Retirement from the NFL is often times planned but can also happen abruptly. In some cases, injuries play a part in determining when it is time to quit the game. Age also factors in as well as what career milestones have been accomplished.
Some of the players we discuss here could walk away from their careers after 2018 having achieved many successes. On the opposite side of the spectrum, good players strapped to bad teams may just decide to jump ship.
Take former Cleveland Browns center Joe Thomas as an example. Might he not have retired if he had played for a better franchise? (Sorry Cleveland). Then, there are players who are sometimes forced into retirement by younger peers. Former Dallas Cowboys starting quarterback Tony Romo would know all about that.
Here are 20 players, who for various reasons, could retire following the 2018 season.
Julius Peppers, defensive end, Carolina Panthers
Peppers is fortunate at the age of 38 to have played in all 16 games for his original Carolina club last year. Even receiving limited snaps, Peppers dominated to the tune of 11 sacks and 33 combined tackles. The three-time All-Pro is slated to make his return to Carolina for one more year after undergoing surgery to repair a torn labrum. Should Peppers come back and put up another successful campaign, he may just decide to call it quits on a high note after 2018. The future Hall of Famer has a laundry list of accomplishments under his belt including his No. 4 all-time ranking on the NFL’s sack list.
Tom Brady, quarterback, New England Patriots
From one future Hall of Fame player to another, Brady might surprise us and retire after 2018. Turning 41 this August, some feel Brady might be playing on borrowed time. Should he experience any setbacks, the five-time Super Bowl champion may have a change of heart from playing into his mid-40’s. Looking to the positive side, say the Patriots win another Super Bowl after this season. That might be enough for Brady to decide he has had a lucrative enough career and to listen to that wife of his who wanted him to retire after Super Bowl 51. If he does, Brady would be a lock to hold on to his all-time passing leader status with New England.
J.J. Watt, defensive end, Houston Texans
Watt has had a brutal go of things the past two seasons after dealing with multiple injuries. As such, the four-time All-Pro has played in only eight games during that span. The injuries not only took their toll on Watt health-wise, but weighed on him emotionally too. It was only in September of 2016 the now 29-year-old pass rusher contemplated retiring. When Watt is healthy, he is one of the best at his position. He led the leagues in sacks in 2012 and 2015 with 20.5 and 17.5, respectively. We sure hope Watt rebounds in 2018. But to avoid further abuse to his body, Watt may move on to other ventures — no matter how this next season plays out.
Ben Roethlisberger, quarterback, Pittsburgh Steelers
Another guy who has tossed around the “R” word — meaning retirement — is Big Ben. It was after losing the AFC Championship game in 2017 that Roethlisberger said he would not commit to playing the following year. Obviously, he had a change of heart and Roethlisberger had his best season since 2004, producing a 12-3 record. Even though the Steelers fell in the Divisional Playoffs, Roethlisberger has been all smiles and now wants to play for another few seasons. But, health problems or another busted chance of making the Super Bowl next February could have Roethlisberger singing a new tune. The 36-year-old quarterback is at least already a two-time Lombardi toting champ.
Marshawn Lynch, running back, Oakland Raiders
Out of retirement and back into the NFL, Lynch will return for a second season with his hometown Raiders. So far, new head coach Jon Gruden wants Lynch to remain the starting running back in 2018. This comes after Lynch led the Raiders with 891 rushing yards and seven rushing touchdowns last year. While these are decent stats, Lynch has slowed down some from his Pro-Bowl years with the Seattle Seahawks. He also turns 32 in April and may decide to re-hang his cleats following 2018, depending on how well the Raiders perform this year.
Cameron Wake, defensive end, Miami Dolphins
Wake is healthy and playing strong entering his 10th year with Miami. Last season saw Wake record 10.5 sacks and 36 combined tackles while starting all 16 games. What if Wake decides to call it enough if the Dolphins once again disappoint? Wake is contributing at a high level personally, though the Dolphins are struggling immensely as a unit. It is worth noting that the All-Pro is 36-years-old and and currently signed for just one more year at a hefty $9.625 million against his team’s salary cap. If re-signing him in 2019 becomes too much of a financial burden, one of Wake’s options may just be retirement.
