2016 RETIREMENT CLASS

The NFL is currently in a quiet period. At this time of the year, teams are putting their players through training sessions to finalise the roster and get them fully prepared for the new season.

With no major events to focus on I wanted to write a blog post about the players who announced an end to their career in 2016. This retirement class feels pretty special as it features some true all-time greats and players that I have watched play from the day they entered the league.  A few of these players declared their intention to retire some months ago; I waited until now so I could build a larger class, as I expected more to follow suit during the off-season and that’s exactly what has happened.  At least a couple of other players stated that they were taking a “hiatus” this season as opposed to retirement and are therefore not included here.

The Seattle Seahawks fan in me has decided to mention the players most associated with the Seahawks first, as they mean a bit more to me on a personal level. I hope fans of other teams will allow me to indulge in these guys first!  Not to take anything away from the rest of what is an impressive list.

Marshawn Lynch (running back – Buffalo Bills, Seattle Seahawks)

Marshawn Lynch became one of the top running backs of the last decade. He did so with a mainly old-school style; using his ability to run through and over tacklers instead of around them, thus earning his “Beast Mode” nickname.  Drafted in 2007 by the Bills, Lynch quickly established himself as a player to watch with 1,000-yards rushing in his rookie season and repeated the feat the following year.  Due to injuries and a change in offensive scheme, his production with the Bills declined and by 2010 he was traded to the Seahawks.  I remember feeling really enthusiastic when we traded for him and he exceeded all expectations. A notable highlight that became his signature play was Lynch’s amazing “Beast Quake” run during a playoff game against the New Orleans Saints in his first season with Seattle, breaking NINE tackles on a play that many will never tire of watching.  His career was defined by more brilliant individual plays using not only brute strength, but also his deceptive speed that made him such a watchable player.  The ultimate high point was being a part of the Seahawks’ Super Bowl XLVIII victory, especially as Lynch will forever be seen as one of the primary reasons for that team’s success.  Beast Mode deserves to be in the NFL hall of fame but his reluctance to comply with the NFL in various ways will go against him, I found it interesting to read how similar his numbers stack up compared to hall of famer Earl Campbell (my favourite stat is 4.25 yards-per-carry).  And Lynch achieved everything he did in a pass-heavy era in the NFL.  What is certain is that the NFL will be worse without him.

Matt Hasselbeck (quarterback – Green Bay Packers, Seattle Seahawks, Tennessee Titans, Indianapolis Colts)

Despite being a late draft pick (sixth round by the Packers), Matt Hasselbeck had a great career. After spending two years backing up legendary quarterback Brett Favre in Green Bay, he followed his former coach Mike Holmgren to Seattle and thrived as the new charge of the offense.  Throughout his ten years with the Seahawks, Hasselbeck was everything a team needs from a top quarterback; he played at the same time as more prominent QBs like Favre, Tom Brady, Peyton Manning and Kurt Warner, but could produce the same level of play with an ability to read defenses and make big plays at big moments.  He had a knack for producing game-winning drives and is still my favourite ever Seahawks quarterback, at one stage leading the team to five playoff appearances in a row.  One thing Hasselbeck missed out on to go alongside his strong play was a championship; he came close a few times, the closest was losing Super Bowl XL to the Pittsburgh Steelers, a game that has become mostly remembered for bad refereeing calls.  If the game had played out in less controversial style, the outcome may have been different.  No championship glory did not affect Hasselbeck’s popularity in Seattle and his departure disappointed many.  He was reluctantly let go in 2011 and signed by the Titans where his production never really got going, then moved to the Colts in 2013 where last year in his final season, he produced one more impressive sequence of games.  At the age of 40, he replaced injured starter Andrew Luck and lead the Colts to four-straight wins, although by the end of the season the matches were taking their toll a little and the performances faded in a couple of games.  As a Hasselbeck fan, it was fun watching him produce those victories with the Colts.  Of course Matt Hasselbeck was at his best with the Seahawks and his multiple regular season and playoff franchise records show why he is so admired there.

Ricardo Lockette (wide receiver – Seattle Seahawks)

Fans of every team in the NFL will tell you they have players who are underrated by those outside of the franchise. Ricardo Lockette was one such player for the Seahawks, who came into the league undrafted by Seattle in 2011, didn’t make the cut and had spells on the practice squads of the San Francisco 49ers and Chicago Bears before returning to Seattle a couple of years later and was finally given a place as a starter.  Although not one of the more established Seahawks receivers, Lockette produced clutch plays using his excellent speed and deep threat.  He was badly injured in a game against the Dallas Cowboys in 2015 and the incident played a part in his decision to retire, which he does as a Super Bowl winner.

