At this point, calling the NFL a business is as tired a cliche as the ‘No Fun League’ and ‘Bill Belicheat’, but we get it. There’s going to be a time where, whether for age or you not being good enough to compete at the level expected, you part ways with your team.
Or, the team overpaid you or reached on you in the draft. That’s the Matt Millen theory.
But, there’s also plenty of veteran NFL players still in the league today that, either because of age or current obscurity, have been forgotten; from former All-Pros to recent draft busts, we forget that some of these players are on rosters until the games start being televised again and we say, “wait, THEY’RE still playing?”
Today, let’s look at some of the NFL’s current players that fit into that category. We should note all of the below players were active in the NFL last year – one of them, though, is currently a free agent and hasn’t declared retirement yet; the other free agent is almost certain to play this year barring an injury. Players that are participating in non-NFL leagues, such as Terrell Owens and the flag football tournament, are not on this list; we’ll save that for something else.
With that said, let’s tour the NFL to see what forgotten players are preparing for training camp.
We should note all of the below players were active in the NFL last year – one of them, though, is currently a free agent and hasn’t declared retirement yet; the other free agent is almost certain to play this year barring an injury. Players that are participating in non-NFL leagues, such as Terrell Owens and the flag football tournament, are not on this list; we’ll save that for something else.
15. Matt Moore – QB, Miami Dolphins
We start our list off with one of the younger players on this list in Dolphins quarterback Matt Moore. Now, Moore likely would have been higher on this list if we did this in July 2016 rather than July 2017, as he finally saw serious game action last year. Replacing Ryan Tannehill as the Dolphins’ starting quarterback after the former first-rounder sprained his ACL and MCL, Moore led the Dolphins to a 2-1 record in three starts with an 8-3 TD-INT ratio. This, after not starting a game since 2011 and throwing a combined 30 passes from 2012-15.
Helping the Phins clinch their first postseason berth since 2008, Moore also started the Wild Card loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers, completing 80.6 percent of his passes but fumbling twice in the 30-12 loss. Is there a quarterback battle brewing in South Beach? Probably not.
14. Derek Anderson – QB, Carolina Panthers
Ten years after his 29 touchdown season for the Cleveland Browns in 2007, Derek Anderson is still hanging around as Cam Newton’s backup – and, when the former MVP gets hurt or is benched for violating the dress code (do better, Cam), his fill-in. In seven seasons with the Panthers, Anderson has thrown for a 7-5 TD-INT ratio and probably has a job under Ron Rivera for years to come.
At 34 years old and ten years removed from a career season, we’re likely never going to see a team like the New York Jets or San Francisco 49ers – or, if the contract battles with Kirk Cousins continue, the Washington Redskins – sign Anderson to be the starter, but he’s proven to be a viable backup in Carolina. Would you have imagined he’d also be more mature than Newton?
13. Vince Wilfork – DT, Free Agent
Wilfork is an interesting case, as we recently explained, because he’s a free agent who may not even play this year. But, whenever his name gets mentioned as a veteran defensive line option, people seem to react with, “wait, he’s still playing?” So yes, Vince, you make our list. Will we see Wilfork in 2017? That’s to be determined, but here’s what he told Pro Football Talk Live in May 2017.
“I’m taking everything I can take to make sure I’m 100 percent certain on whatever decision I make. However long it’s going to take it will take. It’s the reason I haven’t signed anything yet, because I want to see what it is, how I feel.”
I’d have to imagine that, when Mike Florio announced ‘free agent defensive tackle Vince Wilfork’ was coming on the air, most people tweeted him asking, “wait, he’s still playing????”
Update: Vince Wilfork recently announced his retirement, with this hilarious video.
— Vince Wilfork (@wilfork75) August 7, 2017
12. E.J. Manuel – QB, Oakland Raiders
A first-round pick of the Buffalo Bills in 2013, E.J. Manuel should not be on this list. When you’re taken with a first-round pick, you should either be on positive lists (i.e. Ten First-Round Players From The ___ NFL Draft Who Have Exceeded Expectations) or lists describing them as busts. But landing on a list about players that fans have forgotten are still active? I’d say poor EJ Manuel, but that’s the Buffalo Bills for you.
