National Football League careers end each and every year. Many players find that they ride off into the sunset without much fanfare, in part because they did not make significant impacts on the field during meaningful games. Practice squad players who are unable to earn spots on depth charts ahead of more talented athletes are eventually forced to face the reality that their dreams of being NFL superstars who one day help a franchise win a Super Bowl are sadly never going to be realized. Some of those individuals attempt to salvage their careers via the Canadian Football League, while others simply move on to other endeavors away from the sports world.
Age is, of course, the great equalizer in the sports world, a foe that is undefeated and untied. That enemy of great athletes everywhere will, sooner than later, catch up with the man who is arguably the greatest regular season quarterback in the history of the NFL. There has been plenty of speculation leading up to Super Bowl 50 regarding the future of that QB who has not, as of the posting of this piece, announced his attentions past the final football game of the 2015-16 season. It seems, at this stage, that it would be best for everybody if he respectfully ended his playing career during the current winter.
So many others in history have squandered opportunities to play in the NFL and chances at stardom. This includes a pair of wide receivers who, for whatever reasons, have struggled to understand what the NFL allows players to do away from the field. One of those two men still has a chance to save his career and prove his doubters wrong, but only if he is able to stay away from trouble. Last but certainly not least is a young quarterback who was once hoped to be a savior of a franchise. Instead, he may never again take the field if certain rumors about his personal demons are accurate.
19 Peyton Manning
Regardless of how he plays in what many feel will be his final NFL game, the legacy created by Peyton Manning during his career has been carved in stone. With that said, it has been painful to watch the once-great Manning at times over the past two seasons. The zip on Manning's fastball is now but a memory. There is a concern that one more massive hit could be the reason that Manning would be forced to hang his cleats up for good. Perhaps Manning's last act will be to hoist the Vince Lombardi Trophy. Whatever happens on February 7th, Manning should see the writing on the wall and decide that he's done enough as a NFL player.
18 Joseph Randle
Joseph Randle had a chance to be the starting running back for the Dallas Cowboys and play behind one of the best offensive lines in 2015. Randle was instead released by the Cowboys in the fall, in part because the 24-year-old could not stay out of legal troubles. The Dallas Morning News reported in early February 2016 that Randle had allegedly bet on sports during his time with the Cowboys. It was learned that same day that Randle had again been arrested for a non-related offense. Randle is a free agent right now, but there is no reason to believe any NFL team would touch him in 2016.
17 Kellen Winslow II
Kellen Winslow II seemed to have all of the physical gifts to be a star tight end when the Cleveland Browns acquired him in the 2004 NFL Draft. While Winslow had some bright moments, particularly with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, he never quite reached the expectations some had for him early into his career. Winslow was suspended by the NFL in 2013 for violation of the league's performance-enhancing substances policy, and he was largely a forgotten figure up until he announced via Twitter in January 2016 that he was eyeing a comeback. Best of luck to Mr. Winslow finding a NFL team who will pay him.
16 Trent Richardson
Trent Richardson is just 25-years-old, but all indications are that his playing days in the NFL are over. Richardson showed promise and even looked like a potential great running back in his rookie campaign with the Cleveland Browns, but the Browns eventually gave up on him and traded him to the Indianapolis Colts for a first-round pick. The Colts essentially wasted that pick on Richardson, who failed to do anything of note with Indianapolis or with the Oakland Raiders. ESPN analyst Ryan Clark once referred to Richardson, not a free agent, as “the worst NFL running back ever to play.” Ouch.
15 Rueben Randle
Fans of the New York Giants grew more and more frustrated with watching Rueben Randle play with the club during 2015. Randle was in the midst of a contract year when he was more of a disappointment for the Giants than a game-changer and his future is very much so up in the air as he prepares to enter free agency. Then-head coach Tom Coughlin criticized Randle in December 2015, offering a sign that the relationship linking the wide receiver and the Giants was all-but over. Randle has a lot of work to do if he is to prove that he can be a true difference-maker on a NFL offense. He will have to do so away from Eli Manning, who has a history of making those around him better.
