If you were to poll all professional athletes – whether it be in the NFL, MLB, the NBA or the NHL – they would more than likely want to stay with one franchise throughout the duration of their playing days.
Unfortunately, for one reason or another, not all of these athletes are able to accomplish this feat.
For every Dan Marino, Barry Sanders, Walter Payton and Dick Butkus, there are a vast majority of players who jump from team to team throughout their careers – whether they like it or not. Did anyone ever think Peyton Manning wouldn’t retire as a Colt? As legendary as Tom Brady is, you still can’t rule out that his career may end elsewhere.
It’s become rarer and rarer today for an athlete to remain with one team throughout their entire career, thanks to the introduction of salary caps and teams needing to be as fiscally responsible as possible. Also, with all the coach and GM firings, loyalties to a certain player will quickly disappear.
While some have found success on these foreign teams, others have continued playing due to stubbornness or a difficulty of letting go of a professional football career.
Alas, let’s take a look at the countdown of top 15 NFL players who finished their careers on random teams. This list will focus on franchise players, legends who had most of their career with one team, only to put on a different uniform at the end. They just never looked quite right in those other uniforms.
15. Isaac Bruce – San Francisco 49ers
The “Greatest Show on Turf” was the nickname for the ultra-talented and efficient offense of the St. Louis Rams in the late 90s and early 00s. At the heart of the show? Wide receiver Isaac Bruce.
Bruce, drafted by the Rams when they were still located in Los Angeles, is not so arguably the most prolific receiver to don the blue and gold. Over his 14-year stint with the Rams, Bruce amassed 14,000 receiving yards, caught 84 touchdowns, went to four Pro Bowls, won Super Bowl XXXIV and had his number retired by the team.
Although he was clearly on the downside of his career, Bruce wanted to keep going – but the Rams cut him for refusing to take a pay cut.
In two seasons with the San Francisco 49ers, Bruce only caught seven touchdowns, with 1,099 yards. Realizing it was over, he accepted a trade to the Rams to retire with the team he started with.
Regardless, it was odd to see Bruce in any other uniform but the Rams.
14. Tony Dorsett – Denver Broncos
He may not be known to some of the younger NFL fans, but running back Tony Dorsett was – and still is – one of the best rushers of all time.
With the Dallas Cowboys for 11 years, Dorsett accomplished a multitude of feats, including four Pro Bowl appearances, an All-Pro selection, the 1977 Offensive Rookie of the Year, while rushing for over 1,000 yards in eight of his first nine campaigns. On top of that, Dorsett is in the Cowboys Ring of Honor and both the Pro Football and College Hall of Fame.
At 34 years old, Dorsett was sent to the Denver Broncos in a trade. Although he led the team in both rushing yards (703) and rushing touchdowns (5), his career ended after the season due to injuries.
13. Ed Reed – Houston Texans/New York Jets
During his time with the Baltimore Ravens, there was no defensive back more feared and respected than safety Ed Reed.
By way of the University of Miami, Reed was a leader both in the locker room and on the field with the Ravens. In 11 seasons in Baltimore, Reed was a five-time All-Pro, a nine-time Pro Bowler and a Defensive Player of the Year in 2004, while also having NFL records in the top two longest interceptions returns, the most interception return yards of all time and the most playoff interceptions.
However, in hopes of continuing his playing days, Reed signed a three-year deal with the Houston Texans in 2013. Unfortunately, injuries and limited production caused the Texans to cut him after just seven games. After completing the season with the New York Jets, Reed sat out in 2014 and finally signed a one day contract with the Ravens earlier this year before retiring for good.
12. Thurman Thomas – Miami Dolphins
During the early 90s, there was no team as dominant as the Buffalo Bills. Although they didn’t win a Super Bowl, they made a trip to the big game in four straight seasons – and Thurman Thomas was an integral part of the offense.
Over 12 years in western New York, Thomas was awarded with multiple Pro Bowl and All Pro selections. To add to that, he was the NFL MVP in 1991, Offensive Player of the Year in 1992, while also being atop the Bills list of all major rushing categories. Thomas was elected to the NFL Hall of Fame in 2007, while being added to the Bills Wall of Fame two years prior.
