Football is an extremely physical sport—and as a result—the NFL has the most turnover of any professional sports league out there.
Most guys only last two or three years—and even if a player does have staying it power, it generally doesn’t take long for them to bounce out of the league after things go sour for them.
Heading into 2023, there are actually quite a few big-named players, who very may well be preparing to play the last of their professional football.
Let’s take a look forward and try to project 10 NFL stars—or, in some cases, former stars, who we expect to retire at the end of this season.
After being one of the most dominant and consistent wide receivers in the NFL for basically a decade, it seems like the good times have finally come to an end for Julio Jones.
He went from being a lock for 1000-plus receiving yards every year, not to mention a couple of insane league-leading seasons, to, frankly, a bit of an afterthought.
The first signs of his decline came in 2020, when he was limited to just nine games and subsequently 771 yards and 53 catches. These marked the lowest totals he’d had since 2013, when he played just five games after losing the rest of his season to a foot injury.
Some thought that he might just need a change of scenery, but it has only gotten worse since he left the Falcons.
In 2021 he played 10 games for the Titans and again set a new low-water mark production wise catching 31 balls for 434 yards and one touchdown.
This was when the rumors that Jones was washed up really started to build some momentum.
And after seeing what he did in Tampa last year with the GOAT, Tom Brady as his quarterback, even the most staunch Julio Jones supporters have to be concerned his time has come.
Jones is now heading into his 13th season and will be doing so with quite possibly the worst quarterback that he’s had thus far, Baker Mayfield. I would not be shocked to see the Bucs struggle and Jones finally decide to call it quits by the end of the season.
2022 was a rough year for Tampa Bay Buccaneers linebacker, Shaquil Barrett. He entered the season with the highest of highs, after finding out that Tom Brady was unretiring for at least one more year of football—only to have it all come crashing down in dramatic fashion.
The Bucs struggled out of the gate, starting the season three and five—and then, things went from bad to worse for the eight-year vet… During a Week 8 match up with the Baltimore Ravens, Barrett went down with a torn Achilles tendon—one of the worst injuries a player can get.
Understandably, the injury had the now 30-year-old linebacker in a tough place, he explained on the Loose Cannons Podcast:
“Mentally, it probably had me in a bad spot for like a day or two. Just wanted to sulk in it a little bit. You know, all the questions you ask when something bad happens that you don’t want to happen. Physically now though, I’m good. I’m doing the rehab. I’m getting better.”
He continued to explain that he was going to be ready to go in 2023, but when you read between the lines there—and add in the context of his age the challenges associated with returning from an injury of that magnitude—the picture is not nearly as clear as he’d have you believe it to be.
Tampa is likely going to be heading into a transitional period as an organization—and his huge cap hit isn’t going to make it any easier. They are going to need to see some serious production out of the former Pro Bowler this year if he wants to play out the rest of the four-year deal he signed in 2021 after the team’s Super Bowl win.
And if things end up going south—or even worse—he sustains another injury or setback, I wouldn’t be shocked to see Barrett take the power back into his hands and retire under his own volition.
Allen Robinson II
Man, does Allen Robinson’s lone Pro Bowl season back in 2015 with the Jacksonville Jaguars feel like a lifetime ago… There was so much excitement about the second-year receiver out of Penn State after he went for 1400 yards and 14 touchdowns that year, but he has never really taken off the way people expected him to.
That said… He did manage to notch a couple of good seasons since. In 2019 and 2020 while playing for the Chicago Bears he managed to post back-to-back 1100-plus yard seasons and did so, as really the only legitimate receiving option on the team.
But since then—he really seems to have fallen off a cliff. His last season in Chicago was a nightmare, but there was a general belief that that was more of an indictment on the Bears offense than Robinson… so people were excited to see him join the reigning Super Bowl champion Rams ahead of the 2022 season.
Robinson, however, did not live up to expectations. He battled a couple of nagging injuries and completely and totally underwhelmed.
Now, he has joined up with the Pittsburgh Steelers, marking this third team in three years. If he can’t manage to stay healthy or contribute, he may very well hang ‘em up at the conclusion of this season.
Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end, and the six-time All-Pro selection is heading into his age-33 season.
Not exactly a spring chicken.
He should be somewhat revitalized rejoining Seattle after a one-year sabbatical in Los Angeles, but even he’s admitted that at this point in his career, he needs to take it “one year at a time.”
Yes, he did indicate he would like to play longer, but playing linebacker at the NFL level isn’t exactly conducive to life in your mid 30s—and Wagner seems well aware of that reality.
It feels like 100 years ago that Melvin Gordon was considered amongst the top backs in the league—and warring with the Chargers over his contract situation—and subsequently giving birth to Austin Ekeler’s rise to prominence.
