NFL Players Who Should Call It Quits After the 2021 Season

Maurice Moton@@MoeMotonFeatured ColumnistNovember 15, 2021

NFL Players Who Should Call It Quits After the 2021 Season

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    Some NFL players fail to realize when it's best to leave the game for good. Their physical skills fade before the passion to compete every week.

    A player's lack of production and recurring injuries provide the telling signs, though. Based on those factors, we can see the steady decline of star players who have fallen off from their All-Pro and Pro Bowl years.

    We'll take a look at six household names who have hit rock bottom in terms of production, suffered enough injuries to raise serious concerns or a combination of both. All of them should contemplate retirement at the end of the 2021 season.

Jimmy Graham, TE, Chicago Bears

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    In his heyday, Jimmy Graham served as a dominant red-zone threat, hauling a league-leading 16 touchdown passes during the 2013 campaign. The five-time Pro Bowler and All-Pro logged double-digit scores in four seasons, three with the New Orleans Saints and one with the Seattle Seahawks.

    In 2019 with the Green Bay Packers, Graham started to see a significant drop-off in snaps, taking the field for 58 percent of the offensive plays. Last year, he had a comparable workload with the Chicago Bears but led the team in touchdown receptions (eight).

    This year, Graham has played 30 percent of the snaps, and he's a non-factor in the passing game, logging two receptions for 39 yards on six targets. Cole Kmet has surpassed him on the depth chart.

    Graham's contract will void at the end of the 2021 term, and the Bears have no reason to re-sign him with the recent emergence of Kmet, who recorded a career-high 87 receiving yards in Week 9 against the Pittsburgh Steelers. 

    Because Graham isn't a reliable blocker or viable pass-catcher at his age (he turns 35 on Nov. 24), he won't draw interest while on the free-agent market in 2022.

T.Y. Hilton, WR, Indianapolis Colts

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    In March, the Indianapolis Colts re-signed T.Y. Hilton to a deal that voids in 2022. He had a decent 2020 campaign, catching 56 passes for 762 yards and five touchdowns.

    Just as Hilton started to build a deep-ball rapport with quarterback Carson Wentz in the offseason, he suffered a neck injury, which required surgery. The 31-year-old considered retirement during the healing process:

    "The first two days out of surgery, I didn't think I'd be back, man, to be honest with you. It was just painful. It was very painful. I hope nobody has to go through that at all. It sucks, especially not being able to play the game that I love after being in training camp so long with my team grinding and being so happy. God is good."

    Hilton mentioned that he talked to former Colts quarterback Andrew Luck, who retired before the 2019 campaign, jokingly saying, "that was probably the wrong thing to do."

    In Week 6, Hilton made his season debut and immediately picked up where he left off with Wentz, recording four catches for 80 yards, including a 52-yard reception. However, he hasn't been able to shake the injury bug. 

    Hilton missed the following contest with a quad injury and sat out Week 9 because of a concussion. He returned to action in Week 10 and caught one pass for five yards.

    Since Hilton contemplated retirement this past offseason, we shouldn't be surprised if he walks away after battling through multiple injuries. Far from the four-time Pro Bowler between 2014 and 2017, Hilton should hang up his cleats.

Richie Incognito, OG, Las Vegas Raiders

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    Rick Scuteri/Associated Press

    Richie Incognito hasn't played a snap since September of the 2020 campaign. Over the last 14 months, he's spent most of his time rehabbing and recovering while on injured reserve.

    Last year, Incognito suited up for the first two weeks and missed the remainder of the campaign because of an Achilles injury and underwent season-ending foot surgery in November. 

    This past offseason, the Raiders released and re-signed him to a modest one-year, $2.1 million contract. He would've likely started at left guard but suffered a calf injury that's sidelined him since August.

    The Raiders have continuously pushed back Incognito's possible return date. Now, the 38-year-old isn't expected back until December at the earliest. 

    Since signing with the Raiders in 2019, Incognito has played in 14 games and missed 27 outings. Because of injuries and slow recovery, he probably should retire at the end of the 2021 term.