Instead of putting an end to his playing days after an injury riddled 1999 season, Thomas wanted to keep going – so he signed with the Miami Dolphins. In his nine games played, Thomas showed he wasn’t the player he once was, as he rushed for only 136 yards and zero touchdowns.
11. Eddie George – Dallas Cowboys
While he won’t be on anyone’s top-10 list of all-time running backs, Eddie George was a fixture in the NFL over his eight-year career with the Houston Oilers/Tennessee Titans.
Using a mix of both speed and power, George rushed for over 10,000 yards from 1996-2003. He also was a part of four Pro Bowls, while earning All Pro honors in 2000 and Offensive Rookie of the Year in 1996.
A mix of production decline, lower leg injuries and not agreeing to take a pay cut, Titans brass decided to release George heading into the 2004 season.
After agreeing to a deal with the Dallas Cowboys, George underperformed (eight games, 432 yards, four touchdowns) and decided to retire at season’s end.
10. Joe Namath – Los Angeles Rams
Sure, Joe Namath is one of the most overrated quarterbacks of all time. However, that doesn’t take away the fact that he led the New York Jets to an improbable Super Bowl III victory, while also becoming a media star.
That’s why it was so odd to see the Hall of Fame QB, famously known as “Broadway Joe,” take his talents to Los Angeles to play for the Rams.
After having his number retired by the Jets, while also being MVP of Super Bowl III – among many AFL awards – Namath was a shell of himself with the Rams, as he only started four games while throwing three touchdowns and five interceptions.
9. Jim Taylor – New Orleans Saints
The fullback position may be a dying breed in today’s NFL, but when the game first started they were a big part of a team’s offense – and there may be no better fullback than Green Bay Packers great Jim Taylor.
In nine years in the cold Wisconsin weather, Taylor was a true menace, as he led the Packers to the inaugural Super Bowl victory. On top of that, not only was Taylor named to five Pro Bowls and an All Pro team, but also was the NFL MVP in 1962.
After a career with the Packers that saw Taylor rush for over 8,000 yards and 81 touchdowns, he moved on to the New Orleans Saints, where he just had two touchdowns and 290 yards in 14 games before retiring.
8. Earl Campbell – New Orleans Saints
Widely regarded as one of the greatest power backs in football history, Earl Campbell was a menacing runner during his days with the Houston Oilers.
Over six seasons in Texas, Campbell racked of plenty of awards. During that span, the Hall of Famer was a five time Pro Bowler, three time All Pro, Rookie of the Year in in 1978, NFL MVP in three consecutive seasons (1978-1980) and three-time rushing champion as well.
However, in the middle of the 1984 season, Campbell was shipped to the New Orleans Saints. Fears that his skills had diminished came true, as Campbell only had one rushing touchdown in a season and a half.
7. LaDainian Tomlinson – New York Jets
For many spectators, LaDainian Tomlinson could be considered as the last great running back, as the position has gone down a slippery slope in recent years. As a member of the San Diego Chargers from 2001-2009, there may have been no more dynamic player in the entire NFL than Tomlinson.
During his time with the Chargers, Tomlinson had over 16,000 total yards and 153 touchdowns, as he was dominant in both the run and pass game. Tomlinson also won a list of awards, including three time All Pro, five Pro Bowls, Offensive Player of the Year and league MVP in 2006 and a two-time rushing leader.
Reaching the free agent market for the first time, Tomlinson made his way to New York to play for the Jets. Although he climbed the record books over his two years in green, you could tell that he was in the twilight of his playing career.
6. Brett Favre – Minnesota Vikings
Sure, he was drafted and played in two games with the Atlanta Falcons, but everyone knows that Brett Favre is a Green Bay Packer – Even though he left them before his career ended.
Although Aaron Rodgers is catching up, Favre is still regarded as the greatest quarterback in team history – and he has the credentials to back it up. In 16 seasons in Green Bay, Favre dominated the league, en route to 11 Pro Bowls, three first team All Pro selections, five time NFC Player of the Year, four time passing touchdown leader and three straight MVPs.
However, with the team ready to hand Rodgers the QB job, Favre was shipped to the New York Jets, where he started out strong but fizzled out towards the end.
