The 10 Best NFL Players to Play for Only One Team in Their Career
In today's NFL game, it is difficult for a player to remain with only one team for their entire career. Just look at Peyton Manning and his situation with the Indianapolis Colts to see precisely how difficult it can be.
However, it is possible, and some of the greatest players to ever play the game have only played for one team over the course of their careers. Here are the 10 best who have done that.
Current NFL Players
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There are a handful of current NFL players who have only played with one team during their careers that should be considered some of the greatest players to ever play the game.
However, since they haven't retired yet, there is still the possibility that these players could eventually change teams. For that reason, it didn't feel right to rank them alone, but they definitely deserve some recognition.
Tom Brady, QB, New England Patriots (2000-present)
One of the greatest winners that the sport has ever seen. If Brady retired right now, you'd have to consider him one of the best players in NFL history.
The fact that Brady still has plenty of life left in him gives him the possibility of finishing his career as the most decorated quarterback to ever play the game.
Ed Reed, S, Baltimore Ravens (2002-present)
Reed is a unique playmaker who has really revolutionized the safety position since entering the league. There isn't a single aspect to his game that is lacking.
He's considered one of the greatest safeties who has ever stepped onto the field.
Ray Lewis, LB, Baltimore Ravens (1996-present)
Few players, regardless of position, have ever been as decorated as Lewis has been over the course of his career. Thirteen Pro Bowls, 10 All-Pro teams and two Defensive Player of the Year Awards is just the beginning of Lewis' incredible career.
Lewis also happens to be one of the greatest leaders that this game has ever seen.
Troy Polamalu, S, Pittsburgh Steelers (2003-present)
If you were to look at every strong safety to play in the NFL, it would be hard to find a more complete and dominant player than Polamalu.
He forces every team he plays against to game plan around him and has the ability to make an impact in every facet of the game.
10. Darrell Green, CB, Washington Redskins
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Years Played: 1983-2002
Accomplishments: Seven-time Pro Bowl, four-time All-Pro, two-time Super Bowl champion, NFL 1990s All-Decade Team
While Darrell Green may not be one of the most decorated cornerbacks in NFL history, the sheer longevity of his career was simply incredible. Green played well into his 40s, and it wouldn't be a surprise at all if he is still faster today than the majority of NFL players.
During his time in the league, Green was one of the better cover cornerbacks. He finished his career with 54 interceptions and had at least one interception in 19 straight seasons. Few players these days can even stay on the field for for even close to that many seasons.
Even though Green may never have been the most dominant player at his position over the course of his career, when you combine the amount of time he played in the league with his overall talent, you have one of the best cornerbacks in NFL history.
9. Derrick Brooks, LB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
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Years Played: 1995-2008
Accomplishments: 11-time Pro Bowl, nine-time All-Pro, Defensive Player of the Year (2002), Super Bowl champion (2003), NFL 2000s All-Decade Team
There simply wasn't an area of Derrick Brooks' game that was lacking. He was the ideal 4-3 outside linebacker in that he was good enough in coverage to never have to come off the field.
Brooks finished his career with over 1,700 tackles over the course of 14 seasons and was the definition of efficiency. He didn't miss a game in 13 straight seasons and started in 221 of the 224 games in which he appeared.
As good as Brooks was on the field, he was also quite the player off the field. He won the Walter Payton Man of the Year award following the 2000 season, and in 2003, Brooks brought home the "Whizzer" White NFL Man of the Year award.
He was truly a unique talent and ended his career as one of the best linebackers in NFL history.
8. Ray Nitschke, LB, Green Bay Packers
Years Played: 1958-1972
Accomplishments: Seven-time All-Pro, two-time Super Bowl champion, NFL 1960s All-Decade Team, NFL 50th Anniversary All-Time Team, NFL 75th Anniversary All-Time Team
Ray Nitshcke is easily considered one of the greatest linebackers to ever play the game. He was the anchor of the Green Bay Packers' defense that dominated the NFL for such a long time back in the early 1960s.
While he was probably best known for his ferocious hits, Nitschke excelled at every aspect of the game. He was a tough run-defender and finished his career with 25 interceptions.
7. Dan Marino, QB, Miami Dolphins
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Years Played: 1983-1999
Accomplishments: Nine-time Pro Bowl, eight-time All-Pro, NFL MVP (1984), Offensive Player of the Year (1984)
While Dan Marino was one of the most statistically impressive quarterbacks to ever play the game, he struggled with winning the big names. In fact, Marino is probably one of the best players to never win a Super Bowl during his career.
