10 NFL Legends Who Stayed in the League Too Long

Russell S. Baxter@@BaxFootballGuruContributor IJune 9, 2013

10 NFL Legends Who Stayed in the League Too Long

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    It’s never easy to say goodbye. And for professional athletes or any of us who do something we love, it’s even more difficult.

    So here’s a brief look at some of the NFL’s past stars (some less past than others) who may have remained in the league a bit too past their prime.

    Seeing greats in different uniforms will bother those die-hard fans. From Los Angeles Rams quarterback Joe Namath to San Francisco 49ers running back O.J. Simpson to San Diego Chargers quarterback Johnny Unitas. None of those Hall of Famers had their finest moments in different duds.

    There’s no doubt there’s more that could be added to this list and feel free to chime in with suggestions. And while all of those listed aren’t Pro Football Hall of Famers, they were still incredibly productive players who excelled at their craft and gave us some legendary and memorable moments.

    Of course, in a perfect world, there would be no need for such discussion. All of our heroes would ride off into the sunset throwing the winning touchdown pass, coming up with the deciding score or making the defensive play of the game that stops the opposition.

    Unfortunately, this isn’t a perfect world. But in terms of the game of football, it would be nice, wouldn’t it?

LB Cornelius Bennett

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    When it was all said and done, linebacker Cornelius Bennett would finish his career with the team he was originally drafted by.

    The second overall pick by the Indianapolis Colts in the 1987 draft, the former Alabama star was a holdout as a rookie until his rights were dealt to the Buffalo Bills that Halloween in one of the biggest trades in NFL history.

    Bennett would go on to a stellar career with the Bills, named to five Pro Bowls. He was also part of those clubs that went to a record four straight Super Bowls.

    In nine seasons with Buffalo, Bennett totaled 51.5 sacks, six interceptions and recovered 19 fumbles.

    In 1996, the defensive standout signed with the Atlanta Falcons, where he spent the next three seasons. He was part of the Falcons team that reached Super Bowl XXXIII.

    Bennett was released after that 1998 campaign and wound up, amazingly, in Indianapolis. General manager Bill Polian, who helped orchestrate that aforementioned trade in 1987, signed Bennett, and he spent two seasons with the Colts.

    He managed just 8.0 sacks and zero interceptions during his stay in Indianapolis, where the defense was a few years away from finding itself.

WR Isaac Bruce

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    Wide receiver Isaac Bruce’s NFL roots began with the Rams…the Los Angeles Rams.

    A second-round pick in 1994, the talented wideout was a rookie during the franchise’s final season on the west coast.

    It didn’t take long for Bruce to become a star in the league. In his second NFL season and the team’s first in St. Louis (1995), the receiver totaled 119 catches for 1,781 yards and 13 scores. A few years later, quarterback Kurt Warner would join the team, and in 1999, the “Greatest Show on Turf” stunned the football world by winning Super Bowl XXXIV.

    By the way, we all know how the Rams took the lead in the game for good.

    Bruce would continue to put up big numbers with Warner and, later, quarterback Marc Bulger. But his 14th and final season with the team saw him catch an un-Bruce-like 55 passes, four for scores, in 14 games.

    A year later, Bruce would be a member of the San Francisco 49ers and caught a respectable 61 passes, seven for touchdowns. But he totaled only 21 receptions in 10 games in 2009, totaling a career-low 12.6 yards per catch.

    Still, Bruce is only one of eight players to total 1,000 or more career receptions. Not too shabby to say the least.

RB Eric Dickerson

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    We may never see the likes of Pro Football Hall of Famer Eric Dickerson ever again…at least when it comes to the start of his career.

    The second overall pick by the Los Angeles Rams in 1983, the former SMU star ran for an NFL rookie record 1,808 yards in his debut campaign. A year later, Dickerson set the league record for rushing yards in a season, rolling up 2,105 yards for head coach John Robinson.

    Dickerson, however, wouldn’t be with the Rams for long, despite running for 1,821 yards in 1986. In October of 1987, the disgruntled runner was dealt to the Indianapolis Colts in 1987 in what proved to be one of the biggest trades (which also involved the Buffalo Bills) in NFL history.

    In his first two seasons with his new team, Dickerson rolled up 2,970 yards rushing, including 1,659 yards in 1988.

    But his number of games played and yards on the ground would be on the decline starting in 1990. In 1992, he ran for 729 yards in 16 games with the Los Angeles Raiders, and a year later, the less-than-healthy superstar had a brief stint with the Atlanta Falcons before calling it a career.

QB Brett Favre

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    He holds all the records when it comes to career passing in NFL history.

    But did quarterback Brett Favre hold on too long when it came to playing football?

    The prolific passer is the league’s all-time leader in all major passing categories, from yards and touchdowns to interceptions and consecutive games started by a quarterback. He led the Green Bay Packers to a win in Super Bowl XXXI and an appearance in Super Bowl XXXII.

    After 16 seasons with the Pack, he was dealt to the New York Jets and played one season with the Green and White in 2008

    Now there will be those who say Favre had arguably his greatest season in 2009, when he led the Minnesota Vikings to a NFC North title and an appearance in the conference championship game. That year, Favre threw 33 touchdown passes and just seven interceptions during the regular season.

    Of course, he also made a crucial mistake in the NFC Championship Game.

    Favre saw his streak of consecutive starts end in 2010, a year which saw him picked off 19 times compared to only 11 scores. Keep in mind it was the third time in six years that he had thrown more interceptions than touchdown passes. And the drama of whether he would return each season certainly wore on some.

    There’s no doubting No. 4’s greatness. But did he wear out his welcome by career’s end? 

