Sometimes you just need to know when to hang 'em up, and for these National Football League Players, that time is now. It's never an easy decision to make for sure, but these athletes would be best suited calling it a career.
Age is a huge factor in the NFL. In most sports, players can play into their late 30s and sometimes even their 40s. The NFL isn't most sports thanks to the brutal nature of the game. This is generally a young man's sport, with a few exceptions here and there throughout the league that break the mold.
With age comes ineffectiveness, and oftentimes, injury. Older players are more susceptible to injuries, especially running backs who seem to deteriorate quickly and get injured even more after hitting 30.
NFL players can pay the price for injuries for the rest of their lives, regardless of age. Young players who are repeatedly injured are putting themselves in a dangerous place, especially when talking about the long-term effects of concussions, which NFL players have to deal with on a weekly basis.
Some players on this list are young and healthy, but their off-the-field issues are too much to ignore. As a result, these players are best off hanging up the cleats in order to get their lives together in the hopes of having some semblance of normalcy in their future.
20 Tony Romo
Romo has regularly been among the walking wounded in the NFL the past few seasons. If it isn't a minor injury he's dealing with, it's a major one and he has taken on the identity as a brittle, injury-prone player.
In 2016 Romo suffered an injury to his back during preseason that has forced him to miss significant time, one season after also injuring his back and playing in just four games. Back injuries are as bad as they come in any sport and Romo is dangerously toying with his own physical well-being as fans cringe every time he gets hit.
Now that rookie quarterback Dak Prescott is rising in Dallas, Romo's days as the starting quarterback for the Cowboys are numbered. He should walk away while he physically still can and before he's forced to be embarrassed by losing his job and being released or traded as well.
19 Arian Foster
There were few running backs better than Foster when the 30-year-old was healthy and on top of his game. The only problem for Foster is that he's never healthy.
After missing a combined total of 23 games over the past three seasons due to major injuries and other various soft-tissue problems, Foster moved on to Miami this season to see if he could revitalize his career.
Unfortunately for Foster, that isn't happening. In his limited action Foster wasn't very effective and it only took two weeks for Foster to come down with another soft-tissue injury.
It's understandable that Foster wants to recapture his glory days and just stay healthy, but it simply isn't in the cards for one of the most notoriously injured players in the league. At his age, things won't get easier and it's time Foster gives up on his NFL career.
18 Jordan Cameron
The second Dolphin on this list, Cameron is another player walking a fine line between healthy and permanently damaged.
Cameron became a known commodity in the NFL back in 2013 when he emerged for 917 yards and seven touchdowns in his third season. As one of the better pass-catching tight ends in the league, things were certainly promising.
Then the avalanche of concussions came crashing down on Cameron and he has compiled a whopping four in the past four years. His fourth came in Week 3 of this season, adding even more cause for concern for the 28-year-old.
Nowadays we all know the deal with concussions and the negative and destructive lifelong effects it can have on the human brain. Despite his young age and overall talent as a player, Cameron needs to think big picture and how bad his life could potentially be if he doesn't end his career soon.
17 Justin Forsett
When the Ray Rice scandal blew up all over the nation in 2014, the Ravens found themselves in turmoil both on and off the field. The turmoil on it was that Rice's decision would cost his team a running back.
Enter Forsett, who would more than fill Rice's shoes. Forsett compiled over 1,500 total yards and eight touchdowns for the Ravens, softening the blow of losing Rice to his domestic violence issues.
The next season wasn't so kind to Forsett. He would play in just 10 games due to injury and his yards-per-carry average dropped a full yard. The 2016 campaign brought new hope for Forsett after signing a two-year deal with the Ravens. That deal didn't work out at all, however, as Forsett played poorly and lost starting duties to Terrance West.
After being a healthy inactive in Week 4, Forsett was dropped by the Ravens with rookie Kenneth Dixon finally healthy and ready to be the future of Baltimore's backfield. Now in his 30s, Forsett's days as a productive back are clearly over.
16 Chris Johnson
Johnson was signed by the Cardinals in 2015 and began the season as the backup to starter Andre Ellington. Johnson quickly established himself as a reliable player and eventually became the starter for head coach Bruce Arians. With that head of steam, Johnson looked primed to keep his starting job in Arizona for the foreseeable future; however a late-season injury stopped Johnson in his tracks and allowed rookie running back David Johnson to assume to starting role.
Nothing changed in 2016, with the younger Johnson winning the starting job over the older one. Since then, David has been one of the best running backs in the league, let alone on his own team. That leaves Chris as a backup and nothing more. Four weeks into the 2016 season, it was discovered that Johnson needed sports hernia surgery and would be placed on injured reserve for an absence of at least eight weeks.
