Top 10 Sports Players That Retired Too Early

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10) Patrick Willis

Patrick Willis was an absolute monster for the San Francisco 49ers. The middle linebacker was selected to seven consecutive Pro Bowls. Willis reminded me a lot of Ray Lewis. A scary force in the middle of a defense and made the playoffs twice. He was the 2007 Defensive Rookie of the Year and a Butkus Award winner in 2009. Willis was asked about retiring at age 30 and he states “I felt like it was the perfect time. My body, everything. The stars aligned for me.” It’s quite clear why Patrick Willis ranks on this Top 10 sports list.

Image by Nhat V. Meyer via Bay Area News Group

My Take: Patrick Willis was a phenom and such a fun player to watch back when you could hit people in the NFL, unlike today. Willis had two big injuries and a surgery in his career which I’m sure influenced his decision to retire.

9) Earl Campbell

Campbell was an electric back for the Houston Oilers before retiring early at age 31. Campbell led the league in rushing from 1978-1980. The Hall of Fame running back was selected to the Pro Bowl three times. After two seasons with the Saints he decided to retire.

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My take: I never had the privilege to watch Campbell live but his stats speak for themselves. He obviously could’ve gotten more accolades if he stayed in the league a little longer.

8) Sandy Koufax

Koufax was an elite pitcher and one of the best of all time. The six-time All-Star posted a career ERA of 2.76, which is outstanding. He stayed in California his entire career playing in Brooklyn for three seasons, then finishing off the rest of his career in LA, all with the Dodgers. What’s shocking about his retirement is that he decided to retire after his best season in 1966, posting a record of 27-9 with a 1.73 ERA, while winning his 3rd Cy Young. The Hall of Famer retired because of Severe Arthritis.

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My take: Growing up as a kid, you hear about guys like Sandy Koufax, Nolan Ryan, Randy Johnson, etc. The point is, these guys changed the game and revolutionized pitching. I never saw Sandy pitch, but again, the stats speak loudly. Willie Stargell was asked about hitting off Koufax and he stated, “Trying to hit off Koufax was like trying to drink hot coffee with a fork.” That was all I needed to hear.

7) Barry Sanders

The Detroit Lions standout, who is in the conversation as one of the best running backs to ever play in the NFL. He retired due to a lack of desire to play. Sanders was a 10-time Pro Bowler and won League MVP in 1997. He shocked the sports world when he retired. He announced it by faxing his retirement to a local newspaper. Sanders ranks fourth All Time in rushing yards, before retiring at 30.

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My take: If Sanders would have kept his career going, he could of easily been in the conversation for most rushing yards ever. It’s stunning that he retired so early because of a lack of desire. The real question is, was it because he played for the Lions? As you all know, playing for that franchise has been extremely hard for players over the years.

6) Calvin Johnson

It’s ironic that we have two Detroit Lions on this list. Lions fans have been longing for playoff appearances, wins, and Super Bowls since the franchise started. I’ve had the privilege of watching Calvin Johnson play. The guy’s nickname was “Megatron” for crying out loud. He was a human robot who caught touchdowns left and right. The six-time Pro Bowler led the league in receiving twice and destroyed his opponents. The reason for his retirement was the wear and tear on his body. Megatron retired at age 30.

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My take: As a Bears fan, I couldn’t be happier to see Megatron leave the NFC North. It sucked for the NFL because he was such a spectacle to watch. His wingspan was ridiculous, and he had a very good quarterback to throw him the ball in Matthew Stafford. It’s a shame that he retired early because he could have possibly been the greatest receiver of All Time.

5) Jim Brown

Jim Brown averaged 100 yards per game in seven of his nine seasons in the NFL. You may have to read that again. I mean, Brown was an absolute phenom on the gridiron. He retired at age 30 as the league’s leader in rushing yards with 12,312 and had 106 rushing touchdowns.

Image by Thomas Moore via Dawg Pound Daily

My take: When I think about the Browns organization, I think of this guy first. He was such a staple for the Browns back in the day, and they have had trouble with any sort of success ever since. The Browns have been desperately searching for a guy like Jim Brown for years. A consistent player that laid his heart on the line and produced week in and week out. Retiring at age 30 is a shame, but as for rest of the guys on this list, it’s understandable.

4) Michael Jordan

Jordan retired in the prime of his career after the passing of his father. All of you know how big of a Michael Jordan fan I am from reading my blog. I can sit here and post all of his stats but quite frankly, there are too many to post. Just watch his documentary called “The Last Dance.” Some would say that he could’ve won another championship if he stayed and didn’t play baseball, making him an easy choice as Top 10 in sports history. The fact is, he retired and came back to win three more championships with the Bulls, on top of the three he won before his first retirement.

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My take: All I have to say is GOAT.

3) Rob Gronkowski

Gronk was one of the best tight ends to ever play the game. He retired after winning his third Super Bowl with Tom Brady and the New England Patriots dynasty. Watching this guy play was unbelievable. He can block, catch, trash talk, and party hard. Gronk was one of the premier personalities in the NFL and had fun playing the game. He did have help playing for Bill Belichick and catching passes from the greatest quarterback of All Time in Tom Brady. After winning his third Super Bowl, Gronk decided to retire at age 29. He recently returned to the NFL to play with Brady and the Buccaneers, but injuries have prolonged him to getting back to how great he once was.

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My take: Gronk was one of my favorite players in the NFL. He single-handedly won me two fantasy leagues back in the day. This guy is an Electric Factory and a guy that all teams could use. Gronk is a lot smarter than people give him credit for. He had a plan after retirement and he’s doing whatever he wants at this moment and right now it’s coming back to football to play with Tom Brady.

2) Andrew Luck

Andrew Luck shocked the world when he announced his retirement. He announced it right before the 2019 season kicked off. Colts fans and NFL fans were crushed to see him go. Luck had trouble staying on the field because of injuries. He spent the entire 2019 offseason recovering from a lower body injury and was supposed to comeback to lead the Colts to another playoff appearance. Fantasy football owners were crushed when he retired because before the season even started, they lost their league. Luck played 6 seasons with the Colts, leading them to four playoff appearances. He also made it to the AFC Championship in 2015.

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My take: Luck was a staple quarterback in the NFL. Everyone loved him and he was a great leader. Watching him play QB was a treat and if you are a Colts fan, it had to be nice going from Peyton Manning to Andrew Luck. It’s something I’m still waiting for as a Bears fan and also why he lands in our Top 10.

1) Luke Kuechly

Kuechly was one of the best and most consistent linebackers in the NFL his whole career. He was a seven-time Pro Bowler and a five-time 1stTeam All Pro. He was the 2013 Defensive Player of the Year. He announced his retirement after his latest Pro Bowl appearance at age 28. He served as the Panthers linebacker for eight seasons and suffered multiple concussions. He didn’t say the concussions were exactly why he retired, but did say “In my heart, I know it’s the right thing to do.”

Image by Jeremy Brevard via USA TODAY Sports

My take: Kuechly was a powerhouse linebacker for the Panthers and a guy who made offensive coordinators scared. He took over games and laid the wood to his opponents. He was one of my favorite defensive players to watch and did it with tenacity. He never took plays off and was a ferocious tackler. His pass defending was extremely underrated as well. He is number one on this list because he was so young and had so much potential to help the Carolina Panthers win a Super Bowl.

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