NFL players who have un-retired
Tom Brady isn't the first NFL player to retire and un-retire, and he won't be the last. Let's take a look at some other players who had a change of heart.
Tom Brady announcing his un-retirement was not exactly surprising. We’ve seen it before in the NFL and other sports and there’s no rules against it. In the NFL, the player must finish the remaining contract which was effective at the time of retirement.
For Brady, his retirement never felt certain to begin with. It was falsely reported, then un-reported. Then, he finally said on his Instagram that he was ready to focus on other things. Then, less than a week later, he was already hinting at the possibility of coming back. Brady’s retirement only lasted 40 days and never really felt official, and on Saturday, he made us all even more curious when he showed up to the Manchester United vs Tottenham Spur soccer game. United is owned by the same family who own the Bucs, so it could be that was not a coincidence at all.
It makes you wonder why players retire in the first place if they aren’t sure, but I digress.There have been several who’ve had a change of heart. Let’s take a look at some of the other NFL players who’ve retired and un-retired, some retired and un-retired and retired again even.
This is the guy who comes to mind when I think of NFL players tricking us into thinking they’re gone for good. He did it not once, but twice. These football players just can’t be trusted. Quarterback Brett Favre first retired in 2008 and that lasted a couple months. When he announced his return, he was hoping to sign again with the Packers, but they’d already decided on Aaron Rodgers, and Favre was doomed to play with the Jets. He retired again after that season. But wait! He was just kidding again. After six months of what we can only assume were full of deep pensive thoughts about his future, Favre came back out of retirement again and signed with the Vikings, having one of the best seasons of his career. Then came his third retirement in 2010 after the Vikings had a disappointing 6-10 season. It’s been 12 years now, so I think it’s safe to say that one was final.
Lynch, nicknamed “Beast Mode”, was a running back for the Seahawks for six seasons before deciding to hang up his cleats (literally - he posted a photo of them hanging from a telephone wire) after the 2015-2016 season. Unlike Favre and Brady, Lynch’s retirement actually lasted a while. He sat out the entire 2016-2017 season, but like I said, these players can’t be trusted. In 2017, motivated by the Oakland Raiders’ future move to Las Vegas, Lynch re-joined the NFL with the Raiders, where he played for two seasons. There were talks of him retiring again, but in the end, he re-joined the Seahawks for his “final” (?) hurrah for the 2019 season. A few years back, Lynch talked about re-joining the NFL again, so never say never indeed.
Haley was a linebacker and defensive end who had a successful run with the 49ers and the Cowboys. He won five Super Bowl rings, two with the 49ers and three with the Cowboys. His retirement in 1996 actually was well-thought out, it seems, as he was suffering from a back injury and dealing with a sick daughter at home. He was retired for two years before returning to play for the 49ers during their playoff run in January 1999. He helped get them past Favre and the Packers in the Wild Card round and returned to play one more season with the team in 1999 before retiring for good.
Sanders was one of the NFL’s greatest corners and played for the Falcons, 49ers, Cowboys, and Commanders. He was with Washington only one season before he announced his retirement in 2001. In December 2002, he was waived from the retired list and waiver bids were placed for him, but it was too late in the season to be activated, so he remained retired for three years. Then, in 2004, he announced his decision to un-retire and signed a one-year contract with the Ravens, where he stayed for two seasons before finally retiring again after two missed post seasons.
Moss was one of the greatest wide receivers in the NFL and played for 13 seasons before retiring at the end of an unsuccessful 2011 season with the Titans. It lasted about six months, when on Moss’ 35th birthday, he announced he’d be returning to the NFL after making some “adjustments” in his life. He signed a one-year contract with the 49ers. In that season, he helped take the team to Super Bowl XLVII, which they lost to the Ravens. Moss retired again after that season.
For 15 seasons, Witten was a fixture on the Cowboys team and was one of the best tight ends in the NFL, ranking second in all-time career receptions and receiving yards by a tight end. In a very emotional announcement, Witten retired in 2018, accepting a role as lead analyst for ESPN’s Monday Night Football. To be honest, he was an incredible athlete, but a sub-par announcer. He must have realized this as well, because in 2019, he announced he would return to the Cowboys on a one-year contract. He was never one to miss games, and he started all 16 games with the Cowboys that season, recording 63 receptions, 539 receiving yards, and four receiving touchdowns. In 2020, he made his first and only switch to a new team, the Las Vegas Raiders, where he played for one year. He then signed a one-day contract with the Cowboys in 2021 so that he could officially retire again as a Cowboy.
Williams only played as a running back in the NFL for five seasons before announcing his retirement in 2004 after being suspended for drug use. The retirement came just days before the start of the Miami Dolphins’ training camp and the Dolphins ended up having one of their worst seasons in years. Williams took the year to figure out some things in his life, studying holistic medicine and saying that it was “the most positive thing” he’d done. He returned to the Dolphins and completed his suspension in 2005, but was suspended again for the entire 2006 season, where he instead played professionally in Canada. It took a few years for him to get back on track but he played for the Dolphins again in 2007 and by 2009, he was starting for the team and rushed for over 1,000 yards. He stayed in Miami until 2011, when he switched and had a successful one season with the Ravens, taking them to the AFC Championship game, and then finally retiring again.
Gronk and Brady, Brady and Gronk. Can one exist without the other? Gronk played tight end for the Patriots for nine seasons with four Super Bowl appearances before retiring in 2019. He pointed to mental health as his reason for retiring, saying that he just wasn’t in it. He stated that the physical injuries he suffered contributed to the decision, but that he really just needed the mental break from football. It was Tom Brady who convinced Gronk to come back out of retirement after one season and join him on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers team, which he did in 2020. He jumped right back into it, catching 100 passes for 1,425 yards and 13 touchdowns in his first two seasons with the Bucs. He’s still with Tampa Bay and as of yesterday, so is Brady, so the duo will live to see another season.