Playing in the NFL can be brutal on an athlete’s body. From injuries that force entire seasons to be lost, to just being hit for four hours every Sunday and getting back up, players like Tom Brady are as tough as they come. Now in his 40s, Brady is one of the oldest active players in the league. He’s also still one of the best! Do you know what other players are getting up there in age but haven’t lost a step yet? Keep reading to find out!
Adam Vinatieri: 47-Years-Old
Adam Vinatieri may not be on an NFL roster in 2020, but he hasn’t filed for retirement yet. The legendary kicker is holding out hope that he’ll get a phone call, even if he only made 68 percent of his attempted field goals in 2019.
Throughout his career, Vinatieri has had an 83 percent field goal percentage. He has also won five Super Bowls and should be a shoo-in for the Hall of Fame. If he ever retires.
Tom Brady: 43-Years-Old
Tom Brady is the oldest player on a roster in the NFL. In the offseason, he became a free agent after winning six Super Bowls in New England. Looking for a fresh start at the end of his career, he signed a two year, $50 million deal with Tampa Bay.
By the time Brady retires, he will have started more than 300 NFL games. And if he really is ageless, he might just get a seventh championship, too!
Drew Brees: 41-Years-Old
Another icon who shows no signs of slowing down with age is Drew Brees. He’s been a staple in New Orleans for so long it’s easy to forget he was actually drafted by the Chargers and played in San Diego for several years.
Brees made his name as a Saint though, winning a Super Bowl after Hurricane Katrina devastated the city. Thanks to his longevity, Brees holds several all-time passing records, and the longer he plays, the harder it will be for another QB to top the list.
Josh McCown: 41-Years-Old
Originally drafted in the third round of the 2002 NFL Draft by the Arizona Cardinals, 41-year-old Josh McCown has been around the block. A career back-up who has managed to start 76 games in his long career, McCown currently plays for the Eagles — on their practice squad.
McCown is the oldest player in NFL history to ever hold a spot on a team’s practice squad. The Eagles are the 11th team he has suited up for. Will they call him up to the active roster this year?
L.P. Ladouceur: 39-Years-Old
One position that gets very little notice from NFL fans is the long snapper. Like the punter and the kicker, this is a specialized position that plays a surprisingly vital role during a game. Thirty-nine-year-old L.P. Ladouceur has been the Cowboys’ long snapper since 2005, although this is probably the first time you’ve ever seen his name.
Dallas re-signed Ladouceur in March 2020 to a one-year contract. Still playing at an elite level, we imagine he’ll find a way to stick around in 2021 also.
Matt Schaub: 39-Years-Old
Matt Schaub excelled in the NFL from 2007 until 2013 as the starting quarterback for the Houston Texans. Today, the 39-year-old is Matt Ryan’s backup in Atlanta, where he has found a steady paycheck warming the bench for the former league MVP.
Schaub’s best year came in 2009 when he threw for nearly 5,000 yards and 29 touchdowns. He was voted to his first of two Pro Bowls that season.
Don Muhlbach: 39-Years-Old
If it wasn’t due to an injury to Jody Littleton in 2004, Don Muhlbach may have never made an NFL roster, let alone stay employed with the same team since then. The Lions’ long snapper is one of the team’s longest-tenured players.
Muhlbach has been voted to two Pro Bowls in his career, most recently in 2018. Will he continue playing as he turns 40? It’s a possibility considering he’s still playing at a high level.
Sam Koch: 38-Years-Old
One of the best punters of his generation, Sam Koch has spent his entire career with the Baltimore Ravens, even winning Super Bowl 47 in 2012. Koch was drafted in the sixth round of the 2006 NFL Draft and has started every game since
Thirty-eight-years-old in 2020, Koch has every intention of playing into his 40s. On March 18th, he signed a two-year contract extension with Baltimore, tying him down the only team he’s ever known for the foreseeable future.
Andrew Whitworth: 38-Years-Old
Playing on the offensive line in the NFL is one of the most demanding position groups for an athlete’s body. Most linemen don’t make it to their mid-30s, let alone nearly 40. Andrew Whitworth appears to be one of the exceptions to the rules, however, and is currently starting for the Los Angeles Rams at 38-years-old.
Whitworth was a pricey free-agent addition for the Rams in 2017. His signing paid huge dividends, and in his second season, the team made the Super Bowl.
Jason Peters: 38-Years-Old
Another offensive lineman pushing back against Father Time is Jason Peters. The nine-time Pro Bowler signed with the Eagles in 2009 after spending the first four years of his career in Buffalo.
