Free Agency began on Tuesday and it has been nothing short of fascinating. Guys have been shipped around the league like Amazon packages the weekend before Christmas.
Yeah the big names like LeSean McCoy, Jimmy Graham and Brandon Marshall finding new teams have been enormous headlines, but what is really making news is the fact that four athletes still well within playing age have announced their retirement in the past 48 hours.
This was the most shocking one for sure given the fact that Willis is one of, if not the best linebacker in the game today. Willis announced his retirement early this week after eight seasons–all with the 49ers.
After being taken with the 11th pick of the 2007 draft, Willis made his impact known right away, becoming the first 49ers’ rookie to win All-Pro honors since Ronnie Lott in 1981. He would go on to be named an All-Pro six times in his career.
In six of his first seven seasons, Willis recorded 100+ tackles. He also finished his career with 20.5 sacks, 8 interceptions, 16 forced fumbles and two touchdowns.
A nagging toe injury that Willis had dealt with for awhile kept him out of 10 games last season and was the cause of this retirement.
49ers’ CEO Jed York released a statement thanking Willis, saying, “I would like to thank Patrick for everything he has brought to this team and our community.”
Willis can add three NFC Championship appearances and a Super Bowl appearance to his list of achievements.
Cortland Finnegan- MIA- CB
Cortland Finnegan always played with a chip on his shoulder and was known as one of the nastiest players in the NFL. Which unfortunately, will be what he is most-known for– a 2010 fight on the field with then Houston Texans wide receiver Andre Johnson when Finnegan was a member of the Tennessee Titans.
He may have been so scrappy because he wasn’t supposed to make it this far in the NFL. Seen as an undersized corner, Finnegan was drafted in the 7th round out of little-known Samford College and went on to play nine seasons with three different teams (six w/ TEN, two w/ STL, one w/ MIA).
Finnegan was known for his hard hitting ways and always being around the ball. In two seasons (’07 and ’12) he racked up 100+ tackles and earned Pro-Bowl and All-Pro Honors in 2008. He finished his career with 18 interceptions.
Like Willis, injuries took its toll. Finnegan missed 13 games in the last two seasons combined and now will depart to retirement.
Jake Locker- TEN- QB
This is easily the saddest story of any name on this list. Locker was the eight overall pick in the 2011 draft out of Washington with the intention of being really the first franchise quarterback for the Titans since Steve McNair.
However, Locker would play four seasons with the Titans, playing in just 34 of 64 games. After missing 11 games in his rookie season, Locker played 11 games in his second season, throwing ten touchdowns.
In 2013, a dislocated hip kept him out for nine games and 2014 was hoping to be the year he would be injury-free.
After an impressive opening day win on the road against the Chiefs ( a 2013 playoff team) where Locker threw for 266 yards and a pair of touchdowns, it looked like Locker was turning the corner to becoming the guy in Tennessee.
Locker would injure his hand two weeks later in a 33-7 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals, causing him to miss a week four loss to the Colts.
Returning in week five against the Browns, Locker looked just has he did in week one, racking up 113 total yards and two touchdowns in the first half before suffering a concussion when diving into the end zone in the second quarter.
That would keep Locker out the next six games before returning for a three game stretch in late November where he would throw just one touchdown and three interceptions– averaging just 76 yards per game in those three games– all losses.
Injuries as well as shaky play forced this decision upon the 26-year-old Locker, he finished his four year career with just a 57.5 completion percentage and a quarterback rating of just 79.0, however he wasn’t joined with the best supporting cast on a Titans’ team that went 24-40 in those four seasons and zero playoff appearances.
In a draft where Locker was the second quarterback taken (behind Cam Newton) and in front of guys that have had success like Andy Dalton and Collin Kaepernick; it’s a shame that Locker has to walk away so young.
Jason Worilds- PIT- LB
Want to retire at 27? Jason Worilds just did late Tuesday Night when he announced he would not return to the NFL.
Worilds was a second round pick of the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2010 and played all five of his NFL seasons there. He was a highly-praised free agent going into this off-season, which is why it is so shocking that he will not return.
Contrary to the other three names on this list, Worilds didn’t get hit with the injury-bug throughout his career, playing in 73 of the Steelers’ 80 regular season games over the past five seasons.
In the past three years, Worilds missed just one game and was a beast on the field, racking up 20.5 sacks in those three seasons and earning himself a starting job and the Steelers’ transition tag in 2014 that earned him nearly 10 million dollars last year.
Worilds saw his opportunity to make his money and enjoy his retirement basically injury-free, nothing wrong with that.
This could be a new trend in the NFL, with players realizing that the more time they spend playing football could impact how they live the rest of their life.
With Willis, he may find himself in law enforcement, considering he earned a criminology degree when he was at Ole Miss and Jake Locker could make a run at a baseball career considering he was drafted by the Angels in 2006.
Another guy not mentioned on this list was Maurice Jones-Drew who spent eight seasons with the Jaguars and one with the Oakland Raiders before calling it quits last week. He looks to be on his way to a TV broadcasting contract as he is helping out on NFL Network covering all of the free agent frenzy.
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