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How long is the average career of an NFL player?

The NFL is one of the toughest, most physically demanding sports on the planet, leading to players having the shortest playing careers on average

The NFL is one of the toughest, most physically demanding sports on the planet, leading to players having the shortest playing careers on average

Every young athlete dreams of making it to the majors, winning titles, reaping the fortune and fame that accompanies sports stardom. None of those young athletes consider retirement when fantasizing about a future as a professional athlete. The truth is, as hard as it is to make it to the big show, staying in the big show can be even harder.

NFL careers the shortest on average

Of the four major sports leagues in the United States, the league with the shortest half-life when it comes to career longevity is without question the NFL.

Football is a physical game. Players bodies take a beating from the time they first put on the shoulder pads in Pee-Wee until their last down in the NFL, for the lucky few who make it to the elite level. It’s no wonder that the average age of retirement is 27.6 according to an RBC Wealth Management study.

Most of the time football players don’t have the luxury to retire. Many are forced into leaving the game at an early age because of injury, or simply a lack of options.

Wear and tear, and no fall back leagues cause short careers

The physical part of the game is the principal factor when you take the brevity of NFL careers. Another thing to consider is there is no NFL Jr. Football isn’t like baseball, basketball or hockey. Just like there is no crying in baseball, there is no minor league, or G-League in football.

Most of the time it’s NFL or bust for football players coming out of college or on the fringe of making a roster. If that doesn’t come to fruition it’s time to look else where. There is the Canadian Football League, and NFL Europe still exists, now rebranded as the European League of Football. But most who don’t make the cut on an NFL roster go back to working regular jobs.

Kurt Warner the comeback poster boy

That’s not to say that can’t make a triumphant comeback to the gridiron. Take NFL Super Bowl Champion and Hall of Famer Kurt Warner. The Green Bay Packers cut their fourth string quarterback in 1994, and Warner had to go back to Iowa where he worked on a grocery-store checkout making just $5.50 an hour.

Five years after stocking shelves in that Iowa supermarket, Kurt Warner won the role of starting quarterback on a St. Louis Rams team that would go down in history as “The Greatest Show on Turf.” The Burlington native went on to win the Super Bowl that year and etch his name in history as perhaps the greatest comeback story ever told.

Tom Brady was an outlier

Every so often we stumble upon the four leaf clovers, like golden boy Tom Brady who seemed to get younger as time went by. Eventually, even Brady was caught by Father Time, hanging up his cleats at the age of 45. Along the way, he managed to become Super Bowl MVP at the age of 44.

While the legendary Patriots and Buccaneers quarterback may have been a rare diamond, there are other players who have also lasted in the NFL until their mid-40s, but most of the players on the list are kickers, and most played more than 50 years ago.

Quarterback Vinny Testaverde played until he was 44, before retire in 2007. Vinny was a cult legend known for his tenacity and durability.

Obviously the position you play has a lot to do with your durability in the NFL. A reliable kicker can stick around for upwards of two decades. Running backs, linebackers and lineman take the biggest poundings and they are susceptible to the earliest retirements.


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