All eyes are on the Philadelphia Eagles and New England Patriots as they clash in the Super Bowl. The Eagles will look to win their first Super Bowl championship in franchise history, while the despised Patriots look to win a remarkable sixth championship in the 21st century. This will also be their eighth appearance in the Super Bowl during the Brady/Belichick era, as if there wasn’t enough reason to find them intolerable.
But for fans of the 30 other teams, it’s already time to start looking at what will happen in the off-season. Trades, free agency and the draft aren’t far off, so general managers have to start analyzing their rosters. It all starts with looking at their players and seeing who should stay and who should go.
For starters, some teams have to give up on a number of young stars. Some of these guys showed flashes for a while, but have slowed down and apparently peaked to early. On the other end, some ageless wonders continue to perform at star-like levels, and shouldn’t leave. It all comes down to return on investment, and which player (old or young) will help them win the most.
Here are eight young NFL stars who are already past their primes, and eight veterans who continue to defy father time.
16. Past His Prime: Randall Cobb
What in the world hasn’t happened to Randall Cobb? He was once a special teams star return man. Then he and Jordy Nelson formed arguably the most dynamic receiving duo in the NFL. But ever since receiving a four-year contract extension worth $40 million, Cobb’s play has gone way downhill.
Cobb has not built off a 2014 breakout campaign that saw him post 79 receptions for 1,287 yards and 12 touchdowns. Over the last three years, Cobb has posted 829, 610 and 653 receiving yards. He also hasn’t registered more than six touchdown receptions in a season, suggesting he truly is past his playing prime. Cobb has had his chances with Aaron Rodgers to be a star. If anything else, he really was just a one-year wonder.
15. Still Has It: Larry Fitzgerald
Amazing. Larry Fitzgerald comes off his age 34 season. All he does is reach his 11th Pro Bowl selection. He hits at least 100 receptions and 1,000 yards for the third consecutive season – and the fifth time of his career. Fitzgerald finished 2017 with 109 yards for 1,156 yards and six touchdowns. This is despite Carson Palmer missing half the season, and inconsistent backup Drew Stanton having to take over.
Fitzgerald hasn’t lost any speed in his game. He still displays world class hands and is a nightmare matchup for opposing cornerbacks. The man can easily play for a few more years, if he so chooses to. The Arizona Cardinals legend will be in the Hall of Fame when he retires. All he needs is a championship ring, and we’ll see if the Cardinals can find a way to bring one to him.
14. Past His Prime: Jameis Winston
Sorry Tampa Bay fans, but with every passing day it looks like Jameis Winston is another skilled QB who just can’t translate his college success into success in the NFL. Granted, he doesn’t have the most elite team in front of him, but with some real threats at the WR position he should be winning more games than he is.
With the Buccaneers looking like the worst team in their division for the foreseeable future, improving will be very difficult. Winston has struggled with staying healthy and has made some boneheaded moves off the field as well. We may have already seen the best of Jameis Winston, which is sad considering his enormous potential.
13. Still Has It: Jordy Nelson
Forget Jordy Nelson’s disappointing 2017 season that saw him catch 53 passes for 482 yards and six touchdowns. Without Aaron Rodgers, the entire Packers team was hopeless. This is not a knock against backup quarterback Brett Hundley, who played pretty well in Rodgers’ absence. But how many wide receivers sustain excellence when their No. 1 quarterback goes down to injury?
Nelson may be 33 years of age heading into the 2018 season, but the man can still play. Keep in mind that he surpassed 1,000 yards every year in 2013, 2014 and 2016. He’s still one of the biggest red zone threats in the NFL, and will be back on the same page with Rodgers in 2018. Don’t give up on Nelson. He’s still a top receiver. He just needs his favourite quarterback to throw the ball to him.
12. Past His Prime: Eddie Lacy
Desperately looking to find a top-flight running back to complement Aaron Rodgers and the passing game, the Green Bay Packers drafted Eddie Lacy with the 61st pick in the 2013 Draft. Lacy’s first two seasons in the NFL were nothing short of spectacular. He rushed for 1,178 yards and 11 touchdowns in his rookie season, and won the 2013 Offensive Rookie of the Year award while being named to the Pro Bowl.