That was the last thing a 31-year-old back needed to hear. The man formerly known as "CJ2K" for his 2,000-yard season with the Tennessee Titans is now an afterthought in the NFL and has been for quite some time, with the exception of a few flashes here and there. The writing is on the wall for Johnson to call it quits.
15 Robert Griffin III
The Washington Redskins traded an arm and a leg to move up and draft Griffin at no. 2 overall, which at first seemed to work out beautifully for the Redskins. RG3 was spectacular in his rookie season, throwing for 3,200 yards and 20 touchdowns, with 815 rushing yards and seven additional touchdowns.
After tearing his ACL late in his rookie season, RG3 has been on a downward spiral ever since. He came back in 2013 and played relatively well, but there was a noticeable difference in his quality of play through the 2014 season and he would eventually lose his job to Kirk Cousins. He would end up spending all of 2015 on the bench.
Hoping for a fresh start, Griffin III moved on to Cleveland in 2016, where quarterbacks go to die. He suffered yet another injury in Week 1 - this time a broken bone in his shoulder -that will sideline him likely for the remainder of the season. We all held out hope Griffin would return to form in a new home, but it's the same old problems for a 26-year-old that can't stay on the field. If you can't stay healthy, then what's the point?
14 Andre Johnson
Yes, Johnson is still in the league. The same Johnson that was a star receiver for the Houston Texans for an entire decade and has now become totally irrelevant in the league.
After it was clear his days in Houston were over, Johnson moved on to play with the Indianapolis Colts last season. Johnson's complete downfall was evident after he posted a career-low 503 yards and four touchdowns for Indy in a reserve role he wasn't used to after being a no. 1 for the Texans.
Now as a member of the Titans this season, Johnson's numbers are diving even more to start his Titans tenure and his presence on the roster isn't even worth talking about. Johnson probably should have retired after last season, but clearly he still thinks he has something left. Judging by the numbers, Johnson is wrong.
13 Danny Woodhead
Woodhead wasn't supposed to have a productive career as an undersized running back who went undrafted; however Woodhead made the most of his small stature and has been an incredibly productive player when healthy.
In two of his four seasons with the Chargers, Woodhead compiled over 1,000 total yards in each and was one of quarterback Philip Rivers' top targets. The other two seasons in San Diego have been marred by injury for Woodhead. In 2014 he suffered a broken ankle that ended his season early, and in 2016 he tore his ACL to once again put him on the shelf.
At age 31 (32 in January 2017), Woodhead's major injury will cause him to lose a step more likely than not. He had enough trouble staying on the field when his legs were healthy and under him, but he's even more of an injury risk with diminished abilities. Football fans appreciate Woodhead being the little guy who did big things, but it's time for him to step away and not let his inevitable downfall happen in front of our eyes.
12 Josh Gordon
Gordon's problems with substance abuse have been well-documented since he entered the league back in 2012. It was 2013 when he first put himself on the map following a breakout campaign with 1,646 yards receiving and nine touchdowns.
That kind of success was short-lived. The following season Gordon would play in only five games after being suspended for violating the league's substance-abuse policy. He missed all of 2015 thanks to another substance abuse-related infraction.
It seemed Gordon was ready to return this year after serving yet another suspension that caused him to miss the first four games; however Gordon decided to step away from football in order to fix his substance abuse problem by going to rehab. He is expected to once again miss an entire season of football.
Clearly, Gordon is a very troubled young man who needs some guidance in his life. Perhaps getting back on a football field and being a star player in this day and age isn't a good fit for his personality type. Gordon should take a real good look at himself the rest of this season and think about how he can realistically handle being a millionaire with demons. So far, he hasn't proven he can, and that's why he needs to help himself by getting out of the spotlight for good.
11 Larry Fitzgerald
Fitzgerald is a different case than most on this list. He is still playing at a high level despite being an elder statesman in the league. In 2015, Fitzgerald put up one of his best years statistically with 1,215 receiving yards and nine touchdowns. It became quite obvious that the 33-year-old still has plenty left in the tank, regardless of what people thought.
While there's no question Fitzgerald can still bang with the best of them in this league, there are still rumors saying he will retire at season's end. After all, there isn't much more Fitzgerald needs to prove as a player who ranks among the best of all time at his position.
The only thing left for such an accomplished Hall of Fame receiver is a Super Bowl ring. Hardware has eluded Fitzgerald his entire career and it isn't for a lack of trying, either. Fitzgerald's Cardinals have been there and lost back in Super Bowl XLIII versus the Pittsburgh Steelers. Last season the Cardinals were a favorite to go to Santa Clara after a stellar regular season, but things fell apart in the NFC Championship when QB Carson Palmer threw four picks in a 49-15 beatdown at the hands of the Carolina Panthers.