His last stop was with the Packers’ divisional rivals, the Minnesota Vikings. After bringing the team to the NFC Championship game in 2009, he wasn’t as sharp the following year, which saw him subsequently retire at season’s end.
5. Emmitt Smith – Arizona Cardinals
Atop the list of greatest running backs of all time is unquestionably Emmitt Smith of the Dallas Cowboys’ 90s dynasty.
There weren’t many things that Smith didn’t do while he was playing for America’s team. Besides being a four time All Pro and four time NFL Rushing Leader, Smith is also the only running back in NFL history that has ever won a Super Bowl, NFL MVP, NFL rushing title and Super Bowl MVP in one season. To add to his spectacular resume, Smith is the all-time rushing leader, in the Dallas Cowboys Ring of Honor and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2010.
Seeing Smith accomplish all of those feats on one team was amazing. Unfortunately, he couldn’t end his career by doing so.
At 34, Smith joined the Arizona Cardinals for two seasons and while he wasn’t a complete bust (1,193 yards, 11 touchdowns in two years), it was just too odd to see him in red.
4. Jerry Rice – Oakland Raiders/Seattle Seahwaks
Like Emmitt Smith was to the running back position, Jerry Rice is to wide receiver – he was simply the best.
Spending 16 years with the San Francisco 49ers, Rice was arguably the best player in the entire league over that span. His awards list includes three time Super Bowl champion, a Super Bowl MVP, 10 time first team All-Pro, two time NFL Offensive Player of the Year, while being atop the all-time list in receptions, receiving yards and receiving touchdowns.
However, with Terrell Owens coming into his own, Rice was sent to the Oakland Raiders, where he spent four seasons. After having two strong campaigns, Rice’s talent began to fade away. After being traded to the Seattle Seahawks midway through the 2004 season, Rice retired once the season concluded.
3. Reggie White – Carolina Panthers
While defensive end is a highly regarded position, there could be an argument made that no one played it as well as Reggie White.
White had the opportunity to make a distinctive impact on two separate franchises, as he could be viewed in both a Philadelphia Eagles uniform or in Green Bay Packers colors. Over 14 years with both teams, White dominated the opposition; he was a 13-time Pro-Bowler, a 12-time All-Pro and two-time Defensive Player of the Year, while also ranking second in all-time sacks.
After calling it quits in at the end of the 1998 season, White didn’t feel his career was complete, as he returned to the NFL for the 2000 season.
Although he five and a half sacks and one forced fumble in 16 starts, White just looked out of place in a Carolina Panthers uniform.
2. Johnny Unitas – San Diego Chargers
Quarterback Johnny Unitas was one of the most special players in NFL history. He was athletic and a strong passer, while being media friendly and immensely popular; he was the prototype for today’s quarterbacks.
Playing with the then Baltimore Colts from 1956-1972, Unitas was a three time NFL Champion, three time Pro Bowl MVP, five time first team All Pro and four time NFL MVP. On top of that, he played in “The Greatest Game That Was Ever Played,” while holding the record for most consecutive games with touchdown passes for 52 years – one that wasn’t broken until 2012 by Drew Brees.
However, at 40 years old, the Colts wanted to move on and Unitas was shipped to the San Diego Chargers. With Unitas clearly being on his last legs, he only started four games for the Chargers, while only throwing three touchdowns over 471 yards.
1. Joe Montana – Kansas City Chiefs
In a list like this, there is no other player that can be above “The Comeback Kid” Joe Montana.
Montana, the San Francisco 49ers quarterback from 1979-1992, is constantly regarded as one of the greatest players to ever live, and his strong statistics easily back up that claim.
In Montana’s four Super Bowl winning seasons, he was the first player ever to win three Super Bowl MVPs. Added to that is two NFL MVP awards, three first team All Pro selections and two time NFL passing touchdowns leader, while also being first in all of the 49ers major passing categories.
With Steve Young emerging as a legitimate replacement, the 49ers sent Montana to the Kansas City Chiefs, thus ending an era in San Francisco.
Although he was 37, Montana had some success with the Chiefs, as he went 17-8 with 5,427 yards and 29 touchdowns in two seasons.
However, it wasn’t right seeing “Joe Cool” in anything but a 49ers jersey.
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