Lacy rushed for 1,139 yards and nine touchdowns in 2014 and led the Packers to the NFC Championship Game. But weight issues led to a woeful 2015 season, where Lacy had just 758 yards. An ankle injury led Lacy to just five games in 2016. The Packers let him go in free agency, and he’d sign with the Seattle Seahawks. But in just eight games, Lacy rushed for a total of 176 yards. It’s safe to say that injuries and bad play have taken a toll on Lacy’s career, and he’s surely past his prime at this point.
11. Still Has It: Frank Gore
Most NFL running backs start to slow down by the age of 30, but Frank Gore isn’t one of them. The five-time Pro Bowler was one of the few bright spots on a horrendous Indianapolis Colts team in 2017. Without star quarterback Andrew Luck, Gore rushed for 961 yards and three touchdowns. On top of that, he finished with 29 receptions for 245 yards and a touchdown. Gore remains a top dual-threat running back, even as he enters his age-35 season — assuming he doesn’t retire.
Gore has rushed for over 900 yards every year since 2011, and continues to provide a great backfield presence for his team. You have to think another team will look to sign him as a second running back. Gore provides great leadership and can still carry the ball 15-plus times per game. It’d be great if someone gave the ageless wonder a chance to win a Super Bowl.
10. Past His Prime: Doug Martin
Doug Martin’s career has been an up-and-down roller coaster ride, but it’s safe to say that the two-time Pro Bowler has reached his peak and can only go downhill from here. After rushing for 1,454 yards and 11 touchdowns in his rookie season, Martin posted just 456 and 494 yards in 2013 and 2014, respectively. Martin then bounced back in 2015 with 1,402 yards and received a five-year contract extension worth $35.75 million from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
But a suspension led to a forgetful 2016 season for Martin, who finished with just 421 yards and three touchdowns in eight games. He didn’t get things going in 2017, rushing for just 406 yards in 11 games. So yeah, it’s safe to say that Martin is well past his prime at this point.
9. Still Has It: Ben Roethlisberger
Rumours of retirement hang heavy in the air in Pittsburgh for their guaranteed Hall Of Fame QB Ben Roethlisberger. He has entertained the thought of retiring earlier this season, and with many personnel changes happening in Pittsburgh the writing may be on the wall.
However Big Ben still has the ability to lead an offence. As seen in the AFC divisional round this year, Roethlisberger could still throw key touchdown passes at key moments. He may be up there in years, and the team lost the game, but the Steeler and Big Ben managed to light up a great defence, which says a lot about his abilities and longevity. If he decides to give it one more go, the Steelers would likely be happy to have him around.
8. Past His Prime: Cordarrelle Patterson
Drafted by the Minnesota Vikings with the 29th pick in 2013, Tennessee product Cordarelle Patterson was supposed to add to this team’s receiving corpse. Patterson was named to the Pro Bowl in 2016 as a special teams returner, but he was expected to be a top-notch wide receiver as well. Patterson, however, has yet to eclipse the 469 receiving yards he posted in his 2013 rookie season. Though he has five kick return touchdowns and 4,613 return yards, Patterson isn’t exactly a superstar.
There’s a reason the Minnesota Vikings moved on from him after four years. Patterson just wasn’t able to get the route-running skills down. Considering how rare it is for returners to get a big return these days, Patterson is far from a superstar. He’s hit his peak, and has nowhere to go down but down from here on out.
7. Still Has It: Julius Peppers
Julius Peppers is a lock for the Hall of Fame at this point. The nine-time Pro Bowler continues to play like he’s trapped in a 20-year-old body. In reality, he’s actually 38 years of age. After registering just 7.5 sacks last season with the Green Bay Packers, Peppers returned to the Carolina Panthers and rediscovered his old form. He finished the season with 11 sacks, two forced fumbles and a pair of fumble recoveries. He helped beef up the Panthers defensive line, and guided them to the playoffs.
Peppers has no reason to retire just yet. He was a terrific fit in the Panthers’ defensive schemes and can easily produce for one or two more years. The fact he hasn’t won a championship should only add motivation to keep on playing.
6. Past His Prime: Tyler Eifert
The young Cincinnati Bengals tight end put the NFL on notice in 2015 by catching 52 passes for 615 yards and 13 touchdowns. Eifert was named to the Pro Bowl, and big things were expected for Eifert in Cincinnati. He wasn’t expected to be the next Rob Gronkowski or anything, but pretty darn close.