In 2016, Fitzgerald's squad hasn't started as strong as he and a struggling and seemingly always injured Carson Palmer is partially to blame. It looks like another one of those years where the Cardinals will come up empty in the face of huge expectations, something no. 11 has grown accustomed to. I like Fitzgerald too much to see him go, but I also don't want to see him any other way than at the top of his game and in a Cardinals uniform. Don't hang around any longer, Larry; just go out on top.
10 Greg Hardy
As a member of the Panthers, Hardy was one of those special talents who could get after the quarterback like no other. He had the potential to be a superstar in the NFL for years to come, but he squandered his opportunity by being a criminal.
When the NFL was dealing with the backlash of players being involved in bad domestic violence situations, Hardy became the face of everything that was wrong with the situation. He was accused of physically assaulting his girlfriend viciously, charged, and later found guilty by a judge in a North Carolina court. He only escaped the charges when he requested a jury trial in accordance with North Carolina law and had the case dismissed when the star witness disappeared.
He was rightfully shamed and would have been out of the league sooner if not for the 'Boys, with owner and general manager Jerry Jones salivating over the prospect of having a good pass-rusher, morality be damned. He spent 2015 in Dallas, where he became a complete disaster for the team and was often seen jawing at teammates on the sidelines.
Thankfully, Jones finally got his wits about him and let Hardy walk after the season. The 28-year-old has since been arrested again, this time for cocaine possession. At this moment, no team will touch Hardy because of his criminal and on-the-field track record as an absolute nuisance and bad guy. He likely doesn't even have an option for a team to take him on at this point, but if he does, I hope he will do the rest of us a favor and just quit.
9 Robert Mathis
The ideal model of consistency and a Super Bowl winner, Mathis has been a force on the Colts' defense since 2003. He is without a shadow of a doubt in the upper echelon of Colts players in team history and his 118 sacks puts him no. 20 all-time in NFL history.
The beginning of the end came in 2014 for Mathis when he suffered a torn Achilles and missed the entire season. It was a crushing blow for the Colts' defense, who had big hopes with Andrew Luck behind center.
His return in 2015 didn't turn out to be the boost that the Colts were hoping for. Mathis did stay healthy but his production dropped and he totaled just seven sacks in 15 games. This season hasn't been any better for Mathis, who continues to see his skills diminish and his numbers go down.
If things continue to go poorly, Mathis may not be long for Indy with the team needing to make major improvements up and down its roster. It would be a shame to see a lifelong Colt go to another team in an era where players rarely finish their careers on the team with which they started. Let's just hope Mathis doesn't fall into that category.
8 Antonio Cromartie
The most interesting thing of note about Cromartie's career is that he has 12 kids that he must financially support. In total, he pays $336,000 per year in child support and the last thing Cromartie can do is retire.
Unfortunately for Cromartie, it looks like he's going to have to find another profession real soon. After catching on with the Colts in 2016, Cromartie played in just four games before being released. It's a sad state of affairs considering Cromartie couldn't hang on with arguably the worst defense in the NFL.
It's a far cry from what Cromartie once was when he totaled 10 interceptions and looked like an elite talent in his sophomore season. At 32 Cromartie is nowhere near that type of player anymore and he hasn't been for years now. His stop in Indy should be his last because clearly he's just playing for the money at this point.
7 Josh McCown
Another year, another major injury for the 37-year-old signal-caller, a career backup who just can't seem to catch a break whenever he gets the starting job. The same can be said for this season after McCown once again went down to injury after replacing fellow injured QB, RG3.
In 2015 McCown was slated to be the team's starter all season and actually put up some gaudy numbers while healthy, but a broken collarbone ended his campaign early. In 2016, McCown is again dealing with another serious injury to his shoulder, sidelining him for what will likely be a large chunk of the season at best.
Rookie QB Kody Kessler has exceeded expectations thus far, and if he continues there might not be a job left for McCown when he returns to a rebuilding Browns squad. Does McCown really want to go someplace else and claw for a starting job that isn't guaranteed? And even if he can succeed in that goal, does he want to put in all that work only to get injured again? The only thing certain about McCown's situation is that it's time to retire.
6 Dennis Pitta
Pitta's story is pretty incredible when you consider where he came from. The Ravens tight end suffered two hip dislocations in two years and it looked like his career was over after becoming a reliable target for quarterback Joe Flacco in 2012.
Instead, Pitta beat the odds and decided to return to the field in 2016 after his second procedure for the injury. It was an enormous risk taken by Pitta and he has even acknowledged that it could happen again at any time.
There was a point where Pitta wasn't sure if his hip would ever be the same again, even without football. Still, his desire to keep playing was evident in his return and he's doing his best to earn the five-year, $32 million deal he signed back in 2014.