Larry Fitzgerald, wide receiver, Arizona Cardinals
After pondering retirement, Fitzgerald committed to giving things a go one more time for year 15. Fitzgerald is an original third-overall pick from 2004 and has had a very stunning career. He is sure to eventually grace the Hall of Fame, having already recorded a franchise record 15,545 yards and 110 touchdowns. Much of Fitzgerald’s decision to play beyond 2018 will depend on how the team performs this season. Quarterback Sam Bradford’s performance could weigh big time on Fitz’s decision to stay or go in 2019.
Thomas Davis, linebacker, Carolina Panthers
Davis is another veteran chatting about retiring in 2019. The All-Pro linebacker — originally selected 14th overall in 2005 by Carolina — has a franchise-leading 1,032 tackles on record. Though after announcing 2018 would be his final season, the 35-year-old Davis recently hinted at playing for another season. His remarks came after Davis received a four-game suspension for violating the league’s PEDs policy (more on that here.) Eligible to return in Week 5 in 2018, a lot likely hinges on the Panthers overall success when it will come to Davis making a final career decision.
Jason Witten, tight end, Dallas Cowboys
Recently, Witten decided he was “all in” for a 16th season with the team that originally drafted him in 2003. The 35-year-old tight end recently restructured his contract and put a potential television opportunity on hold to play in 2018. He has been more than a solid staple on the Cowboys’ offense, averaging 848.7 yards per season during his career. For this, it is no wonder Witten is the Cowboys all-time leading receiver with 12,448 total yards and 68 touchdowns on record. Whether Witten decides to call it a career after 2018, he is destined to eventually wear a gold jacket.
Brandon Marshall, wide receiver, New York Giants
So far, Marshall still wants to play out his second and final year with the Giants despite an injury-plagued initial season in 2017. Though, new head coach Pat Shurmur said he will “have to see.” Let’s just say Marshall resumes full health and plays either with the Giants or another team in 2018. This would likely be his last season before he is forced out of the game and into retirement. Once considered an elite receiver, Marshall had seven consecutive 1,000-plus yard seasons from 2007-13. He surprised with 1,502-yard, 14-touchdown year in 2015 but has since hit a major downhill slide.
Terrell Suggs, linebacker, Baltimore Ravens
Still producing at a youthful level, Suggs is signed with the Ravens for only one more season. The 35-year-old linebacker, who has achieved AP Defensive Player of the Year honors twice, was drafted 10th overall by the Ravens in 2003. He has been tough as a bulldozer since returning from a devastating injury in 2015. Since, he has put up 19 sacks and 84 combined tackles. He recently said in January that he wants to play a “few more years.” But, continued wear and tear to his body and the Ravens’ struggles to keep up in the AFC North could impact Suggs’ mindset after 2018.
Drew Brees, quarterback, New Orleans Saints
This future Hall of Fame great just re-signed with the Saints for two more years. But like with any NFL quarterback hovering just south of 40, any season could be a final one. The Saints fell just two games shy of playing in Super Bowl 52 this last year. Should they actually get there next year, Brees might just call it day. This is not a pie-in-the-sky thought considering last year’s success. The All-Pro quarterback has already accomplished the prestige of being the Saints all-time leading passer with 58,097 yards and 408 touchdowns. He also has four adorable kids who would probably love to play with their dad full time.
Vernon Davis, tight end, Washington Redskins
Playing two seasons with the Redskins has breathed a youthful life back into Davis. Since signing on in 2016, Davis has played in all 32 games — recording 1,231 yards and five touchdowns in the process. This was after his career took a turn for the worse during a disastrous 2015 season with the San Francisco 49ers and Denver Broncos. So, why might Davis retire after 2018 with one more year left on his contract? The two-time Pro-Bowler just turned 34 in January.
