Sunday could bring an end to more than just the season
For two teams, Sunday will mark a bitter end to the NFL season — only one game short of the Super Bowl. For a handful of players on those teams, Sunday could bring an end to more than just the season.
While there’s no sign that 40-year-old Drew Brees will retire, we already know that New Orleans Saints tight end Benjamin Watson will retire after the season. But he’s not the only New Orleans pass catcher nearing the end of his career.
On the other side of the ball, both the Los Angeles Rams and Kansas City Chiefs have two defensive backs that could be nearing the end. And while New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady doesn’t seem to be heading towards retirement, we can’t say the same for two of his top targets.
Should their teams lose, Sunday could well be the final NFL game for each of these players.
Andrew Whitworth, left tackle, Los Angeles Rams
Whitworth is 37. Excluding the aforementioned Brees, Brady and Watson, Whitworth will be the oldest player to take the field in either of Sunday’s games. As a left tackle, Whitworth constantly sees not only the best pass rushers his opponent has to offer. As an offense lineman, he’s almost exclusively working against the biggest and strongest players on the other team.
Very few play as long as Whitworth has already played. With that in mind, we know that Whitworth will retire sooner rather than later. If the Rams are defeated on Sunday, it could well be much sooner.
Eric Berry, safety, Kansas City Chiefs
Long one of the NFL’s best safeties, the injury bug has hit Berry hard over the last two seasons. Between 2017 and 2018, Berry played in three combined regular season games. That’s rough for anyone. For a football player now on the wrong side of 30, it’s even worse.
Berry didn’t even suit up for the divisional round win over the Indianapolis Colts. His status for Sunday against the Pats remains uncertain. But regardless of what happens there, it’s not hard to imagine Berry calling it a career after Sunday’s game should the Chiefs lose.
Julian Edelman, wide receiver, New England Patriots
The first thing that’s worth noting is that Edelman has played in all 16 games only twice in his NFL career. And while 2018’s absence wasn’t injury related, he missed all of 2017 with a torn ACL. That’s because Edelman has rarely been hesitant to go into spots where he’ll end up getting hit and hit hard.
Over the years, that takes its toll on the body of any receiver, especially one who’s not even six-feet tall and weighs less than 200 pounds. Edelman will also turn 33 in the offseason. Granted, he’s not showing signs of a significant slowdown, but he has to be getting pretty close to the limit.
Aqib Talib, cornerback, Los Angeles Rams
While Talib has remained fairly durable through his career, 2018 was an exception. He went on IR in September. And while he returned later, it cost him eight games. That’s a rough sign for a guy who’s nearly 33, especially a defensive back. Additionally, Talib is clearly not the same player that he once was.
Make no mistake, Talib is as tough as he’s ever been. But chasing receivers around is getting tougher, which we expect to continue. Going against a Drew Brees and the Michael Thomas-led receiving corps will be a real test for Talib. If it doesn’t go well, the NFC Championship Game could well be his last.
Orlando Scandrick, cornerback, Kansas City Chiefs
If you need a sign that 2018 hasn’t gone terribly well for Scandrick, he was benched ahead of Kansas City’s Week 16 game with the Seattle Seahawks. That was a meaningful game for the Chiefs. Scandrick was active for Week 17 and again for the divisional round game with the Colts, but did very little.
Scandrick is also not under contract for 2019 and will turn 32 in February. If teams are signing 32-year-old defensive backs, they generally want a sure thing. Scandrick has been anything but. That does not bode well for his future in the NFL.
Ted Ginn Jr., wide receiver/returner, New Orleans Saints
Ginn played in only five games during the 2018 regular season, catching only 17 passes. Even extrapolating those numbers out to a full season, he still would have fallen well short of what we’ve grown used to seeing.
Additionally, Ginn, who’s been one of the NFL’s best return men for more than a decade, was used only sparingly in that role. If Ginn wants to remain in the league, we suspect that he’ll be able to find a job. But we must remember that Ginn will be 34 in April. So, even if his numbers were better, the end would be near. If the Rams top the Saints, it wouldn’t surprise us if he hung up his cleats.
Sam Shields, cornerback, Los Angeles Rams
The good news for Shields is that he played in all 16 games in 2018. The bad news? It was the first time in his career that he did so. Injuries have been an unfortunate part of Shields’ career since Day 1.
Even if he was healthy in 2018, it’s hard to ignore that history with a 31-year-old corner. Like Talib, Shields is going to be put to the test on Sunday. We’ll know very quickly if he can hang with the best. If that game doesn’t go well, it’s hard to imagine things getting any better going forward.
Rob Gronkowski, tight end, New England Patriots
As soon as Super Bowl LII ended last year, Gronk made it clear that retirement was an option. While he returned in 2018, the rumblings are that he only wants to play in New England and wants a new contract.
Given the down year that he had, a new contract seems highly unlikely. In fact, we wouldn’t be surprised if the Pats moved on from Gronk in the offseason. Bill Belichick’s M.O. has generally been to part with players a year too early rather than a year too late. Gronkowski is getting dangerously close to that range, if he’s not there already. If the Pats fall on Sunday, the end of the Gronk era could be upon us.