However, despite the lack of Super Bowl rings on Marino's fingers, you can't overlook the amount of passing records that Marino held when he retired. He was the quarterback who ushered in our current generation of quarterbacks that have made the NFL a league in which offenses are built around quarterbacks.
This may ruin the rest of the list, but Marino is the only quarterback to make it.
6. Dick Butkus, LB, Chicago Bears
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Years Played: 1965-1973
Accomplishments: Eight-time Pro Bowl, eight-time All-Pro, two-time Defensive Player of the Year, NFL 1960s All-Decade Team, 1970s All-Decade Team, NFL 75th Anniversary All-Time Team
As one of the greatest linebackers to ever play the game, Dick Butkus is the type of linebacker every coach wants on his team. He was intimidating, durable and absolutely loved the game.
His ability to force turnovers from his vicious hits is way too underrated. While forced fumbles wasn't a statistic recorded while Butkus played, the amount of fumbles he caused must have been staggering.
It's a shame that Butkus only played nine seasons in the NFL, because had he played more, it's likely that he would be holding numerous league records.
5. Don Hutson, WR/S/K, Green Bay Packers
Years Played: 1935-1945
Accomplishments: NFL 1930s All-Decade Team, NFL 75th Anniversary All-Time Team
While Don Hutson is certainly the oldest player on this list, he is also the most versatile player. Along with being the greatest wide receiver of his generation, Hutson was an incredible safety and kicker. In fact, Hutson led the league in made field goals during the 1943 season.
Where Hutson made his biggest impact, though, was on the offensive side of the ball. Even though Hutson retired nearly 70 years ago, he still holds numerous records as a wide receiver.
4. Walter Payton, RB, Chicago Bears
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Years Played: 1975-1987
Accomplishments: Nine-team Pro Bowl, nine-time All-Pro, Super Bowl champion (1985), NFL MVP (1977), NFL 75th Anniversary All-Time Team
If you've never watched Walter Payton play football, you are doing yourself a great disservice. He played the game at 110 percent every single snap he was on the field.
Not only did Payton have the ability to make you miss in the open field, he was also powerful enough to completely run over you if he so desired. The one thing that you would never see "Sweetness" do is blatantly run the ball out of bounds.
When Payton retired, he retired as one of the most decorated running backs of all-time and held numerous NFL records. His contributions off the field, as well as his production on the field, has made Payton one of the most beloved football players to ever play the game.
3. Barry Sanders, RB, Detroit Lions
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Years Played: 1989-1998
Accomplishments: 10-time Pro Bowl, 10-time All-Pro, NFL MVP (1997), two-time NFL Offensive Player of the Year, NFL 1990s All-Decade Team
As the most elusive football player in NFL history, it was truly a joy to watch Barry Sanders with the ball in his hands. He could literally do things on the field that seemed humanly impossible.
The fact that Sanders put up the ridiculous statistics he did in such a short period of time is simply incredible. When you add to it the fact that he played behind one of the worst offensive lines in the NFL at that time, it becomes downright ridiculous.
Had Sanders not retired when he did (which, by the way, was way too early) he would have shattered every single rushing record the NFL had to offer.
2. Jim Brown, RB, Cleveland Browns
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Years Played: 1957-1965
Accomplishments: Nine-time Pro Bowl, eight-time All-Pro, three-time NFL MVP, NFL 1960s All-Decade Team, NFL 75th Anniversary All-Time Team
You could probably debate the greatest running back in NFL history for hours upon hours, but one name that would always have to be brought up is Jim Brown.
There have been few athletes that have been as athletic, powerful and dominant as Brown was during his career. He was so much more physical than other players on the field that you'd often see him carry defensive players into the end zone as they were hanging on his back.
He retired as the all-time leading rusher, and despite only playing for nine seasons, he still ranks eighth on the all-time list. He'll always be considered one of the greatest football players to ever play the game.
1. Lawrence Taylor, LB, New York Giants
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Years Played: 1981-1993
Accomplishments: 10-time Pro Bowl, 10-time All-Pro, two-time Super Bowl champion, NFL MVP (1986), three-time Defensive Player of the Year, NFL 1980s All-Decade Team, NFL 75th Anniversary All-Time Team
While Lawrence Taylor has certainly had his problems off the field since he retired, when he was on the field, he was something special. He is easily the greatest defensive player in the history of the NFL.
Taylor dominated over the course of his entire career. He was so good that he forced every team in the league to change the way they thought about defensive players. In fact, Taylor was such a dominating force that he is one of only two defensive players to ever be named the Most Valuable Player (DT Alan Page in 1971 was the other).
He revolutionized the game of football in a way that will never happen again, and for that, he is the greatest player to only play for one team during his career.