NFL Hall Of Famers’ Who Should Have Thrown In The Towel Way Before Their Final Season

Football | 1/28/21

When it comes to NFL athletes, playing past their proverbial heyday can cause more than one issue. Whether it’s a career-ending injury that should never have happened or season statistics that ruined their legacy, some players don’t know when it’s time to throw in the towel, even if they’re already slated to become part of the Hall of Fame.

From Falcons running back Eric Dickerson not taking the hint when the franchise told him to announce his retirement to punter Ray Guy going from the first-ever pure punter draft pick to dropping below the 40.0-yard mark, there are some NFL Hall of Famers’ who played one season, too many.

Emmitt Smith Should Have Retired After Being A Cowboy

Dallas Cowboys v Philadelphia Eagles
Mitchell Layton/Getty Images
Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

After playing the majority of his career as one of “The Triplets” of the 1990-2002 Cowboys team, Emmitt Smith made a mistake. Instead of retiring when the franchise opted to release him in favor of a younger running back, he signed a contract to none other than the Cardinals.

He could have retired with three Super Bowl rings, eight Pro Bowls, and an MVP title under his belt. But Smith decided he wanted to continue to play. What did that get him? A left broken shoulder by none other than former teammate Roy Williams. He retired in 2005.

Carl Eller Went From Effective D-Line To Being The Old Guy

Carl Eller Went From Effective D-Line To Being The Old Guy
Focus on Sport/Getty Images
Focus on Sport/Getty Images

For 15 seasons, fans were lucky enough to witness the stellar performance of Carl Eller and the “Purple People Eaters” of the Minnesota Vikings defensive line. During his time, Eller became a six-time Pro Bowl contender and selected as a five-time First-Team All-Pro.

Rather than retiring when the Vikings traded him, Eller opted to stay in the NFL. He played for the Seattle Seahawks for one season, looking out of place as a 37-year-old on the field with many younger players. It was a sad way to go out after making a name for himself as part of one of the most effective defensive players in the league.

Jackie Smith Is Now Known For Dropping A Super Bowl Pass

Jackie Smith Is Now Known For Dropping A Super Bowl Pass
Bettmann/Getty Images
Bettmann/Getty Images

After being honored as a five-time Pro Bowler and a four-time Second-Team All-Pro contender, former tight end Jackie Smith is only known for one thing. And that one thing could have been a moot point had he retired after his prime instead of pursuing eight more years on the field.

Instead of leaving the game after the 1970 season, Smith went on to play. And not too well. Now, the Hall of Famer isn’t really remembered for his legendary 7,918 career receiving yards, but for dropping a crucial pass in Super Bowl XIII.

Kenny Stabler Won 13 Games In His Final Three Seasons

Kenny Stabler
David Madison/Getty Images
David Madison/Getty Images

Former NFL quarterback Kenny “Snake” Stabler had a career to be proud of. Well, before he decided to go to the New Orleans Saints and not retire like he said he was going to after the Huston Oilers 1981 training camp. But with a Super Bowl, MVP title, and four-time appearance at the Pro Bowl, Stabler wasn’t finished.

The thing is, a month after announcing his retirement, the Hall of Famer showed up in New Orleans. At 37-years-old Stabler was well past his prime, doing nothing to help the already struggling Saints franchise. He helped them win a measly 13 games in three seasons, gray hair and all.

Art Monk Should Have Retired Wearing Burgundy And Bronze

Art Monk Should Have Retired Wearing Burgundy And Bronze
Owen C. Shaw/Getty Images
Owen C. Shaw/Getty Images

After playing in the NFL for 16 seasons, former wide receiver Art Monk was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2008. After gaining league-wide respect on and off the field, winning three Super Bowl titles, and earning his fair share of the money, many think Monk should have thrown in the towel way before his 1995 retirement.

Having played for Washington from 1980-1993, fans thought Monk would retire in burgundy and bronze. Instead, he went on to play two more years in various colors of green for the Jets and Eagles, leaving the end of his legacy on the shoulders of crumby teams.

Ray Guy Went From First-Round Pick To Dropping Below Average

Ray Guy Went First-Round Pick To Dropping Below Average
Focus on Sport/Getty Images
Focus on Sport/Getty Images

For a solid 14 seasons, Hall of Famer Ray Guy was the go-to punter for the Oakland/Los Angeles Raiders. As the first-ever pure punter draft pick, Guy had a lot to prove to the franchise, and he did. Helping the team win three Super Bowls, becoming a seven-time Pro Bowler, and becoming a six-time First-team All-Pro contender, Guy should have called it quits five seasons before his 1986 retirement.

Unfortunately for the former first-round pick, his punting skills took a back burner during his final five seasons. Four out of the five, Guy didn’t reach his career average, dropping below the 40.0-yard mark in one.

