A rising trend of late in the NFL has been to see players retire in the prime of their playing careers. The 2015 off-season alone saw four San Francisco 49ers players retire.
Offensive lineman Anthony Davis, defensive end Justin Smith and linebackers Chris Bourland and Patrick Willis all retired during the 2015 off season in the midst of a coaching staff reconstruction.
If Calvin Johnson does retire, Sanders believes that Johnson will need more time to make his final decision.
“…I’m stunned a bit like most people,” Sanders said. “I feel like around June, we’ll give him until June or so, we should start knocking on his door.”
Seattle Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch turns 30 in April and is recovering from abdominal surgery after missing eight games and gaining 417 yards on 111 carries for the season.
If Lynch does retire, one of the NFL’s dominant running backs will be departing the position’s ranks. Since 2011, Lynch ranks in the top three in the NFL in rush yards, rushing first downs and carries.
However, this is not the first time notable players have retired while they appeared to be in the prime of their careers.
- Jim Brown (fullback, Cleveland Browns) Brown, who played from 1957 until 1966 and retired as the NFL’s all-time leading rusher with 12, 312 rushing yards to begin filming on the set of “The Dirty Dozen”. Brown’s rushing record stood until Walter Payton broke it in 1984.
- Gale Sayers (running back, Chicago Bears): Sayers, who burst onto the NFL scene with 22 rushing touchdowns in his rookie campaign of 1965, which still stands today. However, after two consecutive knee injuries Sayers was forced to retire in 1971.
- Barry Sanders (running back, Detroit Lions): Sanders, the third leading rusher in NFL history with 15, 269 rushing yards retired in 1999 due to frustration with the Detroit Lions’ organization after a 10 year career.
While the extent of Brown’s and Sanders’ respective careers were long for the era they each played in, Sayers’ was short with the Bears running back playing just six seasons. Compared to the trend today where players are retiring for the fear of concussions and more severe brain injuries later in life, these retirement tales are the circumstances of two different eras.