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7 NFL Players Who Retired Early

Those who waved goodbye before we expected them to
Publish Date:03/29/2020
Fact checked by: Mark Lewis
Dec 17, 2018; Charlotte, NC, USA; Carolina Panthers middle linebacker Luke Kuechly (59) reacts after a stop in the second quarter against the New Orleans Saints at Bank of America Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

Now more than ever NFL players are choosing to retire early and take a permanent break from the game that brought them their fame and fortune. 

Not all players have the same reasoning and although some retirements may stem from personal reasoning, more often than not, it’s the impacts, concussions, and injuries that are responsible for claiming some of the biggest names. 

Fans have been shocked, stunned and silenced by the decisions of some of their favorite players to quit while they’re ahead and hang up their helmets one last time. 

From Kuechly to Monroe, let’s take a look at just 7 of the top players that decided to retire from the NFL at a young age. 

1. Luke Kuechly

Luke Kuechly is one of the most recent players to cause a shock with his early retirement stating that “In my heart, I know it’s the right thing to do.” with a social media statement. 

The Panthers linebacker claimed a number of incredible accolades earning the title of the 2013 NFL Defensive Player of the Year among an impressive handful of others. His retirement came as a shock at the age of 28 and although no mention of concussions was found in his statement, Kuechly suffered his fair share throughout his career. 

After eight total NFL seasons in Carolina, it’s goodbye from the seven-time Pro Bowler, five-time first-team All-Pro linebacker. 

2. Jim Brown

One player that doesn’t need any introduction is Jim Brown who, although retired early at the age of just 30 in 1965, is widely regarded by many as the best running back of all time.

The Cleveland Browns icon earned the title of league’s all-time leader in rushing yards (12,312) and rushing touchdowns (106) and with an average of 100 rushing yards per game in seven of his nine NFL seasons, it’s one of the most impressive feats of any player in the history of the game. 

Inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1995 and named the greatest professional football player eve by “The Sporting News” in 2002, Brown may have retired long ago, but he won’t be forgotten in a hurry. 

3. Rob Gronkowski

Rob “Gronk” Gronkowski walked away from football in March of 2019 at the age of just 29 following a third Super Bowl win with the New England Patriots. 

The former tight end has a career littered with NFL records including the only player in his position to lead the league in receiving touchdowns (17), the most career postseason receiving yards by a tight end (1,163) – the only player ever to surpass 1,000. Throw in the most career postseason receiving touchdowns for his position (12), the most combined receptions (23) and receiving yards (297) by a tight end in Super Bowl history and you’ve got a good argument for the best tight end ever to grace the sport. 

Gronkowski has also been famously quoted stating that Cannabidiol (CBD) Oil, allowed him to be pain-free for the first time inside a decade. As a result, he has advocated sports governing bodies to allow players to use it for pain management, something that’s widely agreed on with a number of other athletes using and recommending the compounds

4. Calvin Johnson

Calvin Johnson, also known by his impossibly cool nickname of “Megatron”, is yet another player retiring at the premature age of just 30 in 2016. 

The wide receiver was unstoppable throughout his career at the Detroit Lions and with an 8-year deal agreed for the incredible sum of $132 million, he played with one of the largest sports contracts ever under his belt. 

However, the six-time Pro Bowler voluntarily cut his career short following his contract end, stating that the stress of his body from the wear and tear of football was just too much. With his body not allowing him to function at the level of which he wanted, Johnson stated “I’m not going to go out there and not be 100 percent.”, ultimately leading to the decision to end his career. 

5. Terrell Davis

Former Broncos running back Terrell Davis has serious injuries to blame for his short NFL career with retirement in 2002 at just 29 years of age. 

Davis carried his team to the incredible back-to-back Super Bowl championships in both 1998 and 1999, earning Super Bowl MVP honors in the 31-24 win over the Packers, a huge career highlight in which he finished the game with 157 rushing yards and three touchdowns. 

Despite this, Davis, unfortunately, spent long periods of time at the sidelines for the majority of his final two seasons with the Broncos with serious knee injuries impairing his abilities and subsequently cutting his career short. 

6. Rashard Mendenhall

One of the youngest players to retire from the NFL comes in the form of Rashard Mendenhall, a Super Bowl champion with the Pittsburgh Steelers, who retired at the age of just 26.

After one season with the Cardinals, the running back left no ambiguity surrounding his decision to move on, explaining his decision in a blog post at HuffPost. Mendenhall explained that his health was most important to him and he was no longer comfortable risking it to be watched on a Sunday. 

“I tell them that I’ve greatly enjoyed my time, but I no longer wish to put my body at risk for the sake of entertainment. I think about the rest of my life and I want to live it with much quality.”

7. Eugene Monroe

Last up on the list, we’ve got Eugene Monroe, an offensive tackle who hung up his helmet at the age of 29, finishing up at the Baltimore Ravens.

Monroe left his reasoning very clear with his writing in The Players’ Tribune stating that he was “terrified” of the problems he may face in the future as a result of the countless injuries he suffered. 

“The last 18 years have been full of traumatic injuries to both my head and my body. I’m not complaining, just stating a fact. Has the damage to my brain already been done? Do I have CTE? I hope I don’t, but over 90% of the brains of former NFL players that have been examined showed signs of the disease. I am terrified.

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