2022 was far and away the worst year of his career. He played just 10 games for the Broncos before signing to the Kansas City Chiefs practice squad. And though he didn’t play a single snap for Kansas City—he did still get a ring, which, apparently was good enough for him.
“Well, you know, I got the, I got a ring, so, the hard part is done. I’m just; I’m just looking for somewhere to play, man, you know, just have fun on the back end of things, you know, I just want to enjoy it [football] on the way out.”
“On the way out…” hmm… that is an interesting choice of words. Sounds like 2023 could be curtains for Melvin Gordon.
Aaron Donald is as good as it gets… Not just at his position… or on the defensive side of the ball… but, truly, as a football player.
When he retires, the three-time Defensive Player of the Year will walk into Canton. No questions asked.
And after an injury-plagued 2022 campaign it is looking more and more likely that stroll will come sooner rather than later.
I mean, think back to the Rams Super Bowl run! There were rumors back then that Donald was going to walk off into the sunset.
The way he plays the game simply has to come with a serious physical toll. And he prepares like an absolute maniac… Simply put, the man may be tired.
So, if he gets banged up—or if the Rams struggle again, don’t be shocked to see this future Hall of Famer call it quits.
Just existing at 6’ 4” and over 300 pounds is exhausting enough as it is—I can’t imagine throwing on the pads and banging bodies with other 300-pounders week in and week out for a decade plus.
But then again, there is a reason Fletcher Cox has been a perennial Pro Bowler for damn near his entire career.
That said… as tough as Fletcher Cox is—I am a little skeptical that he’ll want to continue his career. Check out the comments he made earlier in the year to Sports Illustrated:
“I’m just enjoying the moment, seizing every moment that I’m here, appreciating my teammates. And after the season, again, it’s the first time ever in my career that I’ll be a free agent and get to make a choice. But at the end of the day, I think the most important part now is getting focused on this game and not just the future.”
He doesn’t explicitly state anything about actually retiring… but he clearly seems to have moved into the sentimental, twilight phase of his career.
And width the Eagles entering the year as a popular pick to take home the Lombardi Trophy, who is to say that Philly doesn’t get it done this year and Cox rides off into the sunset?
Kareem Jackson, a 13-year NFL vet, signed a one-year extension with the Broncos back in May… And though he’s been a key contributor on a stout Broncos defense over the past few years, there is reason to believe that he may look to call it quits after the season.
He’s already made the first step towards retirement for a defensive back by moving from cornerback to safety, which he did back in 2019…
But even playing safety requires a lot of athleticism, which can be challenging to muster up at his advanced age.
Further complicating the situation for Jackson, there is a new coaching regime moving into the Broncos facilities.
They may be looking to get younger—or bring in guys that specifically fit their schemes after year 1.
According to a recent report from ESPN’s Adam Schefter, Jason Peters, long-time Eagles offensive tackle—and likely, a future Hall-of Famer—is looking to play his 20th season in 2023.
It has been one heck of a career for the nine-time Pro Bowler, who broke into the league back in 2004 as an undrafted free agent, but I wouldn’t be shocked to see this one be his last.
Peters is coming off an injury-riddled 2022 campaign, his first with the Dallas Cowboys—and common sense would dictate that the 41-year old might just be looking to round out his career with a 20th and final season.
After all, it does seem like he is already essentially winding down… Last year he was limited to just 245 snaps—his lowest total since his rookie season with the Buffalo Bills.
Though it wasn’t quite up to the standard he set during his career, he still managed to perform at a league-average level… I just think that one last run might be all he has in the tank—and, really, all he wants too!
It is easy to say this in retrospect… and granted… it would’ve cost him a nice chunk of change. But from our point of view, it really would’ve made sense for old Matt Stafford to have road off into the sunset after the stars aligned and he won a Super Bowl during his first year with the Los Angeles Rams.
Like I said… Hindsight is 20/20… But the Rams 2022 season was an abomination. And Stafford, who toiled away in Detroit for over a decade—battling poor rosters and a series of injuries—had a chance to leave on the highest of high notes.
But instead, he plodded back out there as a 34-year-old quarterback, who looked every bit his age—if not older.
Stafford played just nine games last year—and quarterbacked the Rams to a three and six record during his starts. Slightly more concerning than the record was the way he moved in the pocket—and the errant throws that were occurring way more frequently, especially when he tried to throw the ball downfield.
So much so, that the Rams really throttled back the offense. Stafford’s yards per attempt was down over a full yard per—and his air yards per attempt was down nearly two yards per attempt.
The fact of the matter is—Matt Stafford was a shell of his former self.
And if he has one more season like that, where he looks like a dinosaur is getting under center every week, he may finally decide to call it quits.
Or, honestly, the Rams—and the rest of the league may very well decide that for him and push him into retirement.
Which NFL player do you think most has a make-or-break season ahead of them in 2023? Did we miss anyone?
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