Eric Dickerson Was Pretty Much Told To Retire

Eric Dickerson Was Pretty Much Told To Retire
Focus on Sport/Getty Images
Focus on Sport/Getty Images

A running back in the NFL for 11 seasons, Hall of Famer Eric Dickerson went on to play for four different teams during his time in the league. Unfortunately, the 1986 Offensive Player of the Year and six-time Pro Bowl contender hit a wall after rushing for 1,311 yards while playing for the Colts.

Instead of calling it quits after his time with the Colts, though, Dickerson chased the money. Then, in 1993, the Falcons all but asked Dickerson to retire from the sport. During an interview, the former player said, “they told me I could announce my retirement if I wanted.”

Elvin Bethea Was On A Team Needing New Talent

Elvin Bethea Was On A Team Needing New Talent
Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images
Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Playing 16 seasons with the Houston Oilers, now the Tennessee Titans, former NFL defensive end Elvin Bethea was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2003, the first person from North Carolina A&T State University ever to do so. After leading the team in sacks six-times running, as well as becoming an eight-time Pro Bowler, Bethea should have known when it was time to call it a day on his career.

Unfortunately, he went four seasons too many. Bethea went from having stellar season-to-season statistics to becoming the 37-year-old on a team that was in desperate need of some new talent.

Paul Krause Shouldn’t Have Gone Two More Seasons

Paul Krause Shouldn't Have Gone Two More Seasons
Clifton Boutelle/Getty Images
Clifton Boutelle/Getty Images

During his 16 seasons in the NFL, Paul Krause proved he was a defensive force to be reckoned with, going on to hold the record for most interceptions made by a safety at a whopping 81. But the eight-time Pro Bowler and Hall of Famer didn’t know when to hang up his jersey.

After a stellar and over-looked 1975 season with the Minnesota Vikings, Krause should have announced his retirement. Instead, he went on to play two more less-than-memorable seasons on a team whose defense had definitely seen better days.

Franco Harris Shouldn’t Have Played For The Seahawks

Pittsburgh Steelers vs Baltimore Colts
Bob Grieser/Allsport/Getty Images
Bob Grieser/Allsport/Getty Images

During his 13-season career in the NFL, former fullback Franco Harris had an average of 4.1 yards per carry, gained 12,120 yards on 2,949 carries, and caught 307 passes for 2,287 yards. The four-time Super Bowl champ and key player in “The Immaculate Reception,” Harris should’ve called his retirement from the Steelers instead of going to play for the Seahawks for a final season.

It was actually a move the former Steeler would regret. Not only did he look out of place in the Pacific Northwest, but Harris would only go on to play eight more games. Nothing to write home about compared to the rest of his legacy.

Thurman Thomas Had A Career-Ending Knee Injury

Thurman Thomas Had A Career-Ending Knee Injury
Joe Robbins/Getty Images
Joe Robbins/Getty Images

For former running back Thurman Thomas, it was all about getting that Super Bowl ring. During his 13 seasons in the NFL, Thomas managed to help the Buffalo Bills to four consecutive championships, all of which they lost. Unfortunately, his pursuit for a ring did nothing for his game.

After leaving the Bills and joining the Miami Dolphins, Thomas quickly learned why he should have retired in a white and blue jersey. During a 2000 game against the San Diego Chargers, Thomas suffered a career-ending knee injury. He retired after that season and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2007.

Jerry Kramer Had More Than One Injury

Super Bowl I - Kansas City Chiefs vs Green Bay Packers - January 15, 1967
Fred Roe/Getty Images
Fred Roe/Getty Images

With former offensive lineman Jerry Kramer, he had the perfect opportunity to retire completely on top. But the two-time Super Bowl champ and Hall of Famer decided to go for another ring and push his already battered body a few more seasons, making his career total 11.

He probably should have ducked out of the NFL in 1964, four years before his retirement. That year, he missed most of the season after being diagnosed with actinomycosis, a rare bacterial disease. The following year, he had surgery for a childhood-related injury.

Art Shell Should Have Left Before The 1987 Strike

Oakland Raiders
Focus on Sport/Getty Images
Focus on Sport/Getty Images

Two-time Super Bowl champion Art Shell was inducted into the Professional Football Hall of Fame back in 1989. During his 15 seasons as an offensive tackle for both the Oakland and Los Angeles Raiders, Shell recovered eight fumbles, competed in 24 playoff games, and, in 1999, was named one of the top 100 football players of all time by The Sporting News.

The thing is those stats kind of take a backseat to his final years playing for the NFL. After the Raiders moved to Los Angeles, Shell’s 168 consecutive starts came to an end due to the NFL Players Union strike in 1987.

