Alongside baseball and basketball, football is one of the most beloved sports in America. Millions love watching their favorite players take the field each week. While it’s impossible for the pros to play forever, some distinguished NFL players called time on their careers a bit too soon.
1. Jason Worilds
While a majority of players on this list retired early due to injury and health concerns, Jason Worilds’ reason for hanging up his boots was different. After having a successful rookie stint with the Pittsburgh Steelers, he was regarded as one of the most sought-after free agents in 2015.
However, Worilds shocked the NFL world by opting for an unexpected new challenge. At 27 years old, Jason Worilds decided to retire in order to dedicate his time and effort to his faith as a Jehovah’s witness.
2. Ickey Woods
Ickey Woods burst onto the scene in 1988 with the Cincinnati Bengals. That season, he rushed for 1,066 yards, scoring 15 touchdowns. Woods contribution was vital to the Bengals reaching the Super Bowl, though they ended up losing to Jerry Rice’s 49ers. Many expected his second season to be even better. Sadly, two games into the season, Woods got an ACL injury that sidelined him for 13 months.
After his return, he didn’t pick up where he left off, rushing for 268 yards and scoring only six touchdowns. Though Woods hoped 1991 would see him return to 1988 form, another knee injury during preseason interfered with his plans. It was not as serious, but Woods never quite reached the heights of his rookie season. He retired at the age of 26.
3. Barry Sanders
Apart from injuries and maybe faith, some players sometimes choose to retire as a way of getting out of unfavorable contracts. Many thought this was the reason behind Barry Sander’s retirement.
The most shocking element of No. 20’s retirement was how close he was to breaking the all-time rushing record set by Walter Payton. With many years left on his contract, and averaging around 1,500 rushing yards a season, Sanders walked away from the Detroit Lions. Years later, he finally explained the team’s mismanagement was too much for him to take.
4. Sterling Sharpe
Joining the Packers in 1988, Sterling Sharpe made five Pro Bowl appearances in the six seasons he played for Green Bay. His 1992 season, which saw him top the rankings in touchdowns and receiving yards, was sadly at good as it got.
At the end of the 1994 season, Sharpe received two massive hits that led to vertebrates in his neck coming loose. Though he underwent a cervical spine fusion to rectify the injury, teams did not want to risk another injury under their books. Sterling Sharpe was forced to call time on his career at the age of 29. This cut short a player who would’ve likely gone on to be one of the best wide receivers in the game.
5. Billy Sims
A Heisman Trophy winner in 1978, Sims joined the Detroit Lions as the No. 1 draft pick in 1980. He led the league in touchdowns his rookie season. Then, the running back topped the 1,303 yards he rushed that season with 1,427 yards the next year. In addition to helping the Lions reach the 1982 and 1983 playoffs, Sims was in the Pro Bowl in all three of his seasons.
During the 1984 season, Sims suffered a knee injury that sidelined him for two years. He was never able to make a full recovery. After the Lions turned down his offer of playing on a “blank check” contract, Sims was forced to retire having only played five seasons.