Money Makes Early NFL Retirements An Easy Choice


There’s a growing trend in the National Football League of players retiring earlier than ever before.

Just a few months ago we saw Detroit Lions six-time Pro Bowl wide receiver Calvin Johnson walk away from an eight-year, $132 million contract with four years remaining at the ripe old age of 30.

The future Hall of Famer could have vaulted himself up the all-time wide receiver rankings, but opted to hang up the cleats officially on the first day of the league’s calendar year.

Just a few days ago, New York Jets offensive tackle D’Brickahaw Ferguson walked away from an eight-figure salary for 2016 and decided to leave football at the age of 32.  The former first-round pick from Virginia made a statement to Jets fans over the weekend.

“I feel good about my decision,” Ferguson told this week before today’s retirement announcement. “I don’t think it’s ever an easy decision. When you give so much of your time and your energy to any one thing, it’s very hard and challenging to switch gears. But I feel this is the right decision to make.”

He said his health was not a driving force behind making his transition from player to non-player.

“I think it has more to do with the fact that I was ready to not only do something different but I also recognized that I’m pleased with what I’ve accomplished,” he said. “I think this might be a good time to say I’ve done what I can, I don’t know if I will continue to have the success that I’ve had if I just continue to go on automatic. I just think this is a good stopping point.”

Last season we saw San Francisco 49ers great Patrick Willis leave the game at the age of 30, as he was still playing at a level that considered him one of the finest linebackers in football.

“As I stand up here today, it’s tough, it’s hard, but it’s also easy at the same time,” Willis said. “I knew there would be a day I’d leave, and I always told myself that I wanted it to be on my terms.

“I know I no longer have it in these feet to go out there and give you guys that kind of ‘Wow.’”

Willis went on.

“As much as I’d love to win a Super Bowl and to bring number six back here, I have to be honest,” Willis said. “I have to tell y’all that if I don’t have what I know I need to give to my teammates and the organization the best chance to win, then I can’t be out there doing that.

“And to be sitting on the sideline just collecting a paycheck, I feel like that would be wrong. So I stand up here today with that conviction. I understand the magnitude of what I’m doing today.

“For me, there’s more to my life than football. It has provided an amazing platform for me to build on, but it’s my health first and everything else just kind of makes sense around it.”

Shortly after Willis’ retirement, former first-round pick offensive tackle Anthony Davis left the game at 25, followed by linebacker Chris Borland at 24.

Clearly the early retirements are a growing trend.

What do we have to blame this on?

Many will cite the growing awareness of concussions as the reason players are retiring early.  It would be foolish to think that isn’t at least some part of it, but that likely isn’t the real reason for players like Megatron and D’Brick.

Johnson earned $113.8 million in his career and Ferguson $67 million.  That’s generational wealth and even with poor money management, these intelligent men likely have enough in the bank to keep their grandchildren in nice homes and cars.

According to, Patrick Willis’ net worth is estimated at $50 million.  Surely that helped his retirement decision along greatly and made leaving nearly $5.3 million on the table for 2015 much easier.

Sure, NFL players are more health conscious today than they’ve ever been.  With the media revolving around the game being as big as it is, prominent stars have more opportunities than ever to earn a great living without having to smash their heads into other heads.

The real reason why this trend of early retirements is only going to continue is that guys are making more money than ever and with a sport that’s so physically demanding, they are making enough to retire from and getting out while they still can.

Will this affect the game as we know it?  

No, because for every guy that retires abruptly, 2,000 more are willing to take any type of health risk to take his place.  It’s never a good thing to lose superstars such as Calvin Johnson, Patrick Willis and D’Brickashaw Ferguson, but there are plenty more and there will continue to be, at least for the time being.

About Charlie Bernstein

Charlie Bernstein

Charlie Bernstein is the managing football editor for Football Insiders and has covered the NFL for over a decade.  Charlie has hosted drive time radio for NBC and ESPN affiliates in different markets around the country, along with being an NFL correspondent for ESPN Radio and WFAN.  He has been featured on the NFL Network as well as Sirius/XM NFL Radio and has been published on Fox Sports, Sports Illustrated, ESPN as well as numerous other publications.