Another new season, another year older.
While the world waits to get a look at the new young prospects primed to enter the NFL, some players ponder where to take their careers next.
In a young man's game, three players that have had an enormous impact on the sport contemplate hanging up their cleats and closing the final chapter of their careers. Those three players are legendary quarterback Brett Favre, Baltimore's hard-hitting safety Ed Reed, and Philadelphia running back Brian Westbrook.
Most notably, and perhaps the most well known of these, is Brett Favre. On a recent taping of The Tonight Show, Jay Leno presented a gold watch to Favre as a retirement gift. After receiving the watch, Favre thanked him but insisted he hadn't made a decision yet.
"One more year! Congratulations!" Leno joked as the confetti flew. While it remains to be seen if Leno's skit turns out to be true or not, for another day the Brett Favre NFL saga continues.
Favre is coming off a career year at age 40, defying the odds as well as the critics who said he had grown too old to compete at a high level. Proving them wrong, Favre led the Minnesota Vikings to the NFC Championship game, losing in a heartbreaking finale in overtime to the New Orleans Saints.
His demeanor following the game has led analysts to believe that it was his final game in the NFL, but to many, it was simply the passion of a man who suffered the end of a near storybook comeback. For now, NFL fans and the rest of the country will just have to hold their breath and speculate.
While the season is a long and grueling process, anyone who has had the pleasure of seeing Favre live in action knows the type of player and competitor he is. Watching him tackle Percy Harvin in the end zone in Week One on a touchdown pass against the Cleveland Browns was a sign of just how much youth and heart is left in Favre still.
With the passion and energy of a schoolboy who just made the junior varsity team, you can bet that Brett will be back in the familiar No. 4 uniform next season, suiting up with the Minnesota Vikings for one last chance to finish what he started.
On the other side of the coin sits often injured Raven's Pro Bowl safety Ed Reed. While playing through the pain as much as possible, Reed has continued battling a severe neck injury the past few seasons, this due to the brutal hits he lays down in the secondary.
After the Ravens' 20-3 blowout loss to the Indianapolis Colts in the playoffs, Reed withheld making an emotional decision of retirement, opting instead to take some time and mull it over. It's a regular occurrence when a player doesn't get to retire on his own terms in the NFL, but at 31 and considering Reed's continued high level of play, this one stings the most.
In the offseason so far, Baltimore certainly hasn't made his decision any easier, adding two top-tier receivers in Anquan Boldin and Donte Stallworth. With the dominant running game featuring Ray Rice, they may have just pushed themselves into Super Bowl contender talks.
Much like Derrick Mason forced them to do last year, the team will wait for a decision from their secondary leader, and with a convincing defensive captain like Ray Lewis, expect Reed to give it one last hurrah.
Although for Favre and Reed the choice to return is theirs, for Brian Westbrook the ball is no longer in his court. After the Eagles' surprise release, Westbrook emotionally stated that he wants to return for the 2010 season. The million dollar question, however, is: Does any team feel that he's worth the risk?
At 30 years old and coming off a double-concussion season, a long-term deal is certainly out of the question, but perhaps a short-term deal on a contender may be in order. Front runners right now are the Minnesota Vikings to back up Adrian Peterson, the Kansas City Chiefs, and the New England Patriots, who have made a living off short veteran contracts lately.
Westbrook will almost certainly be back next season, but like many other injury-plagued NFL veterans, at some point you have to ask yourself when your health is more important than a ring.