NFL careers can be measured in many ways: season averages, career totals, individual awards and honors won. But the way the all-time greats are always compared is with a single statistic: rings.
Winning an NFL championship can't be done by one player, though, no matter how great he is. Teammates, coaches, schedules, injuries and even referees all have to align just right. And even then, Lady Luck often has to pay a visit.
Who are the best players in the NFL who are sure to retire without a ring? With the help of Matt Miller's B/R 1000 scouting series and Pro Football Focus data, I highlighted the 25 best players who've got no hope of grasping that Lombardi.
For being a former No. 7 overall draft pick, free-agent running back Thomas Jones has somehow racked up an almost invisible 10,591 yards. He may not get the chance to add to that total after struggling in Kansas City last season.
Nevertheless, his career achievements deserve recognition—even though he won't achieve a Super Bowl title.
Jacksonville Jaguars center Brad Meester has started 177 games over his 11-year career, switching from left guard to center in his fourth season.
At age 35, though, Meester doesn't have enough time left for the Jaguars to get him his ring.
Miami Dolphins linebacker Karlos Dansby has been a playmaker for all of his eight-year career. With 30.5 sacks and 11 interceptions, Dansby makes things happen.
Matt Miller ranks him as the 14th-best inside linebacker in the NFL, but being on the directionless Dolphins and the wrong side of 30 is a bad combination.
As guard Steve Hutchinson starts a new chapter of his career with the Tennessee Titans, he can look back on an incredible run. His 11-year career includes seven Pro Bowls and five times being listed as First-Team All-Pro.
But he doesn't have any rings, and he won't get one before he retires.
Willis McGahee has accomplished a lot as a Buffalo Bill and Baltimore Raven. In his eight-year career, he's averaged 920 yards and 7.4 touchdowns per season. But he's reached the age (30) when running backs hit the wall, and he hasn't ever started 16 games in a season. In fact, his 13 starts last year were his highest total since 2007.
His clock has likely run out, and unless he recovers his rookie form, the Broncos likely aren't winning it all this year.
It's easy to think of the energetic, youthful Darnell Dockett as an up-and-comer, but he's been an up-and-comer for so long that he's 31 years old.
After eight seasons and 126 starts, this three-time Pro Bowler likely missed his only chance at a ring when his Arizona Cardinals couldn't finish the Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl XLIII.
Baltimore Ravens center Matt Birk has had an impressive career, and he's seemed rejuvenated with his second team. But the six-time Pro Bowler is four seasons removed from his last free Hawaiian vacation, and it's likely now or never.
Matt Miller ranks Tenneseee Titans kicker Rob Bironas as the ninth-best in the NFL. But unless the 34-year-old changes teams soon, he likely won't last to get his ring.
Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Derrick Johnson is coming off his best season yet. He made the Pro Bowl and was named First-Team All-Pro. But the Chiefs have been building a defense around him his entire career, and after seven years, they haven't done it yet.
If they don't soon, they never will.
Most NFL players hit the wall at age 30, but Jason Babin found the fountain of youth. Playing in the Tennessee/Philadelphia Wide 9 alignment, Babin has had 30.5 of his 48 career sacks in the past two seasons.
But the rest of his defense hasn't been so great, and Philadelphia's Andy Reid Era may be drawing to a close. Babin better hope that fountain doesn't run dry.
Denver Broncos cornerback Champ Bailey needs no introduction; he's a sure-fire first-ballot Hall of Famer. At age 34, the 11-time Pro Bowler's still got it...but not for much longer.
Unless Peyton Manning picks up where he left off in Indy and carries the mediocre Broncos to a title this season, Champ will never actually be one.
Atlanta Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez has announced that this will be his last season. The future Hall of Famer had better make it a great one if the Falcons are going to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl.
Jaguars outside linebacker Daryl Smith has been excellent in relative obscurity for years. Despite never having made the Pro Bowl, Smith was nevertheless PFF's second-best 4-3 outside linebacker last season.
But unless Smith leaves Jacksonville, the 30-year-old will never play under the NFL's brightest lights.
Carolina Panthers wideout Steve Smith has been mostly fantastic for a decade. In 2005, he led the NFL in receptions, yards and touchdowns. He came excruciatingly close to the mountaintop the next season, losing to the Patriots in the Super Bowl.
But unless Cam Newton can claw the Panthers out of a brutally tough NFC this season, Smith will never get all the way to the summit.
Adrian Peterson is a beast—there's no other way to say it. But at age 27, his Vikings are firmly entrenched in the cellar of the NFC North, and he's coming off of a severe ACL injury.
If Peterson someday becomes an NFL champion, it'll only happen once his time in Minnesota's up.
St. Louis Rams running back Steven Jackson has been a force of nature when healthy. But he hasn't been healthy often over his seven-year career. And at age 28, he doesn't have much tread left on his tires.
Unfortunately, the Rams' wheels fell completely off last season.
Oakland Raiders punter Shane Lechler is one of the best in the business. He was PFF's third-highest-rated punter in 2011.
But at age 35, he likely only has a couple seasons left, and the Raiders are more than a couple seasons away from a title.
Kevin Williams has been one half of his generation's greatest defensive tackle pairing: the "Williams Wall." But Pat Williams is retired, and Kevin doesn't have many years left.
Being stuck behind the Packers, Lions and Bears for the next few seasons likely dooms the Williams Wall to zero collective rings.
Cameron Wake has racked up an impressive 28 sacks in his short NFL career as a Miami Dolphin. But the Dolphins are going nowhere fast, and the former CFL standout is already 30 years old.
Buffalo Bills strong safety George Wilson is Matt Miller's No. 2-graded strong safety. He has been a key cog in Buffalo's perennial no-name defense for years. But at age 31, those years are piling up quick, and the Bills aren't winning a title quickly.
Cardinals safety Adrian Wilson is suffering the same fate as teammate Darnell Dockett. One of the better young players at his position for so long, he's now one of the better old players at his position. PFF graded him as the second-best safety in the NFL last year.
Of course, Wilson's chances at a ring are no brighter than Dockett's.
Jordan Gross has quietly held down the Carolina Panthers' blindside protection gig for years. Last season, PFF graded him as the ninth-best tackle of either right or left varieties.
But the 30-year-old won't last forever, and the Panthers' next title shot isn't coming around the corner anytime soon.
It's tempting to think of MJD as a spring chicken, but the little fireplug power back has been bashing into people for six seasons and 1,484 carries.
He was PFF's second-highest-graded tailback in 2011, but unless Jacksonville builds a passing offense around him, he won't last much longer.
Jared Allen has been getting terrible haircuts and terrorizing quarterbacks for eight seasons.
The four-time First Team All Pro had an NFL- and career-high 22 sacks last season, bringing his total up to a massive 105. But like Adrian Peterson and Kevin Williams, Allen was a cornerstone in a title-winning team that never actually won a title.
The Vikings have almost no chance of making the playoffs while the Packers, Lions and Bears remain ascendant.