.
18 Adrian Peterson
Adrian Peterson believes that he has got a lot left in the tank, but like many other thoughts among football players, it's going to turn into a topic of discussion among the fans and media members alike. Sure, Peterson was named the Offensive Rookie of the Year in the 2007 NFL season after being selected seventh overall by the Minnesota Vikings, but his production declined since he left the Twin Cities. Also, he has sustained a plethora of injuries in brief stints with his new teams.
Peterson might've crossed the 1000-yard barrier, but we have to remember that he went unsigned into training camp. Washington only signed him once they lost Derrius Guice for the season and with Peterson likely wanting more money after taking a bargain contract, we may see teams avoid signing a 33-year-old bell cow back.
17 Reuben Foster
Don't get me wrong, Reuben Foster is a talented inside linebacker who could've done a lot of great things on the field. But he's a questionable signing for any team at the moment. Yeah, he's currently with the Washington Redskins, but who knows how long he'll last in the nation's capital?
Foster had one heck of a rookie season in 2017 with 72 combined tackles (59 solo tackles) and a pass deflection in 10 games started. According to Pro Football Focus, his overall grade was 90.7 in 2017. He has a lot of potential, but I don't know when he'll have playing minutes for the Redskins, if at all.
16 Brandon Marshall
Unlike most of the players in my list, Brandon Marshall is a free agent wide receiver who most recently played for the New Orleans Saints in 2018. The reason behind his departure from the Big Easy? He failed to appear in any Saints games, as it seems his body has just broken down as a player.
Marshall was selected to the All-C-USA Team while at the University of Central Florida, where he played in 44 games as a wide receiver and also started as a safety for seven games. He entered the NFL in 2006 as a sixth round pick, but unfortunately, injuries in recent seasons have hampered the latter stages of his career.
15 Antonio Gates
Tight end Antonio Gates went undrafted in the 2003 NFL Draft and then signed with the San Diego (now Los Angeles) Chargers. The Chargers are a team that has struggled for many years until recently, so of course, he has every reason to get emotional over his return to the NFL playoffs.
Gates, however, might not be in the league for much longer. Sure, he believes that he still can beat a linebacker and feels like he can still play, but he hasn't been playing a large role on the Chargers' roster. The team only brought him back when they were out of options, as Hunter Henry tore his ACL in OTAs. If Henry is healthy going into 2019, don't expect the Bolts to bring him back again.
14 Josh McCown
We'll see how Sam Darnold develops, but in the meantime, Josh McCown has returned to backup quarterback duty as Darnold broke out of his slump. Darnold's play within the pocket has been impressive and many are projecting a huge step forward in 2019.
Sure, McCown plays double duty as a mentor and confidant for Darnold, but there's also the thought of McCown's current job being at stake. McCown is 39 and will be 40 by the time next season kicks off. McCown's recent injuries may take a severe toll on him and I just don't seem being a decent option for a few more years down the road.
13 Julius Peppers
Julius Peppers will wrap up his 17th season in the NFL without a contract and just turned 39. Yep, Peppers is better known for his first and second stints with the Carolina Panthers, but he has also made Green Bay Packers fans like myself proud of what he achieved as a veteran defensive end.
Peppers hasn't commented on his future with the Panthers and football in general as of late, but it's hard to see him coming back for another season. It seems like Father Time finally took its toll on one of the best athletes at defensive end of all time. This season, he registered just 22 total tackles and 5 sacks. The latter was the second lowest total of his career.
12 Marshawn Lynch
"Beast Mode" may be turned down a decibel or two as the Oakland Raiders' Marshawn Lynch isn't the same star running back like he was with the Seattle Seahawks.
Lynch is set to become a free agent in March after making a surprise return to the NFL to play for his hometown Raiders. He hasn't been able to stay healthy in his two years in Oakland, so will he be back in the league in 2019? Hmm...it doesn't seem like a return will happen, considering the fact that he has slowed down and was placed on injured reserve. With the Raiders set to move out of Oakland, Lynch's incentive to keep playing is no longer there.
11 Rob Gronkowski
Rob Gronkowski has acknowledged that the 2018 NFL season was a roller coaster full of ups and downs. That being said, at least he seems to be aware that he's not the same star tight end he once was. He appears to lack the explosiveness to get open on the field like in previous years. Also, his recurring ankle and back injuries have hampered his game.
Gronk likely isn't going to earn an additional $3.3 million in 2019 as he hasn't hit his performance-based incentives as of late. So, as you might've seen in the headlines, he's 50-50 when it comes to a possible retirement.
10 Dez Bryant
Dez Bryant went through the entire offseason unsigned after the Cowboys released him shortly before the 2018 draft. Rather than re-sign Bryant, the Cowboys instead chose to trade for Amari Cooper. Eventually the Saints took a flyer on the 29-year-old, only for Bryant to tear his Achilles in his first Saints practice. The Saints likely won't be bringing Bryant back in 2019 and with much of the offseason expected to be one of rest and recovery for Bryant, he'll again go unsigned and it's unlikely Bryant will be given a chance at any point in 2019.