14 Tony Romo
Tony Romo is often overly criticized by football fans who happen to hate the Dallas Cowboys. The biggest reason that Dallas QB makes this list is that there have been clear signs that his body is betraying him. Romo's resume has been overtaken by numerous injuries he has suffered over the past several years, including a broken collarbone that sidelined him for half of the 2015 campaign. Romo will be 36-years-old at the start of summer training camp in 2016. It seems to be a given that it is a matter of time of when and not if he suffers another physical setback, one that could mean the end of the road for Romo.
13 Sam Bradford
Some around the NFL couldn't help but chuckle upon reading the report that Sam Bradford allegedly wants $25 million from the Philadelphia Eagles for his services. The former first overall draft pick of the St. Louis Rams has suffered multiple ACL tears. It has been years – plural – since Bradford played like anything resembling a franchise quarterback. No NFL team can realistically trust that Bradford would be able to stay healthy for an entire season let alone lead that team on a title run. Bradford will probably be able to catch on somewhere as a backup QB until he once again gets banged up.
12 Justin Gilbert
When Kevin Jones wrote about Cleveland Browns cornerback Justin Gilbert for a Cleveland Scene piece, fans were given a look at a young player who seems to be downright disinterested in doing what he can to be a starter in the NFL. Gilbert being a healthy scratch during his first two seasons in the league became so commonplace that it was the subject of jokes on local sports talk radio. A new head coach and new front office that never selected the first-round flop is now running the show in Cleveland. Gilbert could find himself off of the Browns and out of the league in the fall of 2016.
11 Mark Sanchez
The life and times of Mark Sanchez were perfectly and humorously summarized in the fall of 2015 when a Philadelphia sports blog wondered if the Eagles would be better off starting an ostrich ahead of Sanchez. Sanchez is physically and possibly even emotionally damaged goods following failed runs with the New York Jets and the Philadelphia Eagles, a QB prone to making curious and frustrating miscues during games. Like Bradford before him, Sanchez will likely get a shot to be on a NFL roster in 2016. Unfortunately for the former “Sanchize,” his career has hit a brick wall.
10 Tim Tebow
Tim Tebow is a cultural phenomenon among those who root for him to succeed in the NFL. Tebow's celebrity status is why headlines are generated whenever he signs for a team, such as when he came to terms with the Philadelphia Eagles in 2015. The problem for Tebow is that he just is not all that good of a quarterback. Maybe, just maybe, Tebow could be something in the NFL if he agreed to become a running back. That is not happening as of the posting of this piece and Tebow being given another chance to play under center in the NFL seems unrealistic.
9 Brian Hoyer
We are all in agreement that the Houston Texans are grabbing Penn State quarterback Christian Hackenberg in the 2016 NFL Draft; right? Houston head coach Bill O'Brien was the head coach at Penn State when Hackenberg arrived on the national scene. Brian Hoyer had an absolute meltdown in a playoff game in January and he also suffered a pair of concussions during the 2015 regular season. Knowing all we know about head injuries and concussions, Hoyer may want to take the offseason to think about his future and his health. The Texans may help Hoyer make a decision by moving on from the journeyman.
8 Michael Sam
There are always going to be people who believe that Michael Sam never received a fair chance to play in the NFL because he was openly gay. Sam admitted when speaking with Dan Patrick in September 2015 that he left the Canadian Football League earlier in the year because he was not getting better as a player. Thus, Sam not only needs to improve aspects of his game to play in the NFL. He now has a reputation for being a young player who walks away when things get difficult. Sam has announced via Twitter that he is going to again try to make a NFL roster. The odds are against him.
