In the era of Tom Brady, one NFL player explains why more players want to retire early

Tom Brady's fight against time might be unique to him.

Tom Brady’s fight against time might be unique to him.
Maddie Meyer/Getty

  • In an era when Tom Brady is trying to play to 45 and believes he has the tools to help NFL players’ careers last longer, Chicago Bears cornerback Prince Amukamara believes few players want to play that long.
  • Amukamara told Business Insider that he believes fewer players want to play 15-20 years.
  • Amukamara said more players want to make as much money as they can, win as much as they can, then get out of the league relatively early.
  • Amukamara believes the change is fueled by players realizing their earning power, listening to their bodies, and having more off-field aspirations.

On April 1, Tom Brady joined Twitter by stating he was going to retire.

No one believed it, of course – it was April Fool’s Day.

But perhaps part of the reason why few people fell for it was that Brady, for several years now, has reiterated his desire to play into his 40s, often throwing around 45 as a target. At 41, he just won another Super Bowl with the New England Patriots, and while 2018 wasn’t his sharpest season, his decline wasn’t so great that him coming back for another year, at 42, would be inconceivable.

Rob Gronkowski retired earlier than most NFL stars.

Rob Gronkowski retired earlier than most NFL stars.
Kevin C. Cox/Getty

Brady’s desire to fight time – he starred in a documentary titled “Tom vs. Time,” after all – stands in sharp contrast to someone like Rob Gronkowski. The Patriots tight end announced his retirement in March, calling it a career after just nine seasons, at 29 years old.

Gronkowski suffered many injuries, so few were surprised, but among all-time great players, Gronkowski’s career was not the norm.

Read more: Rob Gronkowski is retiring from the NFL at 29 years old after 9 seasons

According to Chicago Bears cornerback Prince Amukamara, more players could follow Gronkowski’s lead. Though Amukamara – himself an eight-year veteran – spoke to Business Insider before Gronkowski’s announcement, he said he thinks fewer and fewer players want to stick around the NFL for as long as possible.

Prince Amukamara says NFL players' priorities have changed.

Prince Amukamara says NFL players’ priorities have changed.
Leon Halip/Getty Images

“I don’t know if the goal right now is to play 15-20 years for a lot of guys,” Amukamara said. “I think guys wanna bust their butt and do as much as they can and earn as much as they can and win as much as they can, but I also believe guys are listening to their bodies. They’re checking the engine.

“I think guys are starting to value their relationships with their kids, and I think guys have a lot of aspirations off the field that they wanna accomplish. Even though football has helped them get there, yeah, I don’t think guys just are trying to play 15-20 years.”

Amukamara noted that in recent years, the NFL has seen talented players retire earlier than expected.

“Look at Calvin Johnson, right? He was still in his prime. Look at Patrick Willis. Even on the [49ers], if you remember Chris Borland … He was supposed to be the guy since Patrick Willis left. I remember when we played against him when I was with New York, he picked us off twice, and I’m thinking, ‘Wow this guy’s about to be a player,’ and then, come offseason, he’s like, ‘Yeah…'”

Borland played just two seasons in the NFL before retiring due to concerns about concussions and brain trauma. He has since become involved in helping former players and military veterans dealing with brain trauma.

Amukamara’s comments came after Le’Veon Bell’s holdout from the Pittsburgh Steelers. When Bell and the Steelers couldn’t agree on a long-term contract, Bell sat out the year, fearing the workload the Steelers would give him before free agency, thus lowering his overall value on his next contract. He signed a four-year, $52 million contract with a reported $27 million guaranteed.

Read more: NFL players loved Le’Veon Bell’s radical decision to sit out a year and called it a ‘game-changer’

Amukamara said he believes part of players’ desires for shorter careers comes with recognizing their earning power and utilizing it. NFL players have noted that NBA players have become empowered in the league, earning bigger salaries and using the threat of free agency to change teams.

“I feel like the NBA got it right so much earlier than us and then the fact like, they know their earning power. Look at what’s going on with Anthony Davis! The fact that a player can … ask for a trade and ask for out, I never heard of that. I’m not putting shame in anybody’s game.”

This offseason wide receiver Antonio Brown essentially forced his way off the Pittsburgh Steelers with the threat of becoming a distraction and not reporting. The Steelers traded him to the Oakland Raiders where he signed a three-year, $52 million contract with $30 million guaranteed.

Read more: Le’Veon Bell reportedly lands 4-year, $52.5 million contract with the Jets after holding out of entire 2018 NFL season

“I think guys are really just taking their career into their own hands, and they’re starting to realize their earning power,” Amukamara said.

The trend may already be growing. On Tuesday, The Seattle Times’ Bob Condotta reported that Russell Wilson told the Seattle Seahawks that he wants a new deal by April 15. Wilson is in the last year of a four-year, $87 million contract. Quarterbacks, the most coveted players in the league, could be the first position to realize their leverage broadly. Players will be watching how Wilson’s demand plays out.

Amukamara’s stance would seemingly run counter to what fuels Brady’s longevity – better science and a better understanding of the body. Brady believes, through his knowledge of nutrition, exercise, and his body, he can help players play longer.

To Amukamara, players’ understandings of their bodies and ability to maximize their earnings mean they don’t have to play for a decade-plus to be set up for life.

“You wanna take care of your career, you know how much your earning power is, you know how fast your window is closing,” he said. “Guys are just starting to see that and take advantage of it.”