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The Best NFL Players Who Retired In 2021

Updated September 2, 2021 9.1k votes 761 voters 14.2k views62 items

List RulesVote up the retired NFL players based on their overall careers.

All the NFL players who retire in 2021 will leave a legacy that lives on. The average career length for NFL players is 3.3 years, according to the NFL Players Association. Many of the players who will appear on this list will have played much longer than the average. In this time, they have played through countless injuries and made an impact on the game. Look to this list regularly to see the best NFL players who retired in 2021, either because it was their time or because injuries cut a promising career short.

The first player to choose retirement in 2021 was Falcons quarterback Matt Schaub, who played with four different teams over the course of his sixteen-year career but made the biggest impact in Houston, where he led the league in passing and made it to two Pro Bowls.

Such short careers ensure prominent players retire from the NFL every year. Look to this list for a running record of football players retiring in 2021. Almost all of the 32 NFL teams say their goodbyes to a veteran or two each year. Vote up the recently retired NFL players who had the most impact on the game during their careers, and check back throughout the year to see who else retires. Then, go check out our list of all athletes who retired in 2021.

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  • 1
    711
    47

    Drew Brees

    Quarterback

    TeamNew Orleans Saints (2006-2020), San Diego Chargers (2001-2005)

    Announced retirement on March 14, 2021

    Career Achievements:
    Super Bowl champion (XLIV)
    Super Bowl MVP (XLIV)
    2× NFL Offensive Player of the Year (2008, 2011)
    First-team All-Pro (2006)
    4× Second-team All-Pro (2008, 2009, 2011, 2018)
    13× Pro Bowl (2004, 2006, 2008–2014, 2016–2019)
    7× NFL passing yards leader (2006, 2008, 2011, 2012, 2014–2016)
    4× NFL passing touchdowns leader (2008, 2009, 2011, 2012)
    2× NFL passer rating leader (2009, 2018)
    6× NFL completion percentage leader (2009–2011, 2017–2019)

    NFL Records:
    Most career passing yards
    Most career pass completions
    Highest single-season completion percentage (74.4%)
    Most consecutive games with a touchdown pass
    Most pass completions in a season
    Most 5,000 passing yard seasons
    Highest completion percentage in a game (96.7%)
    Most touchdown passes in a game (tied)
    First player to reach 80,000 career passing yards (286 games)

    More Drew Brees 

    #54 of 80 The Best NFL Player Nicknames#12 of 130 The Greatest College Football Quarterbacks of All Time

  • 2
    487
    77

    Philip Rivers

    Quarterback

    TeamLos Angeles Chargers (2004-2019); Indianapolis Colts (2020)

    Announced retirement on January 20, 2021

    Career Achievements:
    8× Pro Bowler (2006, 2009–2011, 2013, 2016–2018)
    NFL Comeback Player of the Year (2013)
    NFL completion percentage leader (2013)
    NFL passing yards leader (2010)
    NFL passing touchdowns leader (2008)
    NFL passer rating leader (2008)

    More Philip Rivers 

    #192 of 1,323 The Best Football Players Ever#25 of 120 The Best Quarterbacks Of All Time

  • 3
    444
    71

    Jason Witten

    Tight end

    TeamDallas Cowboys (2003-2017, 2019), Las Vegas Raiders (2020)

    Announced retirement on January 27, 2021

    Career Achievements:
    11× Pro Bowler (2004–2010, 2012–2014, 2017)
    2× First-team All-Pro (2007, 2010)
    2× Second-team All-Pro (2008, 2012)
    Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year (2012)
    Bart Starr Award (2013)
    Most career NFL games by a Tight End (271 games)
    Top 20 NFL All Time Career Receiving Yards (13,046)
    Texas Sports Hall of Fame (2019)

    More Jason Witten 

    #7 of 87 The Greatest Tight Ends Of All Time#25 of 53 The Most Likable Active NFL Players

  • 4
    402
    64

    Greg Olsen

    Tight end

    TeamChicago Bears (2007-2010), Carolina Panthers (2011-2019), Seattle Seahawks (2020)

    Announced retirement on January 24, 2021

    Career Achievements:
    3× Pro Bowler (2014–2016)
    2× Second-team All-Pro (2015, 2016)
    NFL All-Rookie Team (2007)
    First Tight End with three consecutive 1,000 yard seasons.