Peyton Manning (quarterback – Indianapolis Colts, Denver Broncos)

Peyton Manning is simply one of the greatest quarterbacks to ever play the game. Many of us that followed the NFL while he was active would have heard or taken part in the discussion at one time or another; where do you place Manning on the all-time list?  Top 10…top 5…you could even make a case for putting him up at number 1.  The fact is it’s a near-impossible debate.  What is also true is that Manning put together a legendary career.  He had three strong years at college that earned him the Colts number 1 overall pick in the 1998 draft and quickly took to his new offense, setting a number of rookie records and backed that up with some strong performances on a rebuilding Colts team over the next few years.  By 2003 the Colts had a team that could compete in the playoffs, which they continued to have for the rest of Manning’s tenure in Indianapolis.  At about this point his on-field relationship with favourite target Marvin Harrison had made the two players one of the most feared quarterback-receiver pairings in the league.  Also around this time I began watching more NFL and started to realise what made Manning so impressive: he was running a no-huddle offense, watching and reading the defense as he saw it in front of him there and then and still finding ways to play through them and win games.  In 2011 a serious neck injury ruled Manning out for the entire season and the Colts chose to move on, leaving him to sign for the Broncos where, if anything, his regular season numbers improved and he lead the team into the playoffs in each of his four years in Denver.  Despite playing at a high level, setting many records and receiving five MVP awards, one criticism that has always been thrown at Manning is his Super Bowl record.  With the Colts he won his first – Super Bowl XLI – against the Chicago Bears but lost Super Bowl XLIV to the New Orleans Saints and with the Broncos, lost Super Bowl XLVIII to the Seattle Seahawks.  A positive for his overall legacy was being on the winning side of Super Bowl 50 for the Broncos in his final NFL game, levelling out his Super Bowl record.  Manning retired with a catalogue of NFL awards and records, including some awesome ones that are at the very peak of the sport like most career passing yards (71,940), most career touchdown passes (539) and most career wins by a quarterback (200) among others.

Jared Allen (defensive end – Kansas City Chiefs, Minnesota Vikings, Chicago Bears, Carolina Panthers)

Jared Allen is one of my favourite ever players. He seems to be the sort of likeable character you want on your team and had a relentlessly busy style of playing.  Another thing that was always enjoyable was his signature calf roping celebration.  Allen was a formidable defender and specialised in racking up sacks throughout his career, which began with four good years with the Chiefs.  His best work was in Minnesota with the Vikings where he continued to terrorise offensive linemen and rush the quarterback, producing a season in 2011 that ended with him one sack away from breaking the NFL record for most sacks in a regular season.  When Allen joined the Bears in 2014, although he was battling injury and a new defensive system, he still managed a decent season before being traded to the Carolina Panthers the following year.  This Panthers defense was one of the best in the league and the team reached Super Bowl 50 but lost to the Broncos in what was Allen’s only Super Bowl appearance.  During the twelve years he was playing nobody got more sacks than Allen and his production should earn him a place in the hall of fame one day.

Calvin Johnson (wide receiver – Detroit Lions)

Another player who will go down in history as one of the best at his position is Calvin Johnson. Appropriately nicknamed “Megatron”, he became an imposing force at wide receiver with his range of skills; his large six-foot-five-inch height along with great hands and speed for his size meant that when Johnson was in form he was almost unstoppable.  He achieved all of his individual accolades in nine years with the Detroit Lions, a team that struggled for most of that timeframe, and retired with a number of franchise records.  Megatron’s best season came in 2012 when he broke the NFL record for receiving yards in a season with 1,964 yards (an average of 122.75 per-game!).  I grew up thinking the previous record, held by Jerry Rice, was one of the top records in the league and so was astonished when Megatron bettered it so easily – with a game to spare and by more than 100 yards.  It’s a shame his loyalty to the Lions was never rewarded with more success and playoff Football, but Johnson will always be remembered as a real game-changer and game-winner on offense.

Charles Woodson (defensive back – Oakland Raiders, Green Bay Packers)

Charles Woodson was a fantastic defensive back, playing at both the cornerback and safety positions with a smart and hard-hitting style that shaped his hall of fame career. He was tough and mobile enough to register a high number of sacks and forced fumbles for a DB and also played smart with the ability to read plays, helping him get 65 career interceptions (only four players in history have more).  Woodson began his eighteen years in the NFL as a Raider and was part of the team that lost Super Bowl XXXVII to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.  When that spell in Oakland ended after eight seasons he signed for the Green Bay Packers and enjoyed his most successful years, once again reaching the big game as part of a strong defense in 2010 and this time being on the winning side over the Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl XLV, albeit Woodson was injured before half time and missed the rest of the game.  In 2013 Woodson returned to the Oakland Raiders for two more years and announced his retirement towards the end of the 2015 season whilst continuing to make big plays and using his leadership skills to help inspire and improve the team.

Justin Tuck (defensive end – New York Giants, Oakland Raiders)

Justin Tuck evolved into one of those scary good defensive ends, able to rush the quarterback play after play. He was part of two fierce New York Giants defenses that won Super Bowls XLII and XLVI, both wins coming against the New England Patriots.  In the first encounter the Giants were big underdogs as the Patriots had recorded an unbeaten season, but the Giants pass rush helped the defense control the game, with Tuck making a large impact with a couple of sacks.  This kept the score low and the Giants won 17-14.  The rematch four years later played out in similar fashion with Tuck playing another pivotal role in disrupting the New England offense, stopping them scoring any points in the fourth quarter as the Giants edged another close game 21-17.  For his part in those two incredible games I will always associate Tuck with the Giants, though he ended his playing days with two years on the Raiders defense and retired having helped the defensive line unit move up a level.

