The length of an NFL Career

With all the banter going around these days about making the game safer for NFL players, it really made me wonder “How long is a typical career in the NFL?” 

Two weeks ago, a rash of what the league is calling flagrant illegal hits caused Commissioner, Roger Goodell, to sit up and take notice.  He issued fines to three players totaling $175,000, and warned that even first-time offenders of these illegal hits, going forward, could be suspended.  Over the past several years, the NFL has also been attempting to understand the long-term effects of concussions.  There is a growing concern that high impact collisions to the head may cause neurological disorders.  At the same time the NFL is talking tough about safety, they are also talking about extending the regular season two additional games.  “Everyone agrees the players have gotten bigger, faster, and stronger and the game is more dangerous and violent,” says Gabriel Feldman, director of the sports law program at Tulane University Law School in New Orleans.

Each NFL team is allowed to carry 53 players on its roster. Teams must declare 45 of those players “active” for each game and the other eight are considered “inactive” and don’t play.  The total number of players in the NFL, including active and inactive players for all 32 teams, is 1,696.  Over the last four years, according to the NFL Players Association (NFLPA) Union Data, an average of 415 players (24%) each year have ended the season on a list of players who are injured and unable to play.

The career of the average NFL player tends to be short in general.  DeMaurice Smith, executive director of the NFLPA, says that players “have an average career length of 3½ years.”  Studies have shown that the average career span of an NFL player can vary by position.  Those positions where the player is either hitting or getting hit more often tend to have the shortest career.  For example, running backs take a pounding on almost every play, and they have the shortest average careers lasting only 2.57 years.  Wide receivers are a little longer, with average careers of 2.81 years, and the average career for cornerbacks is 2.94 years.  All three of these positions also depend greatly on the players speed.  Of course, players with the longest careers are kickers and punters, averaging 4.87 years.  These positions typically never get hit during the normal course of practice, or an NFL game, and you do not have to have world class speed to be a kicker.  The average career of an NFL quarterback is only 4.44 years.  The NFLPA also reported that players with degrees tend to have careers that last about 50% longer than those without degrees.  The NFLPA says it is because most NFL players need the time in college to mature.

The high injury rate is a big reason why players end up leaving the NFL.  As you saw by the information above, an average of 415 players, or 24% end up injured and unable to play each year.  Extreme competition is another reason why players end up leaving the NFL.  They lose their job to new players entering the league each year, essentially being cut by their team.  Careers can end suddenly when players can no longer perform at a high enough level.  The last reason for players to leave the game is self-induced retirement.  If a player is lucky to last long enough in the NFL, they may be able to leave when they feel they are ready to leave, and not be forced out of the league.

If the average career of an NFL player is 3 ½ years, that means their career is typically over by the time they reach the age of 25 to 27 years old.  With the life expectancy of American males at almost 76 years (according to The World Factbook), all NFL players must make plans for life after football.

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~ by Troy Erickson on November 6, 2010.

3 Responses to “The length of an NFL Career”

  1. This is Bull Crap. No way it only lasts 2.78 years

    • The data collected is directly from the National Football League Players Association (NFLPA) and their studies. When you consider about 1 out of every 4 (25%) NFL players get injured each season, you’re already at a 4 year career average. Then you have to consider there are hundreds of new players coming out of college each year looking to fill NFL rosters. More often than not, the top 7 draft picks on each team will make the roster, and that means 224 additional NFL veterans lose their jobs each season. Then you also have to look at how many NFL players retire each year.
      For every Brett Favre, there are plenty of quarterbacks who play less than one season in the NFL, and it’s the same at every position on every team. NFL players have an average career of 3 1/2 years, not 2.78 years as you commented.

  2. […] That brings up the question of longevity in the NFL, position by position. Take a look at several numbers as a point of reference. First of all, you should know that the most recent research shows that the average career length of an NFL player is 3.5 years. […]

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