9 Mark Sanchez
The Washington Redskins might've thought that Mark Sanchez would've been a crucial part to their quarterback carousel, but no, Sanchez isn't the answer. It was viewed as a joke that the Redskins felt Sanchez was their best chance at salvaging the 2018 season after Alex Smith went down. Smith's career is now in jeopardy, but he might not be the only Washington QB not coming back.
I also think Sanchez will be done with his career, too. Not really because of injuries, but also has played in a forgettable manner when he got thrown into the mix. In addition, he doesn't seem to know the Redskins' offense well enough to tread water.
8 Sebastian Janikowski
Maybe 2018 will be the year where veteran kicker Sebastian Janikowski will realize that he's too old for the game. After all, he's 40 and on a one-year contract with the Seattle Seahawks after spending 17 years with the Oakland Raiders from 2000 to 2017.
Sure, Janikowski has been known for blasting long field goals and doing nothing else. But, in 2018, he showed us that he knows his limits and apparently refused to tackle the San Francisco 49ers' kick returner Richie James Jr. on a kickoff return touchdown. Also, he struggled with extra points, not to mention his season ending with an injury in the team's playoff loss to Dallas.
7 Terrelle Pryor
Well, it didn't take long for the Buffalo Bills to make up their minds after signing Terrelle Pryor, an Ohio State alumnus who won the Big Ten Championship twice. The Bills released him in less than a month after he signed on October 30, 2018. That was Pryor's second team in 2018, as he had a short stint with the Jets.
Pryor is currently a free agent, but I don't see him signing with a new team anytime soon. He didn't play well at all this season with the Bills or the New York Jets for that matter. He was once a standout quarterback in college, but he switched to receiver to prolong his career. Well, it's now been two full seasons where Pryor has shown no production.
6 Sam Bradford
My list wouldn't be complete without free agent quarterback Sam Bradford. He most recently played for the Arizona Cardinals, a team in which he initially signed a two-year, $20 million contract with $15 million guaranteed. Obviously, he lost his starting gig to rookie quarterback Josh Rosen, after Bradford was just absolutely laughable in his Cardinals starts.
The Cardinals eventually released Bradford after the Oklahoma alumnus was inactive for five straight weeks after his benching. He has been out of work since November 3, 2018, and will likely continue to be a jobless man unless if he somehow snaps out of his struggling funk.
5 Jonathan Stewart
Many were surprised that the Giants bothered signing Jonathan Stewart to a contract, only to take Saquon Barkley 2nd overall in the draft. With Barkley arguably being the best rookie in the NFL in 2018 and only expected to get better, the Giants would essentially be paying Stewart to keep riding the bench if they brought him back for the second year of his contract. Expect the Giants to cut Stewart and from there, Stewart may find some trouble landing work on the open market, as there are some top tier running backs available in free agency. If Stewart does come back in 2019, it might be a mid-season signing.
4 Earl Thomas
This one would be quite surprising if it happened, but we've seen some players choose to retire in their early 30s. Thomas has been in the league since 2010. He was a starting free safety in the Emerald City in the early years of his career. Fast forward to the 2018 NFL season when he was carted off the field with a lower leg injury in Week 4 against the Arizona Cardinals. Love him or hate him, it has become sort of an easy to forget that he's still on the Seahawks' roster. He's trying to get his body back, but his future in the NFL appears to be in question as he doesn't have a clean bill of health.
3 Robert Griffin III
Baltimore Ravens backup quarterback Robert Griffin III, also known as "RG3," made headlines for the first time in a while on December 2, 2018. The headline was a good and bad thing as he threw his first pass in an NFL game since 2016. And, as you can see, the headline can speak for itself.
RG3 managed to find a job with the Baltimore Ravens this season, but he quickly moved down the depth chart as rookie Lamar Jackson developed. Sure, he received another chance in the league, but will Baltimore bring him back? While Griffin's mobility makes him a sensible backup choice for Jackson, one has to wonder if the Ravens may simply look at a more durable option.
2 Larry Fitzgerald
Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald has been in the league since 2004. He was selected third overall by the Cardinals in the 2004 NFL Draft. He played college football at Pitt. Yes, Fitzgerald has made a lot of memories over the years, but his future as a Cardinal is up in the air. He hasn't said whether or not the Cards' trajectory will influence his decision, but he also hasn't discussed a contract extension with the Cards yet.
There's no doubt that Fitzgerald is a future Hall of Famer, so no matter what he decides (or experiences), he'll be fine either way.
1 Alex Smith
I hate to say it, but veteran quarterback Alex Smith will likely be done sooner than later. Smith currently plays for the Washington Redskins, but he sustained a severe compound fracture to his tibia and fibula, respectively. After that, he underwent surgery and recovered from infections, but that clearly has set him back.
The Redskins' long-term plans for players like Smith also ended in an uncertain future. Smith signed a four-year, $94 million contract to be their starting QB and then this happened. This was the highest impact injury and it'll likely be the reason behind Smith's premature departure, as he's already in his mid 30s.