10 NFL free agents who should retire

By Rachel Wold
September 3, 2015; Santa Clara, CA, USA; San Francisco 49ers running back Reggie Bush (23) warms up before a preseason game against the San Diego Chargers at Levi’s Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

The NFL is a few days into its annual free agency period, which means a lot of the younger, more desirable prospects have already been snatched up by new teams.

And in some cases like Doug Martin’s, they settled on a long-term agreement with their old teams.

This leaves a deep pool of aging and/or injured free agents whose best years can only be seen in the rear view mirror. With their health still somewhat intact, some Super Bowl rings and lucrative paychecks already earned, here are 10 free agents who need to retire.

Michael Vick, quarterback (35)

Michael Vick had to wait until nearly September of last year before his phone rang with the Pittsburgh Steelers on the other line extending an invitation to join the team.

After signing an inexpensive one-year deal, Vick’s time with the Steelers has come to a close. Called to duty to start in three games to fill in for an injured Ben Roethlisberger, Vick did an acceptable job when the team won two games.

Unfortunately, Vick went down with yet another injury and isn’t viewed as one of the more viable backups in this year’s free agency. Acknowledging that the end of his 13-year career is fast approaching, Vick said he plans to retire after the 2016 season.

At Vick’s age and with a history filled with injuries, he simply can’t be the spry and reliable mobile quarterback he once was.

Andre Johnson, wide receiver (34)

Courtesy of Troy Taormina, USA Today Sports

When the Indianapolis Colts signed Andre Johnson for two years, it seemed like the veteran might have his chance to finish his career with a winning team.

Sadly for Johnson, his stint with the Colts came to an abrupt ending when the team released him after one uneventful season. Johnson never really found his niche in a crowded backfield filled with younger competition when he posted all-time career lows in targets (77), receptions (41) and receiving yards (503).

His poor campaign doesn’t seem to be deterring Johnson though, because he recently claimed that he plans to continue playing. The question is, where?

After a few days into free agency, Johnson doesn’t appear to have attracted any suitors. As a potential Hall of Famer, the two-time All-Pro and seven-time Pro-Bowler may have caught his last pass.

Jason Babin, defensive end (35)

The former 2004 first-round draft pick from Houston Texans has long-since had his glory days in the NFL.

In desperation mode after linebacker Terrell Suggs sustained a season-ending ACL injury in the Ravens’ season opener, the team signed Babin to the squad. After playing in only two games and causing costly penalties, the Ravens quickly moved on from Babin, who worked out with the Arizona Cardinals this postseason.

The highlights of Babin’s 14-year career come during his rookie campaign and from 2010 through 2013 when he posted a total of 56 sacks and 275 combined tackles.

After getting bounced between nine teams, it would appear it is time for Babin to hang up the slew of various numbered jerseys he has worn over the years.

Roddy White, wide receiver (34)

Courtesy of USA Today Images

It is the consensus of many Roddy White fans that he should retire as a Falcon after dedicating 11 seasons to the team that selected him in the first round of the 2005 NFL Draft.

After experiencing a decline in 2013, and notably more so in his 2015 season when he posted career lows in targets (70), receptions (43), yards (506) and touchdowns (one), White was handed his walking papers in Atlanta.

White has had a terrific career but he is far-removed from his best six-season run when he averaged 1,295 yards and 8.1 touchdowns per year from 2007-2012.

At White’s age and with the lingering injuries that have hampered him the last few years, he would be wise to follow in Calvin Johnson’s footsteps.

Reggie Bush, running back (31)

The youngest of the bunch on this list, Reggie Bush has indeed exceeded his expiration date.

Because running backs tend to deteriorate at a quicker pace than other positions, it is not unheard of that Bush’s best career days are far behind.

Often injured, Bush managed only two seasons in his 10-year NFL career in which he rushed for over 1,000 yards. This came from his 2011 season in Miami and again in 2013 with Detroit. However, a poor injury-laden 2014 campaign caused the Lions to cut ties with him just one season later.

