5 NFL Veterans Currently Pondering Retirement We Will Miss the Most
The NFL offseason is always an exciting time for fans thanks to events like the NFL draft, but it's also a stressful time for veterans who are weighing the decision on whether to hang up the cleats after successful careers.
Two high-profile players have already made the decision to retire and end stellar careers. Linebacker Ray Lewis of the Baltimore Ravens and receiver Donald Driver of the Green Bay Packers were the first to make it official, but many more could follow suit.
There are a few big-name players right now who are contemplating retirement, or at least claim they are. It is a sad day when any of the NFL's best call it quits, and this especially rings true with Hall of Famers such as Lewis.
Let's take a moment to highlight five players who are currently contemplating retirement that NFL fans will miss the most.
Ronde Barber, S, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Even at 37 years old, Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive back Ronde Barber has managed to keep playing at a borderline elite level.
Barber started his career 15 years ago as a cornerback, but made the switch to safety last year.
Do not let the position change fool you into thinking he has lost it.
According to ProFootballFocus, Barber was the No. 10 ranked safety in the NFL last year on a list that measured over 80 players. He recorded 92 tackles and four interceptions on what was otherwise a miserable secondary.
Barber has not decided whether he will come back for a 16th season (via ESPN), but it is a safe bet he would be welcomed back without any hesitation by Tampa Bay.
Barber is one of those players that has been around for so long fans take him for granted. It will be sad to see him finally hang up the cleats—whenever that may be.
London Fletcher, LB, Washington Redskins
Washington Redskins inside linebacker London Fletcher is another player who flies under the radar despite the outstanding career he has put together over the course of 14 seasons.
Fletcher is now 37 years old, but he has shown no signs of slowing down. ProFootballFocus ranked him as the third-worst inside linebacker in the NFL in 2012, but he still managed to record 139 tackles, three sacks and five interceptions.
Fletcher recently told the The Washington Post he is still undecided about playing 2013:
"It’s still a process," Fletcher said. "(When) you get older in your career, you have to evaluate everything. Health is one thing. Can I still do it at the level that I want to do it at and play at?"
While he did regress in 2012, Fletcher still has enough in the tank to put together another season if he can stay healthy.
If not, the NFL will lose yet another great linebacker.
Ed Reed, S, Baltimore Ravens
Baltimore Ravens safety Ed Reed has been fighting the urge to retire for the past few seasons thanks to age and a variety of injuries.
No one could blame him now if he rode off into the sunset with a Lombardi Trophy.
Either way, Reed is now a free agent and will re-up with the Ravens or find a new home if he chooses to come back.
Reed has been one of the most electrifying defensive players to watch in recent years. In his 10-year career he has totaled 605 tackles and 61 interceptions, seven of which he has returned for touchdowns.
We would hate to see Reed go, but it may be time with the wear and tear on his body at 34 years of age.
Brian Urlacher, LB Chicago Bears
Brian Urlacher is currently a free agent after limping his way through an injury-riddled 13th season with the Chicago Bears.
Urlacher told ESPN Chicago that he is intent on playing a 14th season in the league, but he has also made it very clear he wants to remain with the Bears—and is even willing to take a discount to do so (via Chicago Tribune).
The problem is, the Bears may not want him, even at a reduced price.
There is a new regime in Chicago after head coach Lovie Smith was canned, and according to NFL.com, the team has made no progress in bringing him back or even hinting publicly that they want to.
It is hard to see Urlacher starting over with a new franchise if the Bears do not bring him back at the age of 35. The safe bet is on him retiring, which is a shame. Urlacher totaled over 1,200 tackles and intercepted 22 passes in what was an amazing career as the heart of the Chicago defense.
Tony Gonzalez, TE, Atlanta Falcons
For a tight end who is going to be 37 years old soon and has played 14 seasons in the NFL, you would think Tony Gonzalez would have lost a step by now.
He certainly did not in 2012.
Last year, Gonzalez was a critical element of the Atlanta Falcons' success as he reeled in 93 passes for 930 yards and eight touchdowns. It was business as usual for Gonzalez, who now has over 1,200 receptions, 14,000 yards and 103 touchdowns over the course of his career.
Despite the awe-inspiring production at his age, Gonzalez has been considering retirement. However, recently there was a breakthrough as ESPN's Ed Werder reported on Sportscenter (h/t Rotoworld):
"I'm told virtually everyone in the Falcons' organization has been campaigning for Gonzalez to make one more Super Bowl run," said Werder. "And I'm told that he's beginning to waver. The people who have spoken to him seem to believe that they're making progress. In fact, one player close to Gonzalez told me 'I think, if the circumstances are right, that Tony Gonzalez will return.'"
It is great news for NFL fans worldwide. Gonzalez redefined a position and helped change the landscape of NFL offense entirely. Losing him now would be another major blow to the league in an offseason that has seen some greats hang up the cleats already.