Josh Norman, CB, San Francisco 49ers

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    Kamil Krzaczynski/Associated Press

    Josh Norman has never duplicated his 2015 All-Pro season with the Carolina Panthers. Though he had a few other decent campaigns in his prime, the 33-year-old cover man struggled mightily on the boundary in recent years, giving up eight touchdowns in 2018 and losing his starting job with the Washington Football Team in 2019.

    Last year with the Buffalo Bills, Norman had a brief resurgence in primarily a backup role, logging 24 tackles, two for loss, four pass breakups and an interception and allowing an 84 passer rating in coverage through nine games. 

    Norman signed with the San Francisco 49ers about a week before their 2021 season opener. He's started all six games he's appeared in, recording 28 tackles, three for loss, three pass breakups, four forced fumbles and an interception. 

    While Norman has a knack for jarring the ball loose with 17 career forced fumbles, he's a liability in coverage, which is his primary responsibility. This season, the 10th-year pro has allowed a 69.6 percent completion rate, which is a drop-off from each of his last three seasons. He's also missed 13 contests since 2019.

    Norman can fill a void on the boundary until the 49ers feel comfortable with rookie fifth-rounder Deommodore Lenoir in that spot. Next year, teams won't line up to sign a 34-year-old cornerback who routinely gives up completions on the perimeter at an alarming rate. He cannot rely on forced fumbles to land a job at his position.

Jason Peters, OT, Chicago Bears

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    Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

    As an offensive tackle, Jason Peters isn't aging gracefully like fellow 39-year-old Andrew Whitworth, who's still a reliable pass-blocker for the Los Angeles Rams.

    While Whitworth has allowed one sack through 498 offensive snaps, Peters has surrendered four sacks through 522 offensive snaps, per Pro Football Focus

    The Bears parted ways with both of their starting tackles from the previous season in Bobby Massie and Charles Leno Jr. Rookie second-round tackle Teven Jenkins missed training camp because of a back injury, and the team placed him on injured reserve. Peters became a Band-Aid for an offensive line going through major changes. 

    Nonetheless, Peters' pass-protection issues show he's no longer a solid starter in the league. Once Jenkins returns, he'll likely take over the first-string job at left tackle while fellow rookie Larry Borom lines up on the right side.

    Peters isn't in the Bears' long-term plans, and he's clearly on a sharp decline. The 18th-year pro isn't equipped to handle athletic edge-rushers and doesn't have enough experience at guard to transition inside seamlessly.

Ben Roethlisberger, QB, Pittsburgh Steelers

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    Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

    Ben Roethlisberger showed signs of significant decline last season, and that's carried over into the 2021 campaign. 

    After undergoing reconstructive surgery on his elbow, Roethlisberger threw for 3,803 yards, 33 touchdowns and 10 interceptions in the 2020 season. Though those numbers look decent on paper, he dinked and dunked his way down the field, averaging 6.3 yards gained per pass attempt. That's his lowest mark with the exclusion of the 2019 season in which he only played two games. 

    This past offseason, the Steelers promoted quarterbacks coach Matt Canada to replace former offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner in the hopes of reinvigorating a stagnant offense. Still, Roethlisberger continues to move the ball on short passes, averaging 6.6 yards gained per pass attempt. He's only thrown for multiple touchdowns in two out of nine games. 

    According to CBS Sports' Jason La Canfora, the Steelers had some concerns early in the season.

    "The former All-Pro has continued to look old and near the end, according to several execs who have broken down his film, and concern is mounting within the organization as well given the limitations of this offense thus far," La Canfora wrote. 

    Through 10 weeks, Roethlisberger has dealt with pectoral, hip and shoulder injuries, so it seems as though his body is falling apart as well. Pittsburgh also placed him on the reserve/COVID-19 list, and he missed Week 10 against the Detroit Lions.

    Once his contract voids after the season, the 39-yearr-old should walk away from the game as the Steelers search for his successor. Unlike quarterbacks Ryan Fitzpatrick and Joe Flacco, he's been a starter for his entire career. Thise two signal-callers in their mid-30s can hang around in backup positions. Roethlisberger isn't accustomed to that role.


    Player contracts courtesy of Over the Cap.