10 NFL players nearing the end of notable careers

2T1W6XB Atlanta Falcons defensive tackle Calais Campbell (93) celebrates his 100th career quarterback sack against the Washington Commanders during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Oct. 15, 2023, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

• Calais Campbell continues to defy Father Time: The 37-year-old is coming off an 80.0-plus PFF overall grade with the Falcons and now joins the Dolphins for the 2024 campaign.

• Julio Jones and Dalvin Cook are among the former stars who remain unsigned: Both players shined in the primes but are without a team for 2024 as things stand.

• Get a head start on fantasy football: Use PFF's fantasy football mock draft simulator to create real live mock draft simulations to prepare for your live draft!

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With the start of training camps around the NFL largely still two weeks away, players have had the past month to consider their goals for the 2024 season. For some, that span of thought could have led to the realization that this year will be their last playing football.

This past offseason alone, several cornerstone players — including Aaron Donald, Jason Kelce, Darren Waller, Matthew Slater and Leighton Vander Esch — decided to hang up their cleats. The trend of players retiring before turning 32 is also becoming more and more prevalent.

With the span of NFL careers generally dating faster than ever before, below is a list of 10 players whose play should be especially savored in the coming months — because it might prove to be their curtain calls.

G Zack Martin, Dallas Cowboys

Martin has been one of the NFL's best offensive linemen since debuting in 2014. The Cowboys star has earned an 86.0-plus PFF overall grade in seven of his 10 career seasons and has never given up more than four sacks in a complete year.

The 33-year-old did perform at his worst last year, posting a career-low 68.0 overall grade and permitting a career-high four sacks and 24 pressures. Even then, Martin’s 75.1 pass-blocking grade ranked ninth among guards to play 1,000 or more snaps in 2023.

In June, Martin spoke to the Dallas Morning News about his immediate future, seeming to suggest that 2024 could be his final go-around. Once Martin does hang up his cleats, it’s unlikely we’ll see a guard as consistently great as him for a long time.

WR Julio Jones, unsigned

Jones is not only one of the most intimidating receivers in NFL history, but also one of the more accomplished.

The 35-year-old composed arguably the greatest stretch of wideout play ever: from 2014 to 2019, he never had fewer than 1,394 yards in a season. In fact, Jones is the only NFL player to ever have more than four of those next-level campaigns in a row. Jones’ dominance also featured seven straight seasons with a PFF overall grade of 86.3 or higher, something that no other receiver has done since PFF began tracking data in 2006.

Part of why the 6-foot-4 Jones was so dominant was his jump-ball ability. Since 2016, Jones has hauled in a staggering 46.8% of contested catches.

After playing for three teams in three years, Jones remains unsigned entering this year. Based on his age and declining production, the likely Hall-of-Famer may have even already played his last snap of football — a pill that would be hard to swallow for a generation that fell in love with his game.

Julio Jones Season Grades
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TE Jimmy Graham, unsigned

Graham entered the league as a third-round pick in 2010 and shattered expectations, becoming among the best at his position for virtually six years in a row. From 2011 to 2016, Graham’s 5,924 receiving yards ranked 10th among all skill players and were 375 more than Rob Gronkowski accumulated in that duration. Throughout the first seven years of his career, Graham never posted a PFF overall grade lower than 74.7.

However, the past few years have been a bit murky for the 37-year-old. Graham played only 434 snaps from 2021-23, entirely skipping the 2022 season. When on the field, Graham hauled in just 20 catches for 206 yards.

The jury remains out on whether the current free agent will play in 2024, with Graham telling reporters that he would discuss options with the New Orleans Saints — with whom he played for six seasons. The fact that Graham tallied just 171 snaps last season, combined with his ongoing uncertainty, should make supporters even more appreciative of what we’ve witnessed from the potential Hall-of-Famer.

EDGE Calais Campbell, Miami Dolphins

One of the NFL’s fan favorites has remarkably continued to defy the wrath of Father Time. In each of the past four years, Campbell — while playing from ages 34-37 — has totaled at least 25 pressures and a 74.7 PFF overall grade.

During his heyday with the Jaguars, the 6-foot-8 Campbell enjoyed one of the more dominant four-year stretches of defensive line play in recent memory. From 2016-19, averaged 66.5 pressures and 9.9 sacks per season while earning elite 90.0-plus overall grades each year. Talk about an unbridled game-wrecker.

In 2024, Campbell will head to South Beach to play for his third team in three seasons. While the six-time Pro Bowler seems to have plenty left in the tank for an adjusted Dolphins defense, it’s fair to wonder how much longer he will continue putting his hand in the dirt.

RB Dalvin Cook, unsigned

After being drafted fourth overall in 2017, Cook was largely as good as advertised. The four-time Pro Bowler enjoyed six strong seasons of rushing to begin his career, peaking with an 89.0 overall grade and a 90.2 rushing grade in 2020 — both of which were top-three marks among running backs that season. Moreover, the fact that Cook started his career with six straight years of earning a 68.0-plus overall grade reflects his consistency despite a high workload.