In the City of Brotherly Love, he flourished, even winning a Super Bowl with the team. Nearing the end of his career, Peters now takes things year-by-year, signing one-year contracts to keep his options open as every season comes to a close.
Andy Lee: 38-Years-Old
Andy Lee played the first decade of his career, from 2004 until 2014, with the San Francisco 49ers. He set punting records for the team, but as his profile raised in the league, he priced himself out of the City by the Bay.
Lee moved onto Cleveland in 2015, then Carolina in 2016 before signing with the Arizona Cardinals in 2017. Interestingly enough, before playing professionally, Lee had never been to a live NFL game.
Philip Rivers: 38-Years-Old
Philip Rivers, 38-years-young in 2020, is helping to lead the rebuild in his first year in Indianapolis. After spending his entire career with the Chargers, the perennial Pro-Bowler was shown the door, which allowed him to sign a lucrative deal with the Colts.
Although he has shown some signs of age wearing his skill set down, Rivers is still able to play at a high level and should keep the Colts competitive and in the playoff picture this season.
Ben Roethlisberger: 38-Years-Old
Even after an elbow injury put him on the injured reserve in 2019, Ben Roethlisberger decided to come back for his age-38 season in 2020. Why wouldn’t he, though, for a team loaded with talent and ready to make a Super Bowl run?
It can even be argued Roethlisberger was the missing piece. After he went down in 2019, the team finished 8-8 despite awful QB play. In 2020, imagine what the team is capable of with his elite arm under center again!
Jason Witten: 38-Years-Old
There was a time when Jason Witten never would have made this list. He played the first 15 years of his career for the Dallas Cowboys and retired at 36-years-old. Witten spent one disastrous season in the Monday Night Football booth before being called back to the field.
Witten’s first year back was a return to Dallas as he hoped the talented team could finally find pay dirt in the playoffs. Then, during the offseason, he signed with the Las Vegas Raiders, where he’ll help mold budding superstar Darren Waller.
Robbie Gould: 37-Years-Old
Spending his twilight years as the kicker for the San Francisco 49ers has been good for Robbie Gould. Ever since leaving the Chicago Bears in 2015, Gould has been… gold for his new team.
As for the Bears, well, Chicago has gone through a merry-go-round of kickers since losing the franchise stalwart. Prior to the 2019 season, Gould flirted with returning to Chicago but ended up staying in San Francisco after signing a contract extension.
Ryan Fitzpatrick: 37-Years-Old
Ryan Fitzpatrick might never retire. The journeyman QB has spent the last few seasons in Miami, where he has become the team’s best option at starting QB. Even with a first-round rookie on the depth chart in 2020, Fitzpatrick continues to get the call under center.
Over the course of his fascinating career, Fitzpatrick has played for a variety of teams, most notably the Buffalo Bills, who at one point tabbed him as their franchise QB before realizing they grossly overpaid for his services.
Thomas Davis: 37-Years-Old
One of the biggest comeback stories in NFL history belongs to Thomas Davis. Not only is he still playing at a high level at 37-years-old, but he’s also recovered from three torn ACLs to get there.
Davis is the only player in NFL history to recover from three torn ACLs and continue playing. He has been named to the Pro Bowl three times and was named a First-Team All-Pro in 2015.
Frank Gore: 37-Years-Old
In college, Frank Gore suffered two ACL tears. Although talented, injury concerns turned him into a late-round draft pick by the 49ers. What happened next is a story few analysts could have seen coming.
In his second season in San Francisco, Gore rushed for 1,695 yards. For the next eight years, he was the team’s unquestioned lead back. In 2015, Gore left SF and signed with Indianapolis. In 2020, the now ageless Gore plays for the New York Jets and has no plans of retiring any time soon.
Richie Incognito: 37-Years-Old
Four-time Pro Bowler Richie Incognito nearly had his career come to an early end when he was involved in a bullying scandal as a Miami Dolphin. The 2013 incident forced Incognito to skip the next season and seek treatment for anger issues.
In 2015, the Bills took a chance on Incognito and were rewarded with a top-end player. Since 2019, the embattled but highly talented offensive lineman has suited up for the Oakland/Las Vegas Raiders.
Larry Fitzgerald: 37-Years-Old
Not many wide receivers have had the career highs and lows of Larry Fitzgerald. Drafted by the Cardinals in 2004, he has spent his entire career in the desert. In that span, the now 37-year-old has been to one Super Bowl and seen the team rebuild multiple times.
