Mariano Rivera invented the modern retirement tour, Derek Jeter stole it, Kobe Bryant blew it up, and everyone who has done one since made it insufferable. Draymond Green has three NBA championships but his finest accomplishment is telling Paul Pierce where to shove his retirement tour.
NFL players don’t have the luxury of retirement tours. The sport is too nasty, the violence too brutal, and the careers too short for such sentimentality. But this NFL offseason is laying the groundwork for a new way for NFL players to stay relevant—the unretirement tour.
Unretiring in football is not new. Marshawn Lynch, Randy Moss, and James Harrison all retired earlier this decade before coming back. Brett Favre is the Michael Jordan of unretiring. But there is quite a bit of unretirement talk in the NFL right now—so much talk that we could be on the verge of an unretirement renaissance. Here are the players bringing the unretirement tour into focus. Your move, Kobe.
Witten is the conductor of this train. He retired from the NFL last year and joined the Monday Night Football booth, where everything was a disaster except for his* hair, which was beautiful.
Witten got more criticism for his work as a commentator than he ever did as a player, and some guy named Booger watching games from a cart on the sideline outhustled him for the job. When Jerry Jones offered Witten a golden parachute, Witten went back in hopes that everything would be better—except his hair, which is much worse.
“The fire inside of me to compete and play this game is just burning too strong,” Witten said in a statement. “This team has a great group of rising young stars, and I want to help them make a run at a championship. This was completely my decision, and I am very comfortable with it. I’m looking forward to getting back in the dirt.”
Return odds (out of five Favres): Five
Jason Witten’s unretirement made Ware thirsty, plain and simple.
“Hey, I want to let everyone know that I’ve been inspired when I heard Jason Witten might be coming out of retirement,” Ware said in a video he posted to Twitter the same day Witten made his announcement. “And I started thinking to myself, maybe I need to call Romo and get him out of the booth, and all three of us come back. But then [Denver pass rusher] Von Miller started hitting me up, and then also [Dallas pass rusher] DeMarcus Lawrence, saying that they wanted another guy on the edge, will I come back? I have been working out. And I do feel good. Do y’all think I should come back? Y’all let me know. Don’t play with me. Y’all let me know.”
Ware followed it up less than a week later.
I was at @Staples minding my own business & who do I see wearing a suit at 7:20P, looking like Captain America - @JasonWitten. You’re my dawg, but if you hit me like this 1 MORE TIME, imma put these pads on & we’re gonna hash it out this season. #DallasCowboys #CowboysNation pic.twitter.com/m46oL3gu6H— D-Ware (@DeMarcusWare) March 6, 2019
The odds of DeMarcus Ware making it through all of training camp without asking Jerry Jones about his comeback are lower than Jason Witten’s hair returning to MNF levels.
Return odds: Two Favres
After months of rumors, Gronkowski retired on March 24. Less than 24 hours later, his agent said his gut feeling was that Gronk wasn’t done yet.
Drew Rosenhaus said there had been “zero” conversations with New England about Gronk coming back, but Rosenhaus’s “gut feeling” told him Gronk would be down for a late-season return to the Patriots for another Super Bowl run. Admittedly, this could mean a few different things:
- Maximize his client’s relevance just as he’s seeking new business opportunities.
- Put the idea of returning in Gronk’s head after Rosenhaus admitted he tried to talk Gronk out of retiring.
- These are Rosenhaus’s genuine thoughts after watching Gronk waffle on his retirement decision for years.
- All of the above.
NBC Sports Boston’s Tom Curran ran into Gronk in Southie a few days later and asked him about the odds of returning around Thanksgiving.
“I’m into new opportunities,” Gronk told Curran. “I was at CVS today with [a friend]. Bagged all his stuff. I might do that, be a bagger. I might open a dog-walking business, be a dog-walker, I don’t know.”
Gronk then elaborated on his dog-walking career opportunities.
“No doubt! Get a long stick with a scooper on the end and a handle,” Gronk told Curran. “I just hit the trigger and it scoops it up. Then I reach back and drop it in a big bag on my back. Put all the poop in there and empty it every once in a while! So many ideas!”
I share this anecdote with you in part because Gronk is talking about picking up poop for money, but also because Gronk does not strike me as a guy with a plan. When he’s at Thanksgiving with his roughly 17 other gigantic, milk-guzzling brothers who seemingly all played in the NFL and Gronk watches games with them all day and plays football with them in his backyard, he’ll remember that one phone call stands between him and being back on the field with Tom Brady within the fortnight. I’m not betting against him returning.
Return odds: Three Favres
Nelson retired two weeks after he was released by the Oakland Raiders, but he said his body still feels great. He told Dan Patrick earlier this week that he retired for two reasons: He didn’t want to be one of those players who retires when he is too injured to keep going, and that he didn’t want to move his family again. But there seems to be one exception.
“What if Aaron Rodgers calls you in late July?” Patrick asked Nelson.
After a pregnant pause, Nelson let out a breath.
“That will be an interesting phone call,” Nelson said. “Yeah, I don’t know. I don’t think I can play hypotheticals but if he truly called then—I’m not going to say begging me to come back but asking me to come back—and [there’s] a need, it would probably be hard to say no. But we’d have to see where we’re at at that point … if that happened, that would be a very interesting question, but my guess is that it won’t.”
If that is how Nelson sounds after thinking about talking to Aaron Rodgers on the phone, imagine how he would sound when he is actually talking to Aaron Rodgers on the phone. If Rodgers wants Nelson back, a few sad-face emoji and a well-chosen “baby come back” GIF might be enough.
Return odds: Two Favres
Martellus Bennett was on the Patriots squad that beat the Falcons in Super Bowl LI, signed with the Packers, was released, signed with the Patriots, and then retired in 2018. But a year later, New England traded for his older brother, defensive end Michael Bennett, and suddenly Tom Brady himself was asking Martellus to come out of retirement.
We know that would have been enough for Jordy Nelson to book his plane tickets. Considering Gronk’s retirement, Bennett would possibly be able to start at tight end and be one of the top options for the Super Bowl champions. But Martellus posted on Instagram a few days later explaining that while it would be a dream to try to win a Super Bowl with his brother, as New England’s Devin and Jason McCourty did in February, he’s too invested in his post-career work with children to return to football.
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Swipe. This is why I can’t come out of retirement. I would love to play ball with my brother it would truly be a dream come true. But my biggest dream is to change lives with my creativity and that is what I am currently doing @theimaginationagency these kids don’t need another athlete to look up to or to aspire to be there’s plenty of inspiration out there for that. I want to inspire the next wave of creatives. The storytellers. The engineers. The designers. The doctors. The filmmakers. The composers. Tech moguls. And maybe a few athletes who like me never felt like they belonged in a locker room. I was never one of the guys guys most of my teammates would tell that. I’ve always been a creative who enjoyed competing. I’m playing the game that I was made to play and it’s the most fun I’ve ever had. Scoring touchdowns winning a super bowl has never made me feel the way seeing kids/families/people enjoying things I have created. I’m doing my life’s work fulfilling what I believe to be my life’s purpose. I hope everyone finds something that makes them as happy and as fulfilled as I have with my work @theimaginationagency I appreciate all of the love but this is waaaaayyy bigger than the game of football. Get your copy today. Link in my bio
“I hope everyone finds something that makes them as happy and as fulfilled as I have.”
Some people can be happy in retirement. Take that, Kobe.
Return odds: One Favre