Unfortunately, the injuries have mounted and Eifert doesn’t look primed to build off his 2015 season. A back injury forced him to miss half the 2016 season, and he only appeared in two games this year as back and knee injuries piled up. For tight ends to last long in the NFL, they absolutely have to stay healthy and cannot have back and knee injuries. Eifert is only 27 years of age, but the injuries have not stopped taking over. It’s hard to see him reaching his old Pro Bowl form once again.
5. Still Has It: Cameron Wake
A former star for the CFL’s B.C. Lions, Cameron Wake jumped over to the NFL in 2009. He’s one of the few players to succeed after going from Canada to the United States. Even at 35 years of age, Wake remained one of the NFL’s most feared pass-rushers in the 2017 season.
Wake finished 2017 with 10.5 sacks – reaching double-digit quarterback takedowns for the fifth time in his career. Though the Miami Dolphins had a frustrating 2017 season, Wake showed he can still be a force on this defence for several more years. Wake has stayed healthy for the better part of the last five seasons, which has helped him drink from the fountain of youth and put father time on hold. There’s no reason to believe he can’t play like a superstar for one or two more years. Maybe three.
4. Past His Prime: Ryan Tannehill
You just feel terrible for Ryan Tannehill. Just when he looked poised to lead the Miami Dolphins to the playoffs in 2016, an ACL injury forced him to miss the final 13 games — and the team’s wild card playoff game against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Miami still reached the playoffs with backup quarterback Matt Moore, so expectations were sky-high for Miami in 2017. However, Tannehill tore his ACL during a practice, and was ruled out for the season.
Tannehill turns 30 this summer, and it’s already tough to envision him staying healthy. Just ask Robert Griffin III and other quarterbacks — it’s hard to bounce back when you’ve dealt with knee injuries. I want Tannehill to prove doubters wrong and show he can still be quarterback of the Dolphins. But given his age and the severity of his injury history, it’s hard to see how he bounces back from this.
3. Still Has It: Drew Brees
Business as usual for Drew Brees. He puts together another MVP-caliber season — finishing 2017 with 4,334 yards, 23 touchdowns and just eight interceptions. And oh, he completed 72 percent of his passes — the best of his career. And the man just completed his age-38 season.
Brees also had another epic season wasted by his defence. He nearly led his team to the NFC Championship Game, but the Saints defence faltered in the final seconds of the NFC Divisional Round against the Minnesota Vikings. That’s okay. There’s no reason to believe Brees is about to slow down at the age of 39. He’s stayed remarkably healthy over the past 11 years, and continues to perform like one of the NFL’s top-three quarterbacks. As long as the Saints defence plays well in 2018, this team will have a great shot at leading Brees to his second championship.
2. Past His Prime: Sheldon Richardson
The New York Jets made a risky decision to trade away star cornerback Darrelle Revis in 2013. But they selected star defensive end Sheldon Richardson with a pick they acquired in the Revis trade, so it was well worth it. The 2013 Defensive Player of the Year and 2014 Pro Bowler has not been the same since his sophomore year, however. After posing eight sacks and a forced fumble in 2014, Richardson’s play has declined significantly.
He has just 7.5 sacks over the past three years combined, and has gotten into some off-the-field troubles. The Jets were desperate to get rid of Richardson, which is why they gave him to the Seattle Seahawks for a small return. Richardson didn’t exactly light it up in Seattle, which signals that he’s probably past his prime at this point.
1. Still Has It: Tom Brady
Remember when many of us thought Tom Brady was done after being embarrassed by the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 4 of the 2014 season? Welp. Here we are. Tom Brady is 40 years of age, headed to his eighth Super Bowl and looking to capture his sixth championship ring. What a legend.
Brady is en route to what should be his third MVP Award. Amazing. And how many Patriots haters have waited for Brady and the Patriots empire to collapse? He entered the playoffs battling a shoulder and achilles injury. He had a bad hand injury during the AFC Championship Game. Yet all he did was lead his team to a thrilling 24-20 victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars. We’re not sure if Brady can play til 45 like many think. But there’s no reason to believe he can’t play until 42-43. He has shown that he has it, even at the age of 40.
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