Bush perhaps played his last game the day he had an unfortunate season-ending accident when he slid into the sideline wall at the St. Louis Rams’ former stadium. As a result, Bush sustained a torn ACL.

Bush is ultra-talented as both a rusher and receiver. However, it would be a stretch for any team at this point to trust the back to stay healthy and productive for an entire season.

Charles Tillman, cornerback (35)

After ending his final two seasons with the Chicago Bears on injured reserve playing in only 10 combined games, the Carolina Panthers signed Charles Tillman to a one-year gig in 2015.

Unfortunately, the injury-prone cornerback started in only 12 games and sustained a torn ACL that ended his season early on Jan. 4.

Tillman produced decently with Carolina having recorded two interceptions and 55 combined tackles. However, any team interested in Tillman once he recovers from his ACL surgery must address the “buyer beware” tag that accompanies the embattled corner.

Retirement makes sense for Tillman, an All-Pro and two-time Pro-Bowler, who could be just one more step away from another brutal injury.

Wes Welker, wide receiver (34)

Wes Welker

Originally an undrafted free agent, Wes Welker is far removed from his stellar mid-career peak when he was a member of the New England Patriots.

Out of sheer desperation, Welker was signed to the former St. Louis Rams last year. In eight games, he saw only 22 targets for 13 receptions, 102 yards and zero touchdowns. This was a far cry from when Welker used to catch passes from Tom Brady during 2007-2012 when the shifty slot receiver tallied 7,459 receiving yards and scored 37 touchdowns.

After sustaining multiple concussions over the past few years, most would have thought Welker’s final season in Denver, which was a stinker, would have been his last.

For Welker’s brain’s sake, let’s hope the receiver comes to his senses and retires while his health is still somewhat in tact.

Vernon Davis, tight end (32)

After a severe decline in production starting in 2014 which lasted mid-way through 2015, Vernon Davis was surprisingly traded from the San Francisco 49ers to the Denver Broncos.

Though sightings of Davis were extremely scarce in Denver, where in nine games the tight end saw only 28 targets amounting to 20 catches for 201 yard and zero scores. And speaking of touchdowns, Davis has scored only two in his past two seasons.

After a quick trip to Denver, collecting a Super Bowl ring along the way, Davis is reportedly visiting with the Washington Redskins. Though, at this point we must wonder why, because Washington has some depth at the position behind Jordan Reed.

Davis, who still feels he must have some gas left in his tank, recently indicated that he wants to play another four-to-five years. Any takers?

Antonio Smith, defense end (34)

After spending five years with both the Arizona Cardinals and Houston Texans, then one year with the Oakland Raiders, Antonio Smith is now a Super Bowl champion.

Participating in all 16 games for Denver, but never starting in one, Smith’s production tapered off immensely when he recorded only 2.5 sacks and nine combined tackles last season. He was also barely noticeable in his three postseason appearances, registering only one sack and two solo tackles.

As one of the many free agents who were on the Broncos’ roster, Smith definitely isn’t one of the more appealing options at this stage of his career.

It appears for now, that Smith is wisely contemplating retirement.

Fred Jackson, running back, (35)

Fred Jackson

After a successful nine-year career, running back Fred Jackson may have played his snap in the NFL.

Originally signed as a free agent in 2007 by the Buffalo Bills, Jackson rushed for a total of 5,746 yards and 30 touchdowns at a pace of 4.4 yards per carry. Key as a receiver, Jackson also added 2,897 yards and nine touchdowns through the air.

This was enough to see Jackson get signed by the Seattle Seahawks after the Bills released him before the 2015 season. But instead of Jackson assuming the lead role once Marshawn Lynch missed games due to injury, he took a backseat to undrafted rookie, Thomas Rawls.

In addition to Jackson’s down season when he totaled only 357 yards and two touchdowns, he hits free agency as the oldest running back on the market.

With his best years behind him, any NFL team in need of a running back likely would think twice before adding a 35-year old Jackson to its roster.