While we’d like to pretend that each NFL team is a band of brothers and that your favorite player will retire as a member of the team that drafted him, that’s not always the case. The NFL is a business, and sometimes, teams have to look towards the future, trying a younger, cheaper option. Sometimes this means the end of a player’s career, but sometimes it means they get to start over fresh. Here’s our list of the top five over the hill NFL players that proved their doubters wrong.
Top Five Over the Hill NFL Players That Proved Doubters Wrong
Honorary Mention. Peyton Manning
Peyton Manning would be an understandable addition to this list. After dealing with neck injuries, he missed the entirety of the 2011 season, allowing the Indianapolis Colts to get the first overall pick, which they used on Andrew Luck. With Luck on the team, they didn’t need Manning anymore, and they released him. Manning signed with the Denver Broncos, having the best passing season in NFL season and winning a Super Bowl for the team.
However, nobody really thought Manning was over the hill. The Colts merely saw a rare opportunity to get a franchise quarterback and they took it. The same logic applies to Joe Montana and Steve Young. The San Francisco 49ers knew Joe Montana had gas left in the tank, but they had to give the keys to Young while there was still a chance.
However, the first name on this list joins the fraternity of quarterbacks that lost his job to a younger star, and this guy ran out of gas three or four times before he finally pulled over and called it a day.
5. Brett Favre
While it’s true that Brett Favre was pushed out of Green Bay so that Aaron Rodgers could take over, his situation is a little more unique. Favre was 39 years old when he retired from football the first time, and many saw it as the end of an era. While inconsistent, Favre was one of the NFL’s best quarterbacks, and fans were sad to see him go. That’s why they rejoiced when he came out of retirement five months later.
Unfortunately, this put the Green Bay Packers in a bit of a rough spot because suddenly they had two quarterbacks. Rodgers had been waiting in the wings for three years, and if they didn’t hand over the keys, they might miss their chance. So they sent him to the New York Jets. Favre had a good start with the Jets, but completely fell apart as the year went on, throwing ten interceptions in his last six games. It was obvious that he had lost a step. So he finally retired for good.
But if you know NFL history, you know that’s not true. Because Favre came out of retirement yet again, and this time he’d be playing for the Minnesota Vikings. And that’s why he makes this list. Because his first year in Minnesota was arguably the best of his career. He threw for more yards than he had in over a decade and had the best touchdown to interception ratio of his career.
4. Jerry Rice
It’s strange to find Jerry Rice’s name on a list about washed up players, because without a shadow of a doubt, he’s one of the best receivers of all time. But believe it or not, he belongs right here on this list, if not a little higher.
As a member of the San Francisco 49ers, Jerry Rice caught 1,281 passes for 19,247 yards and 176 touchdowns. Those numbers alone are good enough for first and second all-time for a wide receiver. He could’ve retired in his last season with the team, 2000, remained the easy choice for greatest of all time, and nobody would’ve questioned it. His numbers had been declining, failing to record double digit touchdown catches or 1,000 yard receiving in three of his final four seasons with the squad.
The 49ers had drafted Terrell Owens, and with Rice’s declining play and hefty contract, felt like it was time to move on. They felt like it was time to rebuild and look towards the future, a future without Rice. It’s worth noting that in the 17 seasons since Rice left, they’ve only made the playoffs five times.
However, Rice didn’t retire. He still believed he had some gas left in the tank, and that gas took him across the bridge to the Oakland Raiders. Alongside another future Hall of Famer, Tim Brown, Rice joined Rich Gannon and helped make the Raiders relevant again. Rice recorded back to back 1,000 yard seasons, and even helped the Raiders get to the Super Bowl, even though they lost.
3. Randy Moss
When Randy Moss was drafted by the Minnesota Vikings in 1998, it became obvious early that we was one of the NFL’s best and brightest. His unique athleticism allowed him to physically dominate defenders like nobody else in the NFL. He had double digit touchdowns and at least 1200 yards in each of his first four seasons. Between 1998 and 2003, nobody was better than Randy Moss. But then something happened. Maybe the teams just weren’t as good, or maybe he just lost a step, but Moss wasn’t the same guy anymore.
In 2004, he experienced career lows in catches and yards, and the Vikings traded him to the Oakland Raiders. Unlike Jerry Rice, Moss didn’t enjoy his time in Oakland. He only caught 102 passes for 1,558 yards and 11 touchdowns in two seasons wearing the silver and black. Disappointed, Oakland traded the super-freak to the New England Patriots for a measly fourth round pick. How did Moss react?
By having arguably the greatest receiving seasons in NFL history, catching 98 passes for 1,493 yards and a NFL record, 23 touchdowns. He was a crucial part of one of the NFL’s best offenses ever, and helped the Patriots become the first team to go undefeated in a 16 game era, even if they did lose the Super Bowl.
2. Kurt Warner
Kurt Warner was washed up before he ever took a snap in the NFL. Warner barely played for a small school, and in 1994, he went completely undrafted. He spent some time with the Green Bay Packers in the preseason before being released, and signing with the Iowa Barnstormers of the Arena Football League. Through dumb luck and perseverance, Warner eventually found himself as the starter of the St. Louis Rams, where he, Marshall Faulk, Torry Holt, and Isaac Bruce would help form of the NFL’s best offenses, winning a Super Bowl.
What makes Warner so special is that he didn’t just come back from being washed up one time. Because after some poor play and injuries, Warner was benched for Marc Bulger, and then eventually released. After a stint with the New York Giants where he was terrible, and eventually replaced by Eli Manning, Warner found himself in free agency once again.
Then what happened? He went to the Arizona Cardinals, beat out first round pick Matt Lienart, and had a career resurgence. Warner averaged nearly four thousand yards and 28 touchdowns as a Cardinal, and even led the team to the Super Bowl, where he barely lost out to Ben Roethlisberger’s Pittsburgh Steelers. Coming back from the proverbial dead once is impressive, but doing it twice? There’s a reason he’s in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
1. Drew Brees
For some, this might be a surprise, but when you think about it, Drew Brees was the obvious choice. Brees was a member of the San Diego Chargers for five seasons, starting at least 11 games for four of them. After a couple of good, but not great seasons in 2004 and 2005, and a devastating shoulder injury, the Chargers let him go in favor of keeping the young Philip Rivers. In hindsight, that seems like a bit of a foolish decision, doesn’t it?
After all, as great as Rivers has been, he hasn’t sniffed the success that Brees has. As a member of the New Orleans Saints, Brees averages nearly 4,900 yards and 35 touchdowns a season. Over that span, he’s thrown for 56,161 yards and 398 touchdowns, and that number grows every single week. Before it’s all said and done, the Purdue graduate will likely break all of Peyton Manning’s records. Throw in a Super Bowl win, and the fact that his Saints helped the city of New Orleans recover from the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, and Brees is the easy pick for number one.
So that’s our list, did you agree? Disagree? Did we forget someone? Let us know in the comment section or on twitter @Sports-Stack or @RyanSmithNFL!