Knowing when to walk away and retiring before your skills fade is something that few athletes usually do gracefully.
Michael Jordan’s final retirement in 2003 came at a time when he wasn’t best player in the world that we had grown accustomed to seeing. Had he stayed retired in 1998 he would have been one of the few athletes that walked away not only at the top of his sport (NBA Champion), but at the top of his game and the league. Here is a list of highly talented (when they were in their prime) players that should hang up the cleats and maybe think about a second career.
Mr. Cutler came onto the scene in 2006 as the 11th overall draft pick of the Denver Broncos and was the heir apparent to Jake Plummer whose career was coming to an end. The Broncos traded up to get him because he was the type of quarterback that Mike Shanahan liked, a mobile guy with a cannon of an arm. I don’t think Jay ever quite lived up to the potential that everyone saw, but did play well enough to make a lot of money and put together some impressive stats. To date, Cutler has only had 3 seasons where he has thrown less than 10 interceptions and in none of those 3 seasons has he played more than 10 games. Cutler has thrown it to the other team a lot throughout his career and continues to do so with regularity. He only came out of retirement because Miami begged him to and paid him over $10 million to do so.
James Harrison has quit, come back, quit, come back and is now taking up a valuable roster spot costing the team an opportunity to move forward. He spent the first 2 years of his career on the practice quad after going undrafted in 2002 and fought his way onto the active roster in 2004. Harrison is still in remarkable shape but has played in only 4 games this season and has 3 tackles. Harrison feels double crossed by the Steelers telling Dale Lolley of DK Pittsburg Sports, that we would have signed somewhere else if he knew the team was not going to play him. The Steelers have shown Harrison that they are more interested in the future by benching this legend even though can still play, but the NFL as we all know by now should stand for “Not For Long” or “No F#&@ing Loyalty”.
Adrian Peterson burst on to the scene in 2007 and dominated the league for 8 years losing one to personal issues in dealing with child abuse charges, and another partial season to an injury where he tore his ACL and MCL. He would go on the win the MVP award the very next year after the injury. Peterson is an amazing athlete and will be a first ballot hall of famer for sure. That being said his running style is one of which thrived in a league that does not exist anymore. Will there be a coach that comes along and changes his entire offense around so that an old pro style running back can get 300 carries for 1200 yards? Sure but in today’s NFL no such coach or successful offense exists. Peterson cannot play the way the new style running backs are asked to play, catching balls out of the back field, playing from the shotgun, even running pristine routes like a slot receiver. He needs to line up in the “I” or single back formation with the quarterback under center, and wants to, as he screamed to Sean Peyton during a game where the Saints were looking totally out of sync, “run it up their ass,” no homo. He can still play some if a team is willing to play his way, but has not been able to adapt to the new NFL.
This one is tough for me because I watched his brother grind his way to a super bowl barely being able to throw the ball after halftime of each game. Could he go to a team like Jacksonville with a great defense, running game, and receivers, then fake his way to the big game? Maybe, but how many teams are there that are only one quarterback away? Other than Jacksonville and maybe his brother’s old team Denver, I don’t see a great fit anywhere else in the league. Eli is one of the most perplexing players I have ever seen when looking at a NFL career. Like Cutler, he has never had a season where he played at least 10 games and threw less than 10 interceptions. In his best year he threw 10 and in his worst year he threw 25. No, that was not a typo, he threw 25 interceptions in 2010 but they went 10-6 barely missing the playoffs. Eli has 2 super bowl wins and played out of his mind during both playoff runs, defeating the Patriots both times. They already benched him once this year and his replacement Geno Smith actually played better than Eli had played over the past few years. I think he should retire but its up to him and the rest of the league if that will happen.
Palmer has had a very solid career and had been a huge part of the reason why the Cardinals franchise has been relevant in recent years. His major drawbacks have been in his inability to stay healthy and his inability to win the big game. In the NFC championship game against the Panthers, Palmer threw 4 interceptions and his team was blown out. He was hurt again this year and is why the team brought in Adrian Peterson in an attempt to salvage the season and save the coach’s job. Palmer has thrown for over 46,000 yards in his career, and has tossed 294 touchdowns. Those are hall of fame worthy numbers but it’s looking like it’s about time for him to find one of those nice cushy analyst jobs on television.
There are some Honorable mentions like Benjamin Todd Roethlisberger, and Pacman Jones that I may have to write about in a part 2 if they don’t go sit down somewhere, but I will stop at these top 5 for now. I know it can be difficult to walk away from something that you have been doing since you were a child, but it is also difficult to watch someone play at half the speed they use to play at acting as if they are still in their prime.
When it is all said and done, these athletes will have to wrestle with the ultimate decision in either playing longer then they should have, retiring too soon, or retiring just in time. All tough choices but ones that they have to live with not me.