    More Greg Olsen 

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  • 5
    387
    67

    Maurkice Pouncey

    Guard, Center

    TeamPittsburgh Steelers (2010-2020)

    Announced retirement on February 12, 2021

    Career Achievements:
    3× First-team All-Pro (2011, 2012, 2014)
    2× Second-team All-Pro (2010, 2018)
    9× Pro Bowl (2010–2012, 2014, 2016–2020)
    PFWA All-Rookie Team (2010)
    NFL 2010s All-Decade Team

  • 6
    195
    10

    Adam Vinatieri

    Placekicker

    TeamNew England Patriots (1996–2005), Indianapolis Colts (2006–2019)

    Announced retirement on May 26, 2021

    Career Achievements:
    4× Super Bowl champion (XXXVI, XXXVIII, XXXIX, XLI)
    3× Pro Bowl (2002, 2004, 2014)
    3× First-team All-Pro (2002, 2004, 2014)
    NFL's all-time leading scorer (2,673 points)
    Most consecutive field goals made (44)
    Most combined regular season and postseason games played (397)
    Most career field goals made (599)
    Most career field goals attempted (715)
     

  • 7
    368
    80

    Julian Edelman

    Wide receiver

    TeamNew England Patriots (2009-2020)

    Announced retirement on April 12, 2021

    Career Achievements:
    3× Super Bowl champion (XLIX, LI, LIII)
    Super Bowl MVP (LIII)
    New England Patriots 2010s All-Decade Team
    Super Bowl Record - Most Receptions in a 1st Half (7)
    Super Bowl Record - Most Career Punt Returns (8)

    More Julian Edelman 

    #238 of 336 The Hottest Men Of 2021, Ranked#1 of 40 The Greatest Jewish Players in NFL History

  • 8
    295
    70

    TeamMiami Dolphins (2011-2017), Los Angeles Chargers (2018-2020)

    Announced retirement on February 12, 2021

    Career Achievements:
    4× Pro Bowl (2013–2015, 2018)
    PFWA All-Rookie Team (2011)

  • 9
    262
    64

    Alex Smith

    Quarterback

    TeamSan Francisco 49ers (2005–2012) Kansas City Chiefs (2013–2017) Washington Football Team (2018–2020)

    Announced retirement on April 19, 2021

    Career Achievements:
    NFL Comeback Player of the Year (2020)
    3× Pro Bowl (2013, 2016, 2017)
    NFL passer rating leader (2017)
    #1 overall pick in 2005 NFL Draft

    More Alex Smith 

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  • 10
    264
    92

    Patrick Chung

    Safety

    TeamNew England Patriots (2009-2012, 2014-2020), Philadelphia Eagles (2013)

    Announced retirement on March 18 , 2021

    Career Achievements:
    3× Super Bowl champion (XLIX, LI, LIII)

    More 

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  • 11
    237
    78

    TeamSan Francisco 49ers (2010-2014), Seattle Seahawks (2015-2018), Arizona Cardinals (2019-2020)

    Announced retirement on February 22, 2021

    Career Achievements:
    4× Pro Bowl (2012–2015)
    First-team All-Pro (2012)
    Second-team All-Pro (2015)
    PFW All-Rookie Team (2010)

    More Mike Iupati 

    #37 of 225 The Best Arizona Cardinals of All Time#84 of 124 Athletes Who Retired In 2021

  • 12
    167
    48

    Sean Lee

    Linebacker

    TeamDallas Cowboys (2010-2020)

    Announced retirement on April 26, 2021

    Career Achievements:
    2× Pro Bowl (2015, 2016)
    First-team All-Pro (2016)
    802 career tackles

  • 13
    218
    90

    TeamIndianapolis Colts, (2006-2013), San Francisco 49ers (2014-2016), Arizona Cardinals (2017-2018), New York Giants (2019)

    Announced retirement on January 7, 2021

    Career Achievements:
    Super Bowl champion (XLI)
    3× Pro Bowler (2007, 2009, 2014)

  • 14
    217
    94

    TeamArizona Cardinals (2011-2012), Kansas City Chiefs (2013-2020)

    Announced retirement on March 4, 2021

    Career Achievements:
    Super Bowl champion (LIV)
    Pro Bowl (2018)
    Second-team All-Pro (2014)

  • 15
    208
    97

    Anthony Castonzo

    Offensive Tackle

    TeamIndianapolis Colts (2011-2020)

    Announced retirement on January 12, 2021

    Career Achievements:
    Pro Football Focus Second-team All-Pro (2019)
    1 Career Touchdown