Logan Mankins (offensive guard – New England Patriots, Tampa Bay Buccaneers)

On the other side of the ball during those two Giants’ championship wins was Logan Mankins. He could not stop the defensive line on either occasion, but throughout his career he was a top guard.  Mankins was drafted as the last pick of the first round in 2005 by the Patriots, in his nine years with the team he was one of the main pillars of protection for Tom Brady and though he was never a Super Bowl winner, he earned plenty of personal accolades.  A career highlight was being a part of the Patriots team that was unbeaten in the 2007 regular season, with the offense breaking a number of records.  That offense was able to move the ball with ease at times, both in the air and on the ground, with Mankins blocks getting the drives moving.  He continued to play at a high standard and receive praise while playing his last two seasons with the Buccaneers.

Heath Miller (tight end – Pittsburgh Steelers)

Drafted just two spots ahead of Mankins in 2005 was tight end Heath Miller. He was selected by the Pittsburgh Steelers and quickly tasted success as the team won Super Bowl XL in his rookie season.  Despite playing in a passing system that has used many talented wide receivers around him, Miller became quarterback Ben Roethlisberger’s most dependable target and a fan favourite.  He earned a second Super Bowl ring after the 2008 season when the Steelers beat the Arizona Cardinals in Super Bowl XLIII and reached a third at Super Bowl XLV only to this time be on the losing side to the Packers.  He built a career as a proven playmaker and retired as statistically the greatest tight end in the Steelers history.

Jerod Mayo (linebacker – New England Patriots)

The Patriots have had some great linebackers over the last couple of decades and Jerod Mayo was among the toughest of them. He was recognised for his versatility and as a hard worker, demonstrated by his ability to often be in and around the area of play during games.  Mayo was a top 10 draft pick in 2008 and quickly made an impression on the league; winning defensive rookie of the year and in following years became the leader of the New England defense.  Unfortunately he never played in a victorious Super Bowl, primarily due to injury problems that hampered him in his last three seasons, including missing the Patriots winning Super Bowl XLIX.  These injuries probably played a part in his decision to stop playing.

D’Brickashaw Ferguson (offensive tackle – New York Jets)

“Da Brick” is another player who always seemed to be rather underrated. Perhaps it’s just the curse of playing in the offensive line, a position on the field where players are perennially not given enough appreciation.  He spent his entire career with the New York Jets and was a stalwart of the offense; never missing a game throughout his ten years with the franchise.  The Jets went through some difficult periods during Ferguson’s time there but he was consistently a high-level player for them and always capable of protecting his quarterback against any defense.

Percy Harvin (wide receiver – Minnesota Vikings, Seattle Seahawks, New York Jets, Buffalo Bills)

Percy Harvin leaves the NFL as a player who became a bit of an enigma. He always had bags of talent and showed flashes of being an explosive playmaker throughout his career, which began with him winning rookie of the year in 2009 with the Vikings.  Thereafter his playing time was decreased by injuries in Minnesota and also during his one season with the Seahawks, although by the end of that season Harvin was fit enough to play in Super Bowl XLVIII where he made big plays and returned the kickoff at the start of the second half for a touchdown.  This was one of the most significant scores of the game as the Seahawks went on to win.  Reports of disputes in the locker room with fellow players and coaches lead to Harvin departing from Seattle at the end of the season and he spent the remaining two years of his playing time in the AFC East, first with the Jets and then the Bills.  He failed to regain his best form and announced his retirement once the 2015 season ended having never quite realised his full potential.

Charles Tillman (cornerback – Chicago Bears, Carolina Panthers)

Charles Tillman entered the NFL in 2003 and spent twelve seasons playing in the secondary for the Chicago Bears, a franchise historically known for building tough defenses.  Tillman fitted right in with excellent cover and tackling skills, he is also noted for his high number of forced fumbles.  By 2006 Tillman was one of the leaders on the defense and he had a great season as the Bears reached Super Bowl XLI but lost the game to the Indianapolis Colts.  He spent his final season away from Chicago, playing for the Carolina Panthers but his season finished early due to injury, which meant he missed playing in another championship game as the Panthers reached Super Bowl 50 and lost to the Denver Broncos.  I always enjoyed watching Tillman because of his style and ability to play well for many years.  He was a brilliant defender.

I’m sure there are players who I have missed out and there will most probably be a few more announcing their retirement before the 2016 season gets going. Nevertheless I really like this list of players; you could use them to build a pretty good team!

I was inspired to write this post due to the quality of the players and the storied careers that they had. The 2016 NFL retirement class is a very strong one.

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