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 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.
19 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.
18 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.
17 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.
16 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.
15 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.
14 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.
13 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.
12 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.
11 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.
10 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.
9 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.
8 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.
7 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.
6 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.
5 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.
4 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.
3 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.
2 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.
1 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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