7 Robert Griffin III
Some NFL team that is starved for a legitimate starting NFL quarterback is going to give Robert Griffin III, a former Offensive Rookie of the Year, a chance. Let's be honest about who used to be the phenom known as RG3. Griffin has suffered multiple serious injuries that have stripped him of what used to be spectacular athleticism. The attitude, confidence and swagger once had by Griffin all now have to be gone. It would be a great story if Griffin was able to rebuild himself as a NFL career and revive his career with a club such as the Dallas Cowboys, but he has quite the uphill climb ahead of him.
6 Ray McDonald
Talent alone is not going to erase the transgressions of NFL players in this era. That has been made clear by cases such as Ray McDonald. The former defensive end of the San Francisco 49ers was cut by the club in December 2014 after it was learned that McDonald was being investigated regarding an alleged sexual assault. McDonald was then cut by the Chicago Bears in 2015 after he was arrested and accused of domestic violence and child endangerment. While McDonald has the right to prove his innocence, no NFL team is going to waste a second or a penny on the player.
6. Greg Hardy
Greg Hardy's NFL career will be doomed if karma finally does catch up with the defensive end. Hardy had been found guilty of assaulting his ex-girlfriend in 2014, but a legal technicality resulted in that decision being tossed out after he and the alleged victim reached a settlement. The Carolina Panthers moved on from Hardy, but the talented defensive player found a home with the Dallas Cowboys. Jason Cole of Bleacher Report has reported that the Cowboys will not be keeping Hardy, in part because the player partied so much while with the team. Let's see if the rest of the league has learned a lesson.
5 Ray Rice
By now, you have probably seen the video of former Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice slugging the woman who was his fiancee in February 2014 and who is now his wife. Regardless of what anybody has to say about a player such a Rice deserving a second chance, those opinions don't erase the fact that Rice is 29-years-old, which is ancient for many NFL running backs. It also doesn't help Rice that he appeared to be in the twilight of his career back at the end of the 2013 season. A franchise welcoming controversy and criticism for a player who probably doesn't have much left in the tank seems unlikely.
4 Justin Blackmon
It would be newsworthy if Justin Blackmon actually managed to play any level of meaningful football ever again. The troubled wide receiver who had a solid rookie campaign with the Jacksonville Jaguars is on an indefinite suspension following repeated violations of the league's substance abuse policy. Blackmon was in the news in December 2015 when it was learned that he had reportedly been arrested and charged with DUI. The Blackmon story is one that is sad at this point, and the worry moving forward is that we have not yet seen the worst. Blackmon is clearly an individual who is in need of serious help.
3 Hakeem Nicks
Hakeem Nicks deserves credit for helping the New York Giants defeat the New England Patriots at Super Bowl XLVI. That year would be as good as things would get for Nicks in the NFL. Nicks failed to record a touchdown in his final year with the Giants, and his stints with the Indianapolis Colts and Tennessee Titans were largely forgettable. The Giants took a flier on Nicks in the fall of 2015 when the team needed weapons at the wide receiver position. Nicks played like a shell of his former self while with his old club and the future of his NFL career is, at best, up in the air.
2 Josh Gordon
Nobody who has watched him play can deny that Josh Gordon could be one of the great NFL wide receivers of his time. Gordon, like the previously mentioned Blackmon, has just not been able to stay out of trouble. Gordon is still technically on an indefinite suspension, although he did apply for reinstatement in January 2016. Even if Gordon is welcomed back with open arms, he would still be just one mistake away from again being banned. History suggests that Gordon is not long for the NFL. Here is hoping that Gordon can make the best out of what will be his last chance.
1 Johnny Manziel
At least one journalist, Marla Ridenour of Ohio.com, believes that the problems affecting Cleveland Browns quarterback Johnny Manziel are far more serious than immaturity and a love of partying when he is not on the football field. Manziel has never been punished by the NFL, but his being linked with a second domestic incident in under four months seems to have been the breaking point for the Browns. Manziel was one of the most fun quarterbacks in all of college football during his days at Texas A&M, but the Browns cutting him in March could be the beginning of the end of his NFL career.