The NFL has seen quite a few careers end too soon, either by circumstance or by choice. Examples of an injury cutting a career short are Michael Irvin (spine), Sterling Sharpe (neck), Terrell Davis (knees), and Bo Jackson (hip). However, some choose to retire early by choice. Here are 5 who did so.
Sportsnaut describes Jim Brown as possibly the “single greatest offensive player in the history of professional football.” He played for the Cleveland Browns from 1957 to
Brown retired a year later at the age of 31 (supposedly due to his film commitments). He went on to have a successful acting career, which included starring roles in hit films like The Split (1969), Shaft (1971), and Slaughter (1972). Things worked out for Brown post-NFL, but he could have played at least a couple more years.
Barry Sanders was a prolific chain mover, yet retired too early. In 10 seasons with the Detroit Lions (1989–1998), Sanders compiled 15,269 rushing yards and scored 109 total touchdowns (99
In a case of déjà
Rob Gronkowski retired when he was at the top after helping the New England Patriots win Super Bowl LIII. In 9 seasons with the Pats (2010–2018), Gronk compiled 7,861 receiving yards and 80 TD (79 receiving, 1 rushing), and won three Super Bowls (XLIX, LI, LIII). He had hinted at retirement previously, but that he followed through this year was still a shocker. He is, after all, just 30, and still one of the best tight ends in the league. There’s no doubt that he can still play a few more years. Still, Gronk seems to be genuinely at peace with his retirement. He recently opened up to CBS Boston and noted how he’s “just relaxing and chilling” for the time being.
The case of Chris Borland is a curious one. The former Wisconsin Badger had an impressive rookie season for the San Francisco 49ers in 2014. He started eight games, and recorded over 100 tackles, 2 interceptions, and 1 sack. Then he was out of the league, retiring at the age of 25. He cited health as his reason for walking away, noting how the game is “inherently dangerous.” But Borland has stayed close to the game via nonprofit organizations like Gridiron Greats and After The Impact Fund. Now 28, Borland would have been in his athletic prime; instead, he is helping NFL retirees navigate life after the NFL.
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