Warren Moon Should Have Retired After The Broken Collarbone

Houston Oilers v San Francisco 49ers
Joseph Patronite/Getty Images
Joseph Patronite/Getty Images

Inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2006, former NFL quarterback Warren Moon was once a force on the field. Over a 17 season career, Moon made seven playoff appearances, was honored with nine Pro Bowls, and was named First-Team All-Pro in 1990. Six years later, he should have thrown in the towel.

While playing for the Minnesota Vikings, Moon was out for half of the 1996 season with a broken collarbone. That should have been his first clue. His second being his release from the team after refusing to be a backup post-recovery. Ironically, in 1999, he wound up as the Chiefs backup anyway.

Richard Dent’s End Was Actually The 1994 Season

Chicago Bears v Detroit Lions
Focus on Sport/Getty Images
Focus on Sport/Getty Images

Fifteen seasons, two Super Bowls, and an MVP title later, Richard Dent was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The former defensive end left the game with 137.5 sacks, eight interceptions, and recovered 13 fumbles before his late retirement after playing with the Eagles in 1997.

The retirement was a few years too late, though. Dent was out for the majority of the 1994 season with an injury, something that would hamper his playing for the rest of his time in the NFL. Needless to say, Dent should have left before the injuries took over. He had the stats, after all!

Len Dawson’s Legacy Has An All-Out Brawl

Kansas City Chiefs
Focus on Sport/Getty Images
Focus on Sport/Getty Images

For 19 seasons, former NFL quarterback Len Dawson threw 2,136 of 3,741 passes for 239 touchdowns and 28,711 yards. In 1987, the Super Bowl champion, MVP, and NFL Man of the Year was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, a well-deserved honor. But that’s not saying that 19 years isn’t too long for someone to be on the field.

The truth is, Dawson should have hung up his jersey after three injury-riddled seasons, especially the 1969 season with his almost career-ending knee injury. The year after, he was speared by a defensive end, causing an all-out brawl on the field! His legacy probably could have done without that.

Sonny Jurgensen Wound Up Riddled With Injuries

Sonny Jurgensen - Washington Redskins - File Photos
Nate Fine/Getty Images
Nate Fine/Getty Images

Inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1983, former quarterback Sonny Jurgensen was considered one of the finest pure passers of the time. But that doesn’t mean the five-time Pro Bowler didn’t know when to hang up his jersey and call it a day.

Instead of moving towards retirement, keeping his legacy of one of the best QBs of the time, Jurgensen ended his final seasons riddled with injuries, playing as a backup, and, when he got off the bench, throwing interceptions and pick-sixes like it were his job…it wasn’t. It was no way for a legend to go out.

Lou “The Toe” Groza Came Back Only To Brick Field Goals

Lou
Bob D’Olivo/The Enthusiast Network via Getty Images/Getty Images
Bob D’Olivo/The Enthusiast Network via Getty Images/Getty Images

Lou “The Toe” Groza was a former placekicker and offensive tackle for the Cleveland Browns. For 21 seasons, Groza was the league’s career kicking and points leader, something that helped lead the Browns to eight league championships. But 21 seasons is a long time, and Groza should have bowed out of the NFL with his legacy still intact.

Instead, he wound up with a back injury in 1959, something people presumed would force him into retirement. A year later, he “took off” to help the team scout. That should have been the end of it. But he returned, bricking more than one field goal during his time. He was 41!

Terrell Owens Should’ve Called A T.O Before Joining The Bengals

Terrell Owens
Joe Robbins/Getty Images
Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Inducted into the Professional Football Hall of Fame in 2018, former wide receiver Terrell Owens should have called a T.O. on his career before finding himself as part of the Cincinnati Bengals losing team. Alas, it was hard for him to give up on a game that honored him with six Pro Bowl appearances and made him a five-time first-team All-Pro.

Not to mention being a receiving touchdown leader for three seasons. He should have left his career at that, but he wanted some more time. Joining the 4-12 Bengals probably wasn’t in his plan, though.

Deion Sanders Came Out Of Retirement For A 6-10 Season

Deion Sanders Came Out Of Retirement For A 6-10 Season
Mitchell Layton/Getty Images
Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

Deion Sanders spent 14 seasons in the NFL, playing cornerback, and being a punt returner for the Atlanta Falcons, San Francisco 49ers, Dallas Cowboys, Washington Football Team, and, finally, the Baltimore Ravens. During his time, “Prime Time” Sanders was honored with many awards, including the NFL 100th Anniversary All-Time Team.

But the two-time Super Bowl champ and Hall of Famer decided to push his limits, coming out of a pseudo-retirement in 2004 to play for the Ravens in 2004. Well, the friend that persuaded him into that idea didn’t do Sanders any favors. Signed on as a nickelback, 37-year-old Sanders shouldn’t have come out of retirement for a 6-10 season.