Life in the NFL isn’t easy and finding a path after your playing career comes to a close can be even harder. Commonly nicknamed as “Not For Long”, the average NFL career lasts a measly three years, and the vast majority of players aren’t able to retire on their professional earnings. This means that after devoting their lives to playing the game they love at the highest level, some go into coaching, media, gaming, media/TV to make ends meet.
1. TV Media
By far the most common career choice for retired NFL players is a spot in the media. Nobody knows the game quite like the players, as they can offer an insight into the game that others simply cannot. Whether it’s ESPN, NFL Network, or any of the other wide variety of sports channels, you’re sure to find someone with NFL experience.
Perhaps the most popular NFL player turned TV personality is ESPN’s, Dan Orlovsky. The former fifth-round pick spent 12 years bouncing around the NFL but never latched on as a full-time starting quarterback. He is best known as the face of the 0-16 Lions, as he famously ran out of the endzone for a safety during that cursed season. Throughout the course of his career, Orlovsky completed 58.2% of his passes for 3,132 yards, 15 touchdowns, 13 interceptions, and a 75.3 passer rating.
Despite the underwhelming numbers, most coaches around the league respected Orlovsky’s knowledge of the game and team-first attitude. These qualities earned him a job on ESPN, and he steadily turned into one of the most well-respected analysts in the field.
Orlovsky and ESPN aren’t alone, as media companies employ a wide variety of former players at multiple positions. For example, NFL Network prominently features former NFL stars like Kurt Warner, Deion Sanders, and Michael Irvin.
Some of them, put their football experience aside and focused their new efforts on something that was considered a hobby when they were active players. For the likes of Marshawn Lynch, pick number 12 of the first round in 2007, “Beast Mode”, joined “The Ultima Gaming League and Antares Gaming”. This will be the first time that we will see a former player, trying to use their professional skills in the digital world.
Others go down a route where they can really let their personality out, like Poker. The 3 Time Superbowl Winner, Richard Seymour, saw success at the Poker tables, winning around $22,000 and even participating in the WSOP, where he peaked at $3.6 million. Seymour said his playing style takes inspiration from this iconic poker quote by Oswald Jacoby who said “The man who never bluffs never win” – explaining that he often bluffs as opponents presume he’ll be an aggressive player due to his performances on the field.
There are only 32 head coaching jobs in the NFL, so it makes sense that there aren’t too many former players filling these roles. However, there are a couple of NFL head coaches that used to play in the league, with Kliff Kingsbury of the Arizona Cardinals being the most obvious example.
Kingsbury originally entered the league as a sixth-round pick in the 2003 NFL Draft. Selected by the New England Patriots, the quarterback spent the entirety of his rookie season on the injured reserve. However, since he was technically a member of the team, he earned a Super Bowl ring for his efforts. Kingsbury spent a few more years bouncing around the league and even made a few stints in the Canadian Football League and NFL Europe.
However, he eventually decided to hang up the cleats and start a career on the sideline in 2008. Kingsbury began in the college ranks, working at Houston, Texas A&M, and Texas Tech before landing in the NFL with Kyler Murray and the Arizona Cardinals. During his first two years in the NFL, Kingsbury has led the Cardinals to a 13-18-1 record.
4. Positional Coaches
There are not head coaches with playing experiences, but positional coaches are littered with former players. Wes Welker was one of the most prolific receivers of his time and has a pretty strong case for the Hall of Fame. However, with his playing days long since passed, the former undrafted free agent turned to coach. Welker last played in the NFL in 2015 and, after taking a year off, joined the Houston Texans coaching staff in 2017. The Texas Tech product spent two years there before becoming the wide receivers coach for the San Francisco 49ers in 2019.
If you had to guess which former player would be the next NFL head coach, my money would be on Jerod Mayo. The former team captain joined New England’s coaching staff in 2019 as the inside linebacker’s coach. While he technically has not served as a coordinator, Bill Belichick gave him a larger role in 2020. The former first-round pick reportedly impressed in head coaching interviews following the 2020 season and could very well earn a job as early as next year.