Sticking with the Oakland Raiders, Manuel is now teammates with Janikowski, though the former Florida State signal-caller will be serving as the third-stringer behind Derek Carr and Connor Cook. Is there a chance Manuel beats out Cook for the backup spot? Possibly, but are you really expecting that to happen? Manuel is just another forgotten name…
11. Chad Henne – QB, Jacksonville Jaguars
Chad Henne’s situation isn’t much different than Matt Moore, who, ironically, replaced the ex-Michigan quarterback as the starter in Miami. Originally Chad Pennington’s replacement when the oft-injured former first-rounder was hurt in September 2009, Henne led the Dolphins to a 13-14 record in his first two seasons before being benched for Moore in 2011.
Staying in Florida but traveling up north to Jacksonville, Henne started 22 games in three years for the Jaguars before Gus Bradley handed the keys to Blake Bortles. That’s turned out well. With Bortles on the hot seat and Doug Marrone having replaced Bradley, there’s a realistic chance Henne could be starting again if the former UCF star struggles to begin the 2017 season. If that’s the case, I’d have to think Bortles won’t be on this list next year.
10. Christian Ponder – QB, Free Agent
Yet another quarterback on this list (I promise this will be the last one!) that has gone from starting duties to likely being a bench player for the rest of his career, Christian Ponder was probably doomed from the start in Minnesota – and this was BEFORE the team lost Sidney Rice to the Seahawks in free agency and traded for Donovan McNabb. Ponder was a project quarterback taken way too early in the 2011 NFL Draft (what were the Vikings thinking taking him 12th overall!) and was relegated to the bench by 2013. Welp…
After stints with the Oakland Raiders and Denver Broncos in 2015, Ponder spent 2016 with the San Francisco 49ers as the ‘forgotten quarterback’ during the Colin Kaepernick drama. Now a free agent, we’ll likely see Ponder get a chance sooner rather than later because…he’s not protesting the anthem.
9. Sebastian Janikowski – K, Oakland Raiders
Yep, C-Bas (or is it Cee-Bas? C-Bass?) is still playing for the Raiders and, at age 39, he’s a spring chicken compared to some of the league’s other placekickers. Remember when Al Davis and thre Oakland Raiders used a first-round pick on him in 2000? Well, Janikowski has survived the Oakland turmoil and Lane Kiffin sending him to make a 73 yard field goal (when Kiffin tries to do this with FAU kicker Greg Joseph on September 1 against Navy, we’ll know where it originated from).
Janikowski has been his usual consistent self the past three years, making 83.1 percent of his field goals; since the extra point was pushed back in 2015, Janikowski has made 75 of 78 PATs. Will this be the season C-Bass finally takes home a Super Bowl ring?
8. Alfred Morris – RB, Dallas Cowboys
Have you ever listened to Florida Atlantic’s fight song? Despite the team’s football program being founded in 1998 and starting play in 2001, FAU’s fight song is…well, I’d call it campy, but that’d be an insult to the 1960s Batman show. The reason I bring up this disturbingly terible song is that NFL fans seem to forget that Alfred Morris, one of the top players in FAU program history and the 2012 rushing champion with the Washington Redskins, is still playing!
Yes, Morris is entering his second season with the Dallas Cowboys, though 2017 should figure to be a better season for the former sixth-rounder than 2016. With Ezekiel Elliott facing a possible suspension and Darren McFadden constantly injured, there’s a realistic chance Morris starts on day one for the Dallas Cowboys. Will he Wally Pipp Elliott? Probably not, but FAU fans can at least hope Morris enjoys a resurgent season.
7. Phil Dawson – K, Arizona Cardinals
Remember when I called Sebastian Janikowski a spring chicken compared to some of the other special teams players on this list? Well, old Phil Dawson – 43 in January – proves that even the eldest men can kick, as the former Texas kicker enters his 19th season in the pros. Well, technically it’d be his 20th because Dawson was a free agent for all of 1998, but the point remains. Phil Dawson is old!
Through his first 18 seasons, Dawson has made 84.5 percent of his field goals, though his numbers in San Francisco (86.1) were slightly better than Cleveland (86.1). Since 2007, Dawson has made 86.1 percent of his kicks and even made a Pro Bowl in 2012 to conclude his time with the Browns. What will he do in Arizona?
