5 NFL Stars Who Should Hang Up Their Cleats After 2014 Season
One of the most common mantras about the NFL is that the game is really "just a business."
Indeed, there are few real-world professions with shorter lifespans, where an individual can rise and fall with equal swiftness. Whereas most people in their late-30s are just ascending their fields, NFL players at that threshold are dinosaurs on the verge of extinction.
That's not to say that stars on the decline are no longer useful players. But when their legacy and past deeds begin to outweigh their present-day ability, the notion of retirement becomes an unavoidable suggestion.
All the players on this list are still potential contributors in 2014, and it's not a guarantee that next season will be their last. However, when considering age, playing ability and contract situation, these five players could be taking the field for the final time next year.
5. Matt Hasselbeck
When thinking of the best quarterbacks of the 2000s, Matt Hasselbeck might not come up in the minds of many. While Hasselbeck did lead the Seattle Seahawks to a Super Bowl and five division championships, the most memorable moment of 5-6 career playoff record was the overtime guarantee against the Green Bay Packers that badly backfired.
Between 2001-2010, Hasselbeck's tenure as a regular Seattle starter, he compiled an 82.2 passer rating and 6.93 yards per attempt. Those are hardly earth-shattering numbers, ranking alongside the likes of Jake Delhomme and Brian Griese, but they also do not portray the full picture of Hasselbeck's impact on the Seahawks franchise.
Hasselbeck is Seattle's all-time leader in pass attempts, completions, yards and completion percentage (among players with at least 1,000 throws). While Russell Wilson could very well surpass those numbers given his talent and the evolution of the league toward pass-first offenses, Hasselbeck's longevity and regular-season success make him arguably the greatest quarterback in Seahawks history.
Now at age 38, Hasselbeck is in the final year of his contract as Andrew Luck's backup in Indianapolis. Hasselbeck threw just 12 passes in 2013, and his days as a regular starter are over. When he retires, he will be remembered as one of the most important figures in Seahawks history.
4. Brian Waters
Brian Waters may or may not actually suit up for the 2014 season but since he is still technically active, it would not be a surprise to see a team give the 14-year veteran a call near the end of training camp.
The 37-year-old Waters has been one of the league's best interior offensive lineman over the past decade, and missed just one game over 10 seasons as a regular starter for the Kansas City Chiefs. As a left guard for the Chiefs, Waters made two All-Pro teams and five Pro Bowl teams.
When it appeared Waters had reached the end of the line, the New England Patriots gave him a call shortly before the start of the 2011 season. Though the Pats only intended for Waters to provide depth, a season-ending leg injury to starting center Dan Koppen in the season-opener forced Waters into regular duty at right guard.
In response, Waters followed up with one of the best seasons of his career. According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), his plus-25.9 overall grade was fourth-best among all guards that season, and he managed to earn his sixth Pro Bowl appearance.
After taking all of the 2012 season off, Waters jumped into action for the Dallas Cowboys last season. However, a torn triceps after three games ended his season. If Waters elects not to receive surgery, one of the best offensive linemen of the 2000s will finally be able to call it a career.
3. Santana Moss
Perhaps it's the price of toiling away on mediocre teams for the majority of his career, but it does not seem as though Santana Moss has received his proper due.
Moss has been a part of just three teams that won a playoff game over his 13-year career and none since 2005. However, the longtime New York Jet and Washington Redskin was one of the league's better possession receivers for years.
Between 2003 to 2010, his 563 receptions were 10th-most among all players, and his 14.4 yards per reception ranked 19th. With additional value as a semi-regular punt returner, Moss' 9,102 all-purpose yards over that same time period is 15th-most of any player in the league.
Moss' role in Washington has diminished over the past three seasons, as he has not eclipsed 600 receiving yards since 2010. Despite this, Moss said he "never questioned" his desire to return in 2014, according to CSNWashington.com's Tarik El-Bashir.
Moss only signed a one-year veteran minimum deal, so his career is truly a year-to-year process at this point. When he does retire, he will go down as one of the past decade's more underrated all-around weapons.
2. Charles Woodson
Injuries have derailed many potentially stellar careers, and Charles Woodson was nearly a victim of that fate. After nagging injuries caused Woodson to miss 22 games over four seasons with the Raiders, it appeared his career was at a crossroads when he signed on with the Green Bay Packers before the 2006 season.
But in Green Bay, Woodson not only proved he could stay healthy, he also turned into one of the premier defensive backs of the mid- to late-2000s. Woodson made four consecutive All-Pro teams between 2008 and 2011, including a Defensive Player of the Year award in 2009.
Woodson was a transformative figure for the Packers because of his astounding versatility. Woodson played outside, in the slot and, in his later years, at safety, and he excelled in every role. During his time in Green Bay, he compiled 38 interceptions, 11.5 sacks and 15 forced fumbles. In NFL history, only four other players have hit those both those interception and sack totals over their entire career.
Woodson also has 11 defensive touchdowns, making him one of the most prolific defensive scorers in NFL history. That number is tied for second-most by a defender all-time, trailing only Rod Woodson's 12 interception scores.
The 37-year-old looks like he will end his career where it began, as Woodson re-upped in Oakland for one year this offseason. Fortunately for football fans' sake, that end will come much later than many expected.
1. Champ Bailey
NFL trades rarely have a significant impact, but the 2003 swap that sent Champ Bailey to Denver and Clinton Portis to Washington was one of the most important moves of the 2000s. In Bailey, the Broncos received arguably the NFL's best corner of the early to mid-2000s.
Named to the NFL 2000s All-Decade Team, Bailey has also earned seven All-Pro honors and 12 Pro Bowl selections in a decorated 15-year career. In PFR's career similarity scores, Bailey shares some lofty company with legends like Deion Sanders, Mike Haynes and Dick "Night Train" Lane.
Indeed, there is little doubt that Bailey is a first-ballot Hall-of-Famer. His 52 career interceptions are tied for 24th-most in the post-merger era, and he trails only Charles Woodson in the category among active players.
Unfortunately, things took a drastic downward turn for Bailey last season, as he played a career-low five games while battling through a foot injury. Opposing quarterbacks had a 96.1 quarterback rating when targeting Bailey last season, per Pro Football Focus, a reflection of his diminished ability.
Combined with a high cap number, the Broncos released the 35-year-old Bailey earlier this month. Though Bailey has "no plans to retire," per USA Today's Lindsay Jones, the end is clearly in sight. When Bailey does leave the game, the five-year clock will start ticking on his Canton induction.
*All stats courtesy Pro-Football-Reference.com, unless otherwise noted.
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