While his story is great and Pitta is still playing at a high level this season, he shouldn't push it for too long. The longer he waits to call it a career, the bigger the risk that he will once again seriously injure his hip. Pitta should get it out of this system this season and move on to the next phase of his life.
5 Vincent Jackson
Jackson is one of the more underrated receivers of this generation in the NFL. The 33-year-old has broken 1,000 yards or more in a season six times in 11 seasons in the league.
A perennially healthy player, Jackson only played in ten contests last season but still managed to grab 33 balls for 543 yards and three touchdowns. Had he finished an entire season, the Bucs receiver likely could have added his seventh career 1,000-yard season.
The 2016 season is seeing a different player. Jackson looks like a shell of his former self to start the season and is averaging a career-low in yards per catch. The addition of receiver Mike Evans via the draft in 2014 gave the Bucs a new No. 1 receiver, leaving Jackson as a secondary option in the passing game.
It's a big fall off in only one year, but that's the way this thing goes sometimes. It's not to be unexpected considering Jackson will turn 34 in January of 2017 and is at the tail-end of his career. The time comes for everyone and this is Jackson's time.
4 Carson Palmer
Palmer has always been a solid quarterback in the NFL and has been a huge part of the revitalization of the Cardinals franchise in recent years. Despite that, the veteran quarterback suffers from two major problems: he can't stay healthy and he can't win a big game.
In 2014 Palmer tore his ACL for the second time in his career after signing a three-year, $50 million deal. The first instance of this injury came in 2006 at the worst time when the Bengals were playing the Steelers in a playoff game in which Palmer's team eventually lost.
The former USC Trojan QB was always known as the guy who couldn't win the big one, but he had a chance to change all of that last season in the NFC Championship game versus the Panthers. Palmer failed at his attempt to destroy that narrative by tossing four interceptions in a blowout 49-15 loss.
That was Palmer's best chance at a Super Bowl and he blew it. At this late stage in his career there won't be many more chances like that with the Cardinals' window closing quickly. The start of 2016 hasn't been kind to Palmer and the Cards, with Palmer playing some of the worst football of his career at age 36 (37 in December). Palmer might be hanging on in the hopes of winning a title, but he shouldn't wait much longer.
3 Vernon Davis
Davis' career should have been better than it was, but that was really no fault of his own. The 32-year-old tight end happened to be on a lot of bad 49ers teams that didn't have the quarterbacks to give Davis a chance to succeed fully.
Still, he was able to remain a productive player and was always considered one of the better pass-catching tight ends in the league at the top of his game.
The past two seasons have seen a negative change in Davis' productivity, even for a guy who never had good QBs. In 2014, Davis posted a career-low in receiving yards with 245 and failed to get into the end zone at all in 2015. Nine of those games last season were with a better Broncos passing attack.
At the moment, Davis is the Redskins' second-string on the depth chart and isn't far from being third. Considering that and the fact that Davis has slowed down mightily in recent years makes it plain to see that Davis isn't much of an asset anymore.
2 Steve Smith Sr.
Smith Sr. was on the verge of retiring following the 2015 season and would have gone through with it if not for suffering a major injury. Smith Sr. lost what would have been his last season in the NFL thanks to a torn Achilles injury.
The Ravens veteran and future Hall of Famer decided he couldn't go out like that, so he signed on to play another season in Baltimore. Though people were unsure of how good Smith would be when he returned for yet another season, the 37-year-old is proving doubters wrong and is still quarterback Joe Flacco's best target.
Smith looks primed to go out strong, if he decides to really go out. It's a tough call for a player at his age to hang up the cleats when he's still productive, but it's a decision he must make. Nobody likes a waffler when it comes to sports retirement and it's unlikely Smith will be that guy.
1 Darren McFadden
Just when McFadden thought his once promising career was over, the veteran running back responded with his second-best season on the ground with the Cowboys. Behind a great offensive line, McFadden broke the 1,000-yard mark for the first time in five years.
Before that, McFadden was dreadful and had been on the decline for years; however it appeared McFadden was about to bounce back—that is until the Cowboys drafted Ezekiel Elliot and signed Alfred Morris. To make matters worse for McFadden, he suffered a broken elbow before the start of the 2016 campaign and may face permanent damage to his arm.
McFadden's chances of returning are still good and he may see the field in 2016. Regardless, McFadden is no more than a third-string running back for Dallas and will likely be let go at the end of the season. He'll never play for an offensive line like that of Dallas' again should he go elsewhere in free agency, thus his numbers will never be anywhere near that good again.
Crossing into his 30s in August of 2017, McFadden is facing the running back doomsday age. Judging from his numbers even as a younger back, McFadden isn't likely to get better with age and the risk of further damage to his arm is too great. There isn't much left for this former no. 4 overall pick in what has been a truly disappointing career.
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