Perhaps the most recent rebuild is what has kept Fitzgerald from retiring. With Kyler Murray under center, the Cardinals have a chance to push for the playoffs for the first time in several seasons.
OT Joe Thomas – 2018
Joe Thomas was a rookie for the Cleveland Browns in 2007. The offensive tackle didn’t miss a start until halfway through the 2017 year, which is remarkable. It’s hard to imagine a guy calling it the end after one injury.
Thomas was a pro-bowler every year he played before a torn triceps ended his 2017 campaign, and his career, early. When he retired, Thomas said football just wasn’t fun anymore. He’s since moved on to the media and has been a great success.
RB Billy Sims – 1984
It isn’t fun when you’re forced to retire early due to injuries when you see others ending retiring by their own will. Billy Sims had the injury bug cut his career short after five seasons.
Between 1980 and 1984, Sims racked up more than 5,000 yards and made the Pro Bowl three times. He led the Detroit Lions to a playoff appearance in ’82 and ’83, further proving his worth to the team. The devasting knee injury he sustained in ’84 made him end his relationship with the gridiron halfway into that season.
RB Barry Foster – 1995
Running backs might have it the toughest amongst NFL players. Their careers tend to last the least amount of years on average, but no one wants their team’s ball carrier done after only five years, which is what exactly what happened Pittsburgh’s Barry Foster.
Between 1990 and 1994, Foster made the pro bowl twice and became the AFC Offensive Player of the Year. In ’92, Foster set the Steelers single-season rushing record with 1,690 yards. After that season, it all went downhill thanks to injuries.
QB Andrew Luck – 2019
Andrew Luck was the reason the Colts thought it was a good idea to ship out Hall of Fame quarterback Peyton Manning. They drafted him number one overall in 2012, and he immediately made a lasting impact. Luck took a 2-14 team to the playoffs after leading them to an 11-5 record.
Calling it shocking that he retired only seven years into his career would be an understatement. “I’ve come to the proverbial fork in the road, and I made a vow to myself that if I ever did again, I’d choose me, in a sense,” an emotional Luck said. Hard to be mad at someone choosing their health.
RB Barry Sanders – 1999
Andrew Luck’s recent news might be utterly surprising, but it still doesn’t compare to this. Barry Sanders made his announcement in the middle of summer as training camps were getting started before the 1999 season.
The news shocked the world because Sanders had just renewed his contract and even had an $11 million signing bonus. The Lions demanded that Sanders pay back some of the money, but he would only do so if they allowed him to sign someplace new. Detroit refused and one of the biggest what-ifs revolves around arguably the best running back to do it.
LT Tony Boselli – 2002
Tony Boselli played his career with the Jacksonville Jaguars just when they were starting out as an expansion team. They drafted him with the second pick in 1995, and he would continue to play with them through 2001. Boselli was a five-time pro bowler and a three-time first-team all-pro player.
Injuries began to take effect on the tackle, and he started to lose his ways. When the Houston Texans became an expansion team in 2002, they selected Boselli, but he could no longer play and ended up retiring that year.
RB Marshawn Lynch – 2016
During the off-season where everyone expected Peyton Manning to announce the inevitable, one player shockingly beat him to the punch; Marshawn Lynch. The Super Bowl champion chose to walk away at 29 years-old.
Everyone, including Lynch, knew there was fuel left in the tank, which was why this was so shocking. He rushed for 1,000 yards in a season six different times. Not all backs could do what Lynch could. That explains why he came back after a brief retirement.
RB Christian Okoye – 1992
The Kansas City Chiefs took a chance on the “Nigerian Nightmare” Christian Okoye in 1987. The gamble worked as Okoye quickly became their star running back. Okoye played phenomenal for six years and would retire as the Chiefs all-time leading rusher.
At 6’1″ and 253 pounds, Okoye gave defenders the chills. He may have made it look easy, but he battled knee injuries throughout his career. The knee issues caused him to hang it up at 31 years old after claiming the game wasn’t fun anymore.
RB Tiki Barber – 2007
Between 2002 and 2006 Tiki Barber rushed for 7,643 yards. That was the second-most in the NFL during that time frame, behind only LaDainian Tomlinson. That made it all the stranger when Barber announced his plans to retire following the 2006 season.
He was at the peak of his career but elected to protect his future. The ironic part is that the year after he retired, the Giants did the one thing he always wanted; win a Super Bowl.
QB Troy Aikman – 2001
It’s safe to say that if any quarterback had better protection on their line, then their careers would be longer. That was the biggest issue for Troy Aikman because he could have easily played at least five more years.