  • 16
    164
    77

    Donald Penn

    Offensive Tackle

    TeamMinnesota Vikings (2006), Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2006-2013), Oakland Raiders (2014-2018), Washington Redskins (2019)

    Announced retirement on March 15, 2021

    Career Achievements:
    3× Pro Bowl (2010, 2016, 2017)
    Games started: 189
    Receptions: 6
    Receiving yards: 26
    Receiving touchdowns: 4

  • 17
    104
    45

    TeamCleveland Browns (2010-2013), Denver Broncos (2014-2016), Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2017), Arizona Cardinals (2020)

    Announced retirement on April 21, 2021

    Career Achievements:
    Super Bowl champion (L)
    2× Pro Bowl (2013, 2014)
    Second-team All-Pro (2013)
     

  • 18
    67
    15

    Demaryius Thomas

    Wide receiver

    TeamDenver Broncos (2010-2018), Houston Texans (2018), New England Patriots (2019), New York Jets (2019)

    Announced retirement on June 28, 2021

    Career Achievements:
    Super Bowl champion (L)
    5× Pro Bowl (2012–2016)
    2× Second-team All-Pro (2013, 2014)
    Broncos All Time Leader in Playoff Receptions (53)
    Broncos All Time Leader in Regular Season Receiving Yards (1,619)

    More Demaryius Thomas 

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  • 19
    80
    32

    Tamba Hali

    Defensive end, Linebacker

    TeamKansas City Chiefs (2006–2017)

    Announced retirement on May 10, 2021

    Career Achievements:
    6× Pro Bowl (2010–2015)
    2× Second-team All-Pro (2011, 2013)
    PFWA All-Rookie Team (2006)
    2nd in Chiefs team history in Sacks

    More Tamba Hali 

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  • 20
    121
    78

    Jordan Reed

    Tight end

    TeamWashington Redskins (2013–2019), San Francisco 49ers (2020)

    Announced retirement on April 20, 2021

    Career Achievements:
    Pro Bowl (2015)
    PFWA All-Rookie Team (2013)

  • 21
    40
    12

    Ted Ginn, Jr.

    Wide receiver

    TeamMiami Dolphins (2007–2009), San Francisco 49ers (2010–2012), Carolina Panthers (2013), Arizona Cardinals (2014), Carolina Panthers (2015–2016)

    Announced retirement on July 16, 2021

    Career Achievements:
    PFWA All-Rookie Team (2007)
    NFL record - 2 kickoff return touchdowns of 100 yards or more in a single game 
    Career receptions: 412
    Career receiving yards: 5,742
    Career receiving TDs: 33
    Career rushing yards: 486
    Career rushing touchdowns: 2
    Career return yards: 9,523
    Career return TDs: 7

    More Ted Ginn, Jr. 

    #13 of 83 The Best Ohio State Buckeyes of All Time#18 of 106 The Fastest NFL Players of All Time

  • 22
    44
    24

    Johnathan Joseph

    Cornerback

    TeamCincinnati Bengals (2006–2010), Houston Texans (2011–2019), Tennessee Titans (2020), Arizona Cardinals (2020)

    Announced retirement on June 10, 2021

    Career Achievements:
    2× Pro Bowl (2011, 2012)
    2× Second-team All-Pro (2011, 2015)

  • 23
    15
    0

    Malcolm Butler

    Cornerback

    TeamNew England Patriots (2014–2017), Tennessee Titans (2018–2020)

    Announced retirement on August 31, 2021

    Career Achievements:
    2× Super Bowl champion (XLIX, LI)
    Pro Bowl (2015)
    Second-team All-Pro (2016)
    New England Patriots 2010s All-Decade Team

  • 24
    17
    2

    Dion Lewis

    Running back

    TeamPhiladelphia Eagles (2011–2012), Cleveland Browns (2013), Indianapolis Colts (2014), New England Patriots (2015–2017), Tennessee Titans (2018–2019)

    Announced retirement on August 13, 2021

    Career Achievements:
    Super Bowl champion (LI)
    Career rushing yards: 2,425
    Career receptions: 191
    Career receiving yards: 1,408
    Career return yards: 1,845
    Career touchdowns: 21

  • 25
    107
    111

    Morgan Burnett

    Safety

    TeamGreen Bay Packers (2010–2017), Pittsburgh Steelers (2018), Cleveland Browns (2019)

    Announced retirement on March 29, 2021

    Career Achievements:
    Super Bowl champion (XLV)
    770 Career Tackles
    10 Career Interceptions
    9.5 Career Sacks