It has become the calling card for this generation of NFL players: the younger you are, the more a franchise and a city are bound to count on you. Indeed, teams have been known to throw a lot more hope into top 10 picks, nowadays more than ever. Gone are the times when rookies would sit and watch the veterans. Now it’s all about being ready to play, and play now. Just ask Andrew Luck, or Robert Griffin III. However, some coaches and executives are still fans of sitting your young players so that they can step in in a few years. Just ask Mike McCarthy and the Green Bay Packers. Seems like Aaron Rodgers turned out all right.
That’s why it’s so impressive to see veterans survive for north of ten years with the same team when the turnover rate in the NFL has never been so high. Not only are these veterans still performing at a very high level, but more often than not, they are also outperforming the young guns eager to take their spots. It’s also very sad to see these players go, because they have very often immersed themselves in the communities in which they play. This isn’t to say that all veterans are fan favourites, but more often than not, they are.
*Note: Due to many ties, there have been subjective tiebreaks on this list.
10. Antonio Gates – San Diego Chargers – 11 Years
A future Hall of Famer is the first member of this countdown. Antonio Gates has been an incredible tight end in the NFL since he entered the league in 2003. His 87 career touchdown receptions sit him not too far from Tony Gonzalez and the all-time touchdown reception record for tight ends (111). His 9,193 receiving yards also put him as one of the most dominant tight ends of his era. Altogether, Gates has put together a Hall of Fame worthy resume. Not only that, but Gates has established himself as a leader in the locker room, and also a Charger great.
9. Jason Witten/Tony Romo – Dallas Cowboys – 11 Years
I don’t think there ever was any doubt that both Tony Romo and Jason Witten would come as a pair on this countdown. Since joining the Cowboys in 2003, they have accomplished a lot. Witten has become a beloved member of the Dallas area, on top of creating a Hall of Fame worthy portfolio for himself. With close to 10,000 receiving yards and 52 touchdowns, nobody is contesting that. Romo on the other hand has been up and down. Known as a very good regular season quarterback, Tony hasn’t really been able to pull it out when it counts. The ends of games and elimination games have been his Achilles heel for many years. But there’s always next year, right?
8. Andre Johnson – Houston Texans – 11 Years
The other team in the lone star state also has a seasoned veteran to count on. Since joining the NFL in 2003, the Houston Texans have always been able to count on Andre Johnson. After leaving the University of Miami, he joined an expansion team that was bound to struggle mightily. With his 12,661 receiving yards and his 61 touchdowns, Johnson has been a dominant figure in the NFL and helped put the Texans on the pro football map. After a disappointing 2013, the Texans are probably hoping to join the contenders conversation once again with the help of Johnson.
7. Terrell Suggs – Baltimore Ravens – 11 Years
The Ravens’ all-time leading sack man also happens to be the oldest player on his team. Since joining Baltimore in 2003, T-Sizzle has been nothing but a force to be reckoned with. He made many Pro-Bowls, won a Defensive Player of the Year Award and even won a Lombardi trophy. It feels weird to say since the Ravens have always been Ray Lewis’ team, but now that he is gone Suggs is the undisputed leader of this squad. However, Suggs hasn’t always been the angelic face of the franchise. Known for speaking his mind, the former first-round pick from Minneapolis has called out the commissioner and stars like Tom Brady.
6. Brett Keisel – Pittsburgh Steelers – 12 Years
At number six there is a definite fan favorite. Brett Keisel, who is very well known in the Pittsburgh area for his wild and untamed beard, also happens to be the most tenured player on the Steelers’ roster. I cans see the skeptics, and no, Larry Foote doesn’t count because of his time with Detroit. Nonetheless, the Steelers can count on Keisel and a few other veterans to guide the up and comers. Keisel has only made one Pro-Bowl in his career, but has two Lombardi trophies to his name. Not too bad considering some players will never even win one.
5. Steve Smith – Carolina Panthers – 13 Years
Now I know, technically Steve Smith isn’t a Panther anymore. But with the ink on his new deal with the Baltimore Ravens still drying, it only seems appropriate to celebrate Smith’s time with the Panthers for one final time. With 67 career touchdown receptions and 12, 197 receiving yards, Smith is one of the greatest Carolina Panthers. But more often than not, his antics overshadowed his achievements. Taunting, trash talking and celebrations have always been part of his persona. However, Smith has been the undisputed emotional leader in Carolina for many years, and will be dearly missed by fans and his teammates.
4. Reggie Wayne – Indianapolis Colts – 13 Years
With a Super Bowl, 13,566 career yards and 80 touchdown receptions to his name, Reggie Wayne is one of the greatest receivers that the Indianapolis Colts and the NFL have ever seen. Not to mention that after Peyton Manning’s departure for Denver, Wayne had become the elder statesman on a team that suddenly found itself with a rookie quarterback and a new head coach. All that being said, Wayne has been an icon of stability on a team that hasn’t always been that way. But with 13 years already over, it feels odd to say that Wayne seems to have lots of tread left on the tire.
3. Brad Meester – Jacksonville Jaguars – 14 Years
The now former Jacksonville Jaguar, Brad Meester slides into the countdown at the third slot. Since joining the league and the Jaguars in 2000, Meester has seen his fair shake of ups and downs in Jacksonville. Meester has known five different head coaches and has also had 10 different starting quarterbacks in his time down in Jacksonville. To say that his time has been tumultuous may even be an understatement. That being said, Meester retired after the 2013 year, and left Jacksonville with a bang after catching a pass against the Tennessee Titans in his final home game.
2. Tom Brady – New England Patriots – 14 Years
Brady’s success with the Patriots is extremely well documented. Three Super Bowl championships in four years, an improbable hero, etc, etc. But Brady isn’t getting any younger. The former Michigan Wolverine has been with Bill Belichick and the Patriots for 14 years now. The scrawny kid running his forty-yard dash at the combine is now a distant memory. But the king of New England definitely still has gas left in the tank. Every year now, it seems that the Patriots are still competing for the AFC crown. And Brady, now the elder statesman of the bunch, is at the center of the team’s continued success.
1. Sebastian Janikowski – Oakland Raiders – 14 Years
Now, I can already hear the roars of discontent coming from readers as they see that Janikowski is ahead of Tom Brady on this list. My reasoning is this: quarterbacks usually get the girl, the money and the fame. So for once, let’s let the kicker have his moment in the sun. As Rich Eisen puts it so well, kickers are people too. Janikowski is also the Raiders’ career leading scorer with just over 1,000 points scored since he entered the league as the 17th overall selection in 2000. Known as one of Al Davis’ more controversial picks, Janikowski has actually panned out very nicely, and continues to be one of the best place kickers in the league. But it probably feels weird walking into a locker room where the player with the most seniority is the kicker.