Aikman’s nagging back issues and history of concussions he dealt with since 1991 made him make his exit earlier than expected. He was only 34-years-old, surprising most fans when he made the announcement.
LB Jerod Mayo – 2016
Jerod Mayo played all eight of his NFL years with the New England Patriots. The promising linebacker had to end three of his season’s early thanks to injuries and decided enough was enough.
During his first five years, the defensive player was healthy. He played in 75 games and would start 73 of those. Luckily for Mayo, he did win a ring after the Patriots won Super Bowl XLIX, so that means he didn’t retire empty-handed.
RB Gale Sayers – 1972
We’ve featured a ton of great running backs, but there weren’t many that could compete with Gale Sayers. Fans never got to witness how special he could’ve been thanks to his bad knees.
Sayers went back and forth between deciding if he should push through the knee injuries or just retire. As time went by, his skill lessened, and by 29, he called it quits. The good thing for him is that his legacy remained intact and he entered the Hall of Fame in 1977.
RB Bo Jackson – 1991
Bo Jackson was the jack of all trades, but nothing short of an expert in football. There’s never been a dominant two-sport athlete quite like Jackson. He was a monster on the diamond and a beast on the gridiron.
He was like Adrian Peterson, but faster, and it was his powerful running style that set him up for injuries. In 1991, Bo dislocated his hip after a tackle. That turned out to be his last play in the NFL. Never have fans wondered more about what could have been.
RB Robert Smith – 2001
Robert Smith’s departure from the league was highly surprising. Not only was he healthy, but he was on the verge of signing a contract for nearly $30 million! He chose to give it away over fears for his health.
He hung it up around the time many other athletes were forced out of the NFL thanks to brain injuries. This was before the CTE study came out, but Smith saw the issues well-before others did and knew to pack it up.
LB Patrick Wilis – 2015
Since the Steve Young era ended in the late ’90s, the 49ers have had their fair share of problems. It wouldn’t be until Jim Harbaugh came around and created a monster of a defense that Niners’ fans suffering would end. Patrick Willis played an important role.
Willis was top tackler in the NFL during his first four years, which was enormous. Unfortunately, he began battling a foot injury in 2013 that lingered over to 2014. He had to make a tough decision to avoid further damage, which is why he retired so early.
LB Chris Borland – 2015
As shocking as Patrick Willis’ announcement was, Chris Borland’s could be the most surprising retirement in 49ers history. Borland just completed his rookie campaign, one where he started eight games after Willis went down.
He had 107 tackles, one sack, and two interceptions. It was a great kick-off to a career that would get ended thanks to an ankle injury. Not too long after Willis made the call, Borland also did, citing concerns with head trauma.
RB Jim Brown – 1966
Jim Brown was miles ahead better than anyone in the NFL when he played. The running back was faster and stronger, so when he retired after just nine seasons, many were left to pick their jaws up off the ground.
Once he felt he accomplished with all that he wanted to do, Brown retired and decided to become an actor. He went down this path with no brain trauma and all his health intact. That was a smart move.
WR Calvin Johnson – 2016
Calvin Johnson entered the NFL straight from high school and was a top player almost instantly. He just so happened to land with a franchise that has a history of making players retire way earlier than they should have.
Johnson was a top-five receiver after the 2015 season, but that’s when he made the shocking news. “I don’t know, but what I can tell you, is that it’s a big unknown because… say you were winning, you win a Super Bowl and you know, you just never know how you’ll feel,” Johnson said. “I’m wasting my time trying to think about what could happen, what would have been.”
OT D’Brickashaw Ferguson – 2016
When looking at the shock meter for player retirements, this one is unmeasurable. D’Brickashaw Ferguson blindsided all of the New York Jets’ fanbase when he announced his retirement after ten years of playing stellar ball.
Not only was Ferguson healthy at the time, but he hadn’t missed a single game throughout his whole career. That’s 167 consecutive starts, plus he never missed a practice. He had a growing concern with the NFL’s concussion issue, which ultimately made him pull the plug.
QB Jake Locker – 2014
Jake Locker was a prized possession coming out of the University of Washington in 2011. The Tennessee Titans picked up the quarterback with their first pick in the draft. Locker’s career would be riddled with injuries and inconsistencies, and he could only take so much.
It took Locker four years of the pounding and ruthless NFL life before he got fed up. “I had to come to an understanding that I did not leave the NFL on bad terms. I was grateful for the experience,” Locker told SI, “I was just moving in a different direction.”