S Rodney Harrison

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    One of the game’s biggest hitters and intimidators, safety Rodney Harrison had quite the 15-year run with the San Diego Chargers and, later, the New England Patriots.

    After a successful career with the Bolts, Harrison’s first two years in Foxborough resulted in Super Bowl championships (XXXVIII and XXXIX).

    But wear and tear was taking its toll on the physical defender. In 2005, his season was cut short after three games due to a knee injury. Harrison was limited to 10 games a year later. During the Patriots’ Super Bowl season of 2007, he was suspended for four games by the league for violation of the substance abuse policy).

    Harrison suffered a severe thigh injury six games into 2008 that ended his season and, in essence, his career.

    But back to the 2007 and Super Bowl XLII. Harrison was on the wrong end of two of the game’s biggest plays by the New York Giants, both in the fourth quarter, one by tight end Kevin Boss and the other by wideout David Tyree. New York would hand the 18-0 Patriots their first loss of the season.

    It was a brilliant career for Harrison, but not necessarily a very satisfying end. He missed 29 games due to injury his last four seasons and was seemingly never the same after a brilliant 2004 postseason run.

G Steve Hutchinson

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    One of the league’s most reliable blockers for more than a decade, guard Steve Hutchinson helped form two of the better left-side tandems in the league during his playing days.

    During his days with the Seattle Seahawks, the former first-round draft choice teamed with perennial Pro Bowl left tackle Walter Jones and formed a dynamic duo that paved the way for running back Shaun Alexander’s MVP season of 2005. The Seahawks also reached the Super Bowl in 2005 for the first and only time in franchise history to date.

    Hutchinson would make the “transition” to Minnesota in 2006, and there he would be paired with left tackle Bryant McKinnie. In 2007, the Vikings drafted running back Adrian Peterson, and the rest of that history is still being written.

    After being named to seven straight Pro Bowls from 2003-09, Father Time was once again an un-blockable opponent. Hutchinson played two more seasons with the Vikings and was released.

    Hutchinson signed with the Tennessee Titans in 2012, which proved to be his final season in the NFL.

DE Simeon Rice

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    There are those who would suggest that perhaps another player named Rice could be on this list. But that’s certainly a debate for another time.

    While defensive end Simeon Rice isn’t often mentioned among the all-time greats, you can’t deny his impact with his teams. The third overall pick in the 1996 NFL draft by the Arizona Cardinals, the star defender would eventually be named to three Pro Bowls during his productive career.

    Rice totaled 12.5 sacks as a rookie, and during his stay in Arizona he totaled 51.5 sacks in five seasons.

    It was off to Tampa in 2001. In six seasons with the Buccaneers, Rice amassed 69.5 sacks and four interceptions, and the team would go onto win Super Bowl XXXVII in 2002.

    In 2006, injuries limited Rice to eight games and 2.0 sacks. He was let go by the Bucs in 2007 and wound up playing a total of eight games with the Denver Broncos and Indianapolis Colts, totaling one sack in two games with the Colts.

    But it was evident that he, suddenly, just wasn’t the same player that he had been just two seasons earlier.

WR Randy Moss

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    It wasn’t long ago, seemingly, that wide receiver Randy Moss was setting NFL records with the New England Patriots.

    Now the sun may be setting on his fabulous career.

    The inevitable end has been somewhat perplexing. The productive wideout did play in 2012 with the San Francisco 49ers and was a part of Super Bowl XLVII. Moss caught 28 passes for 434 yards and three touchdowns. This was a year removed from not playing in 2011.

    In 2010, Moss was still with the Patriots before being dealt in midseason to the Minnesota Vikings. He played just four games in the Twin Cities before being let go and eventually signed with the Tennessee Titans. It added up to four games, six catches and zero touchdowns in Nashville.

    That means in his last two seasons, Moss has played 32 games and caught 56 passes, eight for scores. While his ability to find the end zone remains fascinating, it’s been a steady fade for one of the game’s greatest receivers.

RB Fred Taylor

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    Did we really see running back Fred Taylor with the New England Patriots?

    Indeed. The prolific runner spent his final two seasons in the NFL in Foxborough, playing in 13 games and running for 424 yards and four touchdowns.

    Taylor ranks 15th in league history with 11,695 yards rushing, the vast majority of those yards with the Jacksonville Jaguars. Not bad for a player that wasn’t often regarded as injury-prone throughout his career. Taylor ran for 1,100-plus yards in seven of his 10 seasons with the Jaguars.

    But by 2008, it was role reversal in Jacksonville as backfield mate Maurice Jones-Drew was now the main man in the backfield. It was off to New England in 2009 where he spent those last two less-than-spectacular seasons.

RB Thurman Thomas

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    Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback Jim Kelly would start and finish his NFL career with the Buffalo Bills.

    Fellow Hall of Famer Bruce Smith played the tail end of his career with the Washington Redskins. So did prolific wide receiver Andre Reed.

    But former Buffalo Bills running back and Hall of Famer Thurman Thomas, a member of the division rival Miami Dolphins?

    Say it isn’t so, at least for Bills fans. But one of the game’s all-time greats in terms of all-purpose yardage gained did wear a Dolphins uniform in 2000, his final year in the NFL.

    Truth be told, Thomas’ performance had been steadily declining starting in 1997, when he ran for just 643 yards in 16 games. That year, the Bills also made running back Antowain Smith their first-round draft choice.

    And by 2000, Thomas was with the Dolphins. He played nine games that year, running for 136 yards on 28 carries and scored his only touchdown of the season on a reception.

    It was a quiet end to one of the louder performers of the 1990s.