When a professional football player begins a career, it seems the sport is his only priority. But over time, a person’s priorities change, as they must begin and nurture their own family, which will take the majority of their time.
And in a blink of an eye, you become a grizzled veteran in your own athletic career. Some take great pleasure in mentoring young rookies into fine professionals. It's part of what they call "sports evolution."
Here are NFL players clearly in their last tour of duty.
Atlanta Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez is considered one of the best TEs to ever play in the NFL, and he has given some indications (via the Atlanta Journal-Constitution) that this season could be his last in the league.
No question Gonzalez will be selected into the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility.
Yes, Gonzalez has lost a step, but he’s still a productive player in the Falcons passing attack. Not one questions his durability, as Gonzalez has only missed two games in his entire career.
Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis might be seeing the writing on the wall, as his terrific career is winding down. He’s the leader of the Ravens both on and off the field, but his play has declined over the years. Lewis is still one of the upper echelon LBs in the NFL, but he’s no longer irreplaceable in the starting lineup as once before.
Lewis may not be able to cover a tight end over the middle anymore, but he can stuff a hole on a running play with the best of them. Lewis lacks some physicality, but his football smarts more than make up for what he's lost there.
No player has been more loved by the Baltimore faithful than Ray-Ray. He’ll retire a first ballot Hall of Famer and arguably the best middle-linebacker to ever play the position.
New Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Greg Schiano has a very difficult task of changing the culture inside the team’s locker room. His rules show that irresponsible behavior will not be tolerated any longer.
To have a successful transition, Schiano needs a veteran’s presence in his starting lineup, and safety Ronde Barber is the perfect choice for the defense. He has an impressive resume, as Barber is the team’s all-time leader in interceptions and was a key component in the Bucs' Super Bowl title.
This season, he will make a position change from the cornerback to the safety position. It’s a fitting end to a Hall of Fame career, as Barber can mentor a young, troubled defensive secondary to greatness. He must transform their reckless behavior into good, smart football decisions.
Late yesterday afternoon, the Seattle Seahawks announced (via ESPN) the signing of wide receiver Terrell Owens to a one-year contract. Yes, he’s in great shape, but Owens is 38 years old and coming off reconstructive knee surgery.
The Seahawks wide receiver corp is in a very fragile state, as Sidney Rice hasn't (via Seattle PI) practiced much in training camp, and all likelihood will not begin the season on time. Head coach Pete Carroll might be bringing in Owens to push his young, inexperienced receivers and create a bit of competition in training camp.
It would be a fitting end to his career, as Owens could come into camp and compete for a job without being a distraction.