6. Joe Staley – OT, San Francisco 49ers
For a player that made five straight Pro Bowls from 2011-15 and was a key member of the 49ers team that made the Super Bowl in early 2013, why do we forget Joe Staley is still active? Is it because he’s an offensive lineman and no one cares about the big uglies? Is it because of the Colin Kaepernick drama from last year where our entire attention was on him and the players that kneeled for the anthem, or is it because the team hasn’t made the postseason since 2013?
Whatever the reason, Joe Staley is still playing and looks to again be a major piece of the 49ers this year. There’s not many players left from that Super Bowl team, especially on the offensive side of the ball, so Staley’s veteran experience will be helpful in this rebuilding period.
5. Austin Seferian-Jenkins – TE, New York Jets
Normally, we probably wouldn’t put a player from the 2014 NFL Draft and who will still only be 24 years old when the season kicks off, so why does Austin Seferian-Jenkins make it here? Nicknamed Hercules, Seferian-Jenkins was hyped as recently as last season as the Dallas Clark to Jameis Winston’s Peyton Manning, the Rob Gronkowski to his Tom Brady; a playmaking tight end that could be dangerous in the right situation.
Well, Seferian-Jenkins has been dangerous, but moreso for his own sake than against opposing defenses. Released by the Buccaneers after on-field struggles and off-the-field incidents, Seferian-Jenkins will look to play a big role for the New York Jets this season…once his two game suspension for violating the league’s substance abuse policy ends. We’ll see you week three, Austin.
4. Terence Newman – CB, Minnesota Vikings
Not only is Terence Newman still a key contributor for the Minnesota Vikings at nearly 39 years old (his birthday is September 4, so happy early birthday!), but he’s shutting down opponents at a high level. Even last year missing some time, Newman played some of the best ball of his life. If you don’t believe us, check out this stat from Pro Football Focus:
“Over an entire season – 427 snaps in coverage – Newman gave up 245 yards. Raiders CB Sean Smith was at 183 after Week 1. In that game, Smith allowed 119 yards after the catch as he was torched by Brandin Cooks and the New Orleans Saints. Newman allowed 31 yards after the catch – 26 percent of the figure Smith allowed in the first game of the season – all year.”
3. Shane Lechler – P, Houston Texans
Are we really talking about a punter? Yes, we are really talking about a punter because, come on, Shane Lechler is still one of the best at his craft as he approaches 41 years old (he’ll hit that mark on August 7, likely around when this article will go up. Happy early birthday!). A fifth-round pick of the Oakland Raiders in 2000, Lechler – unlike his ex-teammate Sebastian Janikowski, who will probably still be kicking when the team moves to Las Vegas – has taken his talents to Houston.
Now granted, football fans normally don’t care about punters unless they lay out the boom on kick returns (hi, Pat McAfee), call out the NFL for drug testing (hi, Pat McAfee), or link up with Barstool (bye, Pat McAfee) but Lechler has been around forever. Unlike McAfee, Lechler is still playing!
2. Karlos Dansby – LB, Arizona Cardinals
Despite starting a carer-low seven games last year, Karlos Dansby is still going at the age of 35. Not bad! And now, he’s back with the Arizona Cardinals, who he played with from 2004-09 and again in 2013. Even better! In that time, Dansby has also played for Miami, Cleveland, and Cincinnati, but we’re always going to remember him for his heroics and leadership with the Cardinals.
“I got a lot left,” he said. “I’ve been blessed, man. I can’t lie. God has shown me tremendous favors. Who would have known I’d be back this fast? It’s time for me to come back home and time for me to finish what we started.”
1. Tim Hightower, RB, San Francisco 49ers
At first, we were going to put Dansby as the top player on this list, but his ex-teammate Tim Hightower gets the nod here. From 2012-14, Hightower didn’t play a single game in the NFL after playing in all 48 from 2008-10 with the Arizona Cardinals. In 2015, though, the former fifth-round pick re-emerged with the Saints and ran for 375 yards and four scores on 3.9 yards per rush. Not bad!
Last year, playing in all 16 games for the Saints, Hightower recorded 748 yards from scrimmage – including 548 rushing yards and four scores on 4.1 yards per carry – and parlayed that into a one-year deal with the 49ers with $300,000 guaranteed. Considering where he was only two years ago, that’s a hell of a comeback for a guy willing to work hard enough.
Which of these players did you forget were still in the NFL? Make sure to let us know in the comment section below.
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