Professional sports offer a short time-line for those lucky enough to play. For so many, especially in football, it’s a business of get in, get the money and get out before you’re kicked out.
Favre wasn’t able to see that and will be remembered as much as the league’s punch-line as he will be a legend.
Players like John Elway and Barry Sanders retired in their prime, on their own terms.
Many others just let their stats gracefully slide before stepping aside.
The following players will reveal in 2011 that they are entering that decline and nearing the end of their careers.
Green Bay’s long-time No. 2 receiver, Donald Driver, is fielding questions regarding his future with the Packers. Three young receivers are in the running for his spot, including rookie Randall Cobb. Driver is, as of yet, still the starter for Green Bay and will be as he claims the record for the Packers’ all-time receiving yardage early this season.
But, after that?
Driver left the Super Bowl in February with what turned out to be a high-ankle sprain. While the nature of the injury itself is not cause for concern, it is worrisome that he spent two months in a boot because of it. That’s a sure sign of his age.
Plus, in 2010 he garnered just about half of the yardage he’d been putting up each year since 2004—less yardage, in fact, than either backups Jordy Nelson or James Jones came up with.
It’s perfectly understandable that Hasselbeck, who spent 10 years in the same system, would have trouble learning a new scheme. It’s a classic old dog, new tricks scenario and had Hasselbeck looking like a rookie as he referenced the play chart on his arm for every play in last week’s preseason opener.
Mechanically, in his first series with Tennessee he looked mostly good, except for an inexplicably high hand-off to Javon Ringer. Senility? Maybe.
He’s also missed time in each of the last three seasons with injuries. Last season he played through both broken ribs and a broken (non-throwing) wrist.
Seattle, it seems, did well not to re-ink their veteran signal-caller.
Adrian Wilson is limping through training camp with a torn biceps tendon. He’s opted for rehab instead of surgery in order to make a faster comeback. The 11-year veteran safety plans to play through the injury.
That didn’t work so well for him last year, though. After an excellent campaign in 2010’s season opener, Wilson struggled mightily as he played through what turned out to be a torn abductor muscle. Wilson ended up having surgery for the injury in the offseason.
Once that news broke, fans hoped Wilson would make a comeback this year, but that doesn’t look to be the case. Wilson will struggle again and this will likely be the beginning of the end of his career.
Wide receiver free agent Terrell Owens mysteriously tore his ACL this offseason and, as a result of that and his recent slip in stats, remains unsigned.
The 38-year-old receiver is content with that, though. He claims his doctor believes he can return to the field by Week 2 or 3 of the regular season (most with such an injury would be out until at least November) and will be waiting in the wings for a team to call upon his services when their own receivers are injured.
Even Derrick Mason seems to acknowledge that his career is nearly over. He reportedly signed with the Jets because it was, as he saw it, his best chance to win a Super Bowl right away.
Derrick Mason is one of the veteran players expected to take the place of Sanchez’ former targets, Jerricho Cotchery and Braylon Edwards. The problem is, Cotchery and Edwards are in the prime of their careers while Mason is in the final stages of his.
Last year he had over 200 less yards than the year before, showing the inevitable decline in production that comes with being 37 years old. Now, coach Ryan expects him to have 90-100 receptions (a feat he’s only done three times, the most recent of which was five years ago) and he will more than likely come up short for New York.
While Mason left Baltimore in order to win a Super Bowl, running back Ricky Williams came to Baltimore for the same reason.
The 34-year-old gave up the possibility of more carries on an up-and-coming Detroit Lions team in order to win a championship ASAP.
With the Ravens, Williams will serve primarily in short-yardage situations. His age alone may suggest—though Williams didn’t voice as much—that he isn’t able to effectively handle 20 carries per game; the reduced role on a Super Bowl-ready team could mask that effectively.
Ronde Barber will look old simply because of the team surrounding him. Barber is the oldest player on the team by five years—running back Earnest Graham, the next oldest, is 31. The only other member of the team in his 30s is center Jeff Faine, who turned 30 last April.
Even head coach Raheem Morris is younger (by a year, but still).
Barber, who leads the Bucs in interceptions, may have a bit left in the tank, but you have to believe the direction the Bucs are going suggests Barber’s tenure there will be over soon.
Speaking of the Barbers, Tiki announced a return from retirement following some well-publicized poor personal decisions. The running back half of the twinset has yet to be signed and has yet to generate much interest. Miami gave him a workout, but that’s more or less it.
If Barber lands on a team, it’s likely he’ll show the brothers’ age and further embarrass himself on a public scale.
Tomlinson hasn’t had a 1,000-yard season since 2008 and it doesn’t look like he’s going to. He experienced a slight renaissance with the New York Jets last year after struggling and missing time with an injury the year before in San Diego.
This year, though, he will be serving as the Jets' third-down back while Shonn Greene takes over the starting position. Tomlinson, meanwhile, will be spending time “preserving his body” in order to continue to be an asset in the future.
Everybody (or at least everybody in the Pacific Northwest) sharply remembers the hit Seattle took following Hutchinson’s departure to Minnesota. Hutchinson was once counted among the top guards in the league.
Now, coming off a tough season for Minnesota’s offensive line, it looks like Hutch has finally hit his decline. In Minnesota’s preseason opener in Tennessee, the Pro Bowler looked just average. It looks like the 33-year-old’s career is on its sad decline.
Aaron Kampman was among the top defensive ends in the league during his prime in Green Bay. This year, his second with Jacksonville, he’s coming off back-to-back ACL tears and will be playing a reduced role with the team.
The fact that Jacksonville doesn’t have anyone who is necessarily better than the Kampman we all knew and loved and is still choosing to sit the Pro Bowler illustrates Kampman’s rust and the decline of his talent.