Some say that the NFL stands for “Not For Long,” and the reasons for that are obvious. Football is a dangerous game played by some of the strongest and fastest athletes in the world. Most NFL careers are understandably short at an average of between 3-6 years, with the higher number projected by the NFL and the lower number projected by the NFLPA.
In some cases, players exceed those numbers, but Father Time catches up with everyone. And quite often, that’s a hard pill to swallow for someone who loves the game and knows nothing else. But in the end, retirement is inevitable for all who snap on the chinstrap.
Here’s a look at 10 NFL players who should be considering retirement in 2018.
10. Karlos Dansby, LB, free agent
Karlos Dansby briefly considered retirement a season ago before signing a one-year deal to return to the Arizona Cardinals, where he appeared in 16 games, recording 95 tackles and one sack. While Dansby’s numbers were still respectable, his Pro Football Focus grade dipped to 68.2, which is considered below average. But despite that, and the fact that he’s approaching the age of 37, Dansby still does not appear ready to hang them up, and teams remain interested. Ultimately, the window on Dansby’s career is closing. He’ll need to think about life after football sooner rather than later.
9. Victor Cruz, WR, free agent
Victor Cruz was once the superstar of New York, breaking franchise records for the Giants en route to a Super Bowl title. Unfortunately, a torn Achilles and series of serious calf injuries ended his tenure with the team prematurely. He got another look with the Chicago Bears, but couldn’t hang on. In 2017, Cruz sat out the season but remained hopeful he’d receive another opportunity. Unfortunately, that opportunity did not and has not come, and Cruz recognizes the end may be nearing. In early May, Cruz told ESPN that he’s not ready to walk away from the game yet or exhaust all of his options, but he’s set a personal deadline that will likely come around training camp. If not signed by then, he will retire.
8. Julius Peppers, DE, Carolina Panthers
At 38 years old, Julius Peppers is most obviously nearing the end of his career. However, in his return to the Panthers a season ago, Peppers proved that there’s still some gas left in the tank and that he’s capable of producing as a pass rushing specialist. However, despite Peppers’ 11 impressive sacks, he struggled in others areas, finishing the season with a Pro Football Focus grade of 73.8 (average) and starting just five games, which represents a career low. Although he remains productive in a limited and specialized role, it’s rare for position players to continue into their 40s. As the 2018 season progresses, Peppers will likely have to consider whether or not it’s time to step away from football.
7. Chris Johnson, RB, free agent
Once upon a time, Chris Johnson was the best running back in football, eclipsing 2,000 yards on the ground in 2009. He followed that up with four more impressive seasons, but seemed to plummet once he left Tennessee. In four seasons following his Titans tenure, Johnson has rushed for just 1,686 total yards and seen his yards per carry average dip each season, including a career low 2.5 ypc in 2017. He’s also dealt with injuries, off-field issues and, in mid-June, was served with a battery lawsuit for allegedly attacking a valet. Johnson maintains that he’s not ready to retire until he eclipses 10,000 career yards (he’s 349 yards short), but that decision could soon be made for him as he remains unsigned and generating little reported interest.
6. Phil Dawson, K, Arizona Cardinals
At 43 years old, Phil Dawson is one of the oldest players in all of football and in 2018, will be entering his 20th season in the league and second with the Cardinals. And although he’s still effective, there’s no denying that his numbers and production have dipped after connecting on a career-low 80.0 percent of his field goals and 88.5 percent of his point after attempts in 2017. With limited contact, kickers have a much longer shelf life in the NFL, but like everyone else, time catches up eventually. And for Dawson, his time to walk away from the game appears to be drawing nearer. 2018 could very well be his final season in the NFL.
5. Mario Williams, DL, free agent
Prior to the 2016 regular season, Mario Williams signed a two-year deal with the Miami Dolphins and was hoping a fresh start would revitalize his career. Instead, Williams recorded a career-low 1.5 sacks in 13 games and was subsequently released. After generating little interest on the free agent market, Williams sat out the 2017 season but has remained hopeful for another chance. However, at 33 years old and with a history of injuries, it’s unlikely Williams gets another serious look despite his desire to end a long career on a high note.
4. Derrick Johnson, LB, Oakland Raiders
When healthy, Derrick Johnson, a former first-round pick, has been one of the more dominant linebackers in the league. Unfortunately, injuries have been an issue late in his career, highlighted by two torn Achilles’ tendonds. He’s played a full 16 game slate just once since the 2012 season and in February, the Kansas City Chiefs decided it was best to part ways after 13 seasons. It didn’t take long for Johnson to find a new home, signing a one-year, $1.5 million deal with the Raiders in early May. But with Johnson slated to turn 36 years old during the season, this may be his last go-around in the NFL unless he’s able to find health and make a legitimate defensive impact.
3. Josh McCown, QB, New York Jets
Josh McCown was given an opportunity to start for the Jets in 2017 and played far better than many expected, but with the additions of both Teddy Bridgewater and Sam Darnold, his days on the field may soon be a thing of the past. McCown will turn 39 years old in July and enter his 17th NFL season. He’s acknowledged considering retirement recently, but held off to return to the Jets. If McCown wins the starting job and is under center for Week 1, he’ll likely ride out the season no matter what happens. But if he’s ultimately beat out and finds himself as No. 2 or No. 3 on the depth chart, he may once again be forced to consider retirement.
2. Antonio Gates, TE, free agent
The “free agent” tag next to Antonio Gates’ name will likely vanish come training camp. Although he appeared poised to finally step away from the game after 15 incredibly successful seasons, a reunion with the Los Angeles Chargers now seems possible after fellow tight end and former understudy Hunter Henry tore his ACL last month. It’s an odd situation given that the Chargers had already publicly said goodbye to Gates, but circumstances change and his timer to the Pro Football Hall of Fame will now likely be reset. The reality however, is that Gates, who will turn 38 on April 18, is well past his prime.
1. Terence Newman, DB, Minnesota Vikings
Terence Newman will turn 40 years old by the time the 2018 regular season begins, making him one of the oldest position players in the NFL. And after beginning to question his future at the conclusion of the 2017 season, Newman announced in May that he’ll likely step away from the game in 2019. Of course, success and love for the game often change the mind of players, so we’ll see if Newman sticks to his guns. Either way, after 15 (soon to be 16) long years in the NFL, it certainly should be a consideration, especially when factoring in that Newman’s Pro Football Focus grade dropped to 75.1 — still admittedly respectable — in 2017.
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