One of the biggest strengths of Cook’s game was evading defenders. The former Viking forced 211 missed tackles from 2019-22, proving just one of four running backs to eclipse the 200 mark in that span.

Despite Cook's regular production, his play has faded in the past two seasons. He ranked 27th out of 32 qualified running backs in expected points added per rush in 2022 before things came to a halt in 2023, with Cook crawling to 214 rushing yards on a career-low 3.2 yards per carry — leading to his January release from the Jets.

CB Patrick Peterson, unsigned

During the apex of his career, Peterson was one of the NFL’s more exciting and dominant defensive backs. The three-time All-Pro tallied four seasons with a PFF overall grade of 79.2 or better, plus four years with an elite coverage grade of at least 80.0.

After two down years in Arizona and Minnesota, Peterson seemed to enjoy a resurgence with the Vikings in 2022, finishing sixth among cornerbacks in coverage grade (minimum 900 snaps), at 79.7. However, Peterson didn't sustain that performance in Pittsburgh, where he struggled to the tune of a 58.9 overall grade and a dismal 39.8 tackling grade.

What makes Peterson’s future especially intriguing is that the Steelers shifted the upcoming 34-year-old to safety during the final four games of the 2023 regular season, and to his credit, Peterson enjoyed a solid game against the Bengals in that role. Although the veteran is not currently on a team, it seems likely some organization will scoop up the possible Hall-of-Famer as either depth or safety help.

QB Marcus Mariota, Washington Commanders

The former Heisman winner and No. 2 overall pick generally didn’t live up to the billing in the pro ranks, but Mariota showcased spurts of excellence during the earlier stages of his career. He earned an overall grade of 76.2 or higher in 2017 and 2018, which proved his zenith as a full-time starter.

Things have taken a precipitous turn for Mariota since 2018. The former Duck was benched for Ryan Tannehill in Tennessee; signed with the Raiders, where he backed up Derek Carr for two years; posted just a 62.7 passing grade with the Falcons in 2022 before promptly leaving the team; and was Jalen Hurts’ insurance with the Eagles in 2023.

Now on a one-year deal with the Commanders, Mariota will almost assuredly serve as the team’s QB2 behind No. 2 overall pick Jayden Daniels. Even though he’s still only 30, Mariota seems to have been relegated to journeyman backup status.

Edge Jerry Hughes, Houston Texans

Although he never made a Pro Bowl, Hughes has always seemed underappreciated. Not many can claim to have played 14 NFL seasons to begin with, and Hughes’ ability to get to the quarterback is also noteworthy. He is one of just 162 players in pro football history to reach the 70-sack threshold.

Hughes’ best stretch came with the Bills in 2018-20, propelling the team’s playoff runs with 194 pressures, 16 sacks, 23 tackles for loss and five forced fumbles. The TCU alum even turned in strong years in 2021 and 2022, tallying 55-plus pressures during both campaigns.

Despite playing just 474 snaps in 2023 because of back and ankle injuries, Hughes still generated 30 pressures and helped propel the Texans to their first divisional-round game since 2019. With Hughes’ deal with Houston being extended by one year, the 35-year-old could enjoy one final opportunity to pursue a title — likely as a rotational rusher behind Danielle Hunter and Will Anderson Jr., given that he hasn’t played more than 700 snaps in four years.

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WR Robert Woods, Houston Texans

Another recent Houston veteran, and possibly one of the most unsung receivers of his time, Woods went north of 1,000 yards just twice throughout his 11-year career but was one of the best blocking receivers of his era, establishing five seasons with a 75.0-plus run-blocking grade. Along those underrated lines, Woods was a consistent chain-mover, with his 415 first downs ranking 11th since he broke into the league in 2013.

After three high-powered years with the Rams, Woods has still been a decent depth piece since 2020, earning overall grades of 75.7 in 2021 and 68.0 in 2022. The receiver has combined for 138 catches for 1,509 yards across the past three seasons despite suiting up for only 2,067 total snaps. However, with Houston developing Nico Collins and Tank Dell into standouts, not to mention adding superstar Stefon Diggs, Woods seems positioned as only the Texans’ WR5/WR6.

TE Zach Ertz, Washington Commanders

During his peak, Ertz was one of the more unguardable tight ends in the league. He collected a PFF receiving grade of 75.6 or better in six of his first seven NFL seasons and proved an integral part of the Eagles’ Super Bowl-caliber offense in 2017.

Although the three-time Pro Bowl selection hasn’t matched his earlier production since being dealt to Arizona — amassing just 1,167 yards in 28 games played while battling several notable leg injuries — Ertz has generally been surehanded, dropping only nine of 191 targets while in the desert. Even on a more limited target share, Ertz can still be a solid deep threat, as evidenced by having a top-18 average depth of target among tight ends in 2022 and 2023.

Ertz elected this offseason to reunite with former Cardinals head coach Kliff Kingsbury in Washington. With very limited depth at the tight end position on the Commanders’ roster, Ertz could earn the bulk of TE1 snaps early in the season. At the same time, with promising rookie Ben Sinnott behind him and considering Ertz’s inability to stay on the field, the 35-year-old could also witness his swan song in D.C.


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