Brent Grimes, cornerback, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Grimes, who turns 35 this July, re-signed for one year with Tampa Bay. He played there in 13 contests last year, missing three games due to a shoulder injury. But, Grimes was still a proven contributor after tallying three interceptions, 11 defended passes, one fumble recovery and 49 combined tackles. When confronted about retirement in mid-December, Grimes said he would not think about his career until the current season was over. This upcoming year marks the 12th season for Grimes whose career started with the Atlanta Falcons in 2007. If 2018 becomes his last, we can probably guess that Grimes’ outspoken wife Miko had some impact on the Pro-Bowler’s career decision.
Rob Gronkowski, tight end, New England Patriots
Gronk is discussed here under the assumption that he returns to play in 2018. He was contemplating retirement earlier in the offseason, but owner Robert Kraft is of the belief that Gronk will return. The upcoming season would be the ninth for the soon-to-be 29-year-old tight end. Gronk has achieved a ton of success including four All-Pro nods. But, his body has taken a brutal beating and various injuries have caused him to miss 26 games. He is signed for two more years. But considering his frame of mind, Gronkowski might just decide one more season is enough. After all, Gronk has made it no secret that he is interested in entering the world of acting.
Frank Gore, running back, Miami Dolphins
Gore is a prime example of the Energizer Bunny. He just keeps going and going. The future Hall of Fame running back, who turns 35 in May, was signed by the Dolphins — a deal that brings him back to his native state. Gore has been solid as nails during his prominent NFL career that dates back to 2005 when he was drafted by the San Francisco 49ers. The five-time Pro Bowl running back last played three seasons with the Indianapolis Colts, recording no less than 1,206 total yards per year. Gore will likely inherit a change of pace role in Miami with retirement possibly awaiting him in 2019. Whenever that day comes, Gore will go down in history as the 49ers all-time leading rusher with 11,073 yards and 64 touchdowns on the books.
Eli Manning, quarterback, New York Giants
Up until late last season, Manning had never missed a start for the Giants until former head coach Ben McAdoo ruined this perfect record. Manning had one of his worst seasons in 2017 and talks of finding an eventual heir apparent to Manning in this year’s draft have been heating up. Should the Giants spend pick No. 2 to draft a top quarterback prospect, the pressure would be on for Manning to have a stellar year. If for some reason he sputters in 2018, he could find the bench again — losing his starting job permanently. Retirement in 2019 would then become a serious option.
Michael Bennett, defensive end, Philadelphia Eagles
Bennett is never shy to invoke controversy. Aside from his bold personality, Bennett will now suit up with the Eagles after getting traded by the Seattle Seahawks. The Eagles took on Bennett’s contract which takes him through the 2020 season. But after the trade took place, reports of an alleged assault by Bennett of an elderly disabled woman cropped up. Depending on the outcome of a Grand Jury decision, Bennett could face some league discipline. If for some reason the heat becomes too hot in the kitchen this season, the 32-year-old pass rusher might just follow his brother Martellus Bennett’s lead and go bolting out the door.
Jordy Nelson, wide receiver, Oakland Raiders
The Raiders were quick to take two-year flier on Nelson before the ink on his release by the Green Bay Packers was even dry. This swift signing indicates the Raiders still think Nelson can contribute at a significant level. Nelson turns 33 in May. And up until 2017, he has been considered an elite pass catcher. He put up no less than 1,257 yards and eight touchdowns during his three years prior to 2017. But 2017 marked a terrible campaign that saw Nelson record only 53 catches for 482 yards. For Nelson to make it to his second year in Oakland, similar numbers like these won’t cut it. Retirement would likely follow a poor season.
Adam Vinatieri, kicker, Indianapolis Colts
At the ripe age of 45, Vinatieri is the oldest active player in the league. He and the Colts agreed to a one-year deal that will take Vinatieri to his 23rd season in the league. Vinatieri originally started his career with the Patriots in 1996, playing in New England until 2005. Up to date, Vinatieri has led the NFL in field goals three times while missing only 18 out of 352 possible games. A three-time All Pro and four-time Super Bowl champ, Vinatieri could very well decide to hang up his cleats after 2018.