Skip to main content

NFL swan songs: From Brett Favre to Darrelle Revis

Jay Cutler's un-retirement sparked some familiar feelings on Sunday. Embarking on the swan-song season(s) is a time-honored tradition in the NFL. We allow ourselves to think that a veteran player could recapture his old magic in a new place just one more time; we delight over the sight of a familiar name and number in a different color scheme.

In that spirit, let's take a look back at some of our favorite recent swan-song endings over the last decade and what made those moments so memorable. We'll also look at a few that didn't go according to plan.

NOTE: Wondering Why no Peyton Manning or DeMarcus Ware? For the sake of this list, we cut off 'swan song' at two seasons. Anything else felt like a permanent stay.


Years: 2009-10.

Highlight: Favre was 12-4 as a starter with the Vikings in 2009 -- a season that included some unbelievable moments. A personal favorite: Favre's 32-yard game-winning laser to Greg Lewis against the 49ers in Week 3 to squeeze out a 27-24 victory. People forget that Favre threw for 4,202 yards, 33 touchdowns and just seven interceptions during his age 40 season, leading the Vikings to the NFC Championship Game. While his tenure might ultimately be remembered for the ill-advised end-of-game pick to Tracy Porter and the injury-plagued retirement season that followed, this was undoubtedly one of the best swan-song seasons for any player in recent league history.

Years: 2010-11.

Highlight: Tomlinson was expected to be a change-of-pace back in 2010 next to Shonn Greene in Rex Ryan's ground-and-pound system. Instead, he ended up taking over. It was clear in the preseason that Tomlinson should have never been spurned by the Chargers after his nine seasons in San Diego, and it was also clear that he had another fantastic season left in the tank. His pass-catching skills were a godsend for check-down-happy QB Mark Sanchez, and in a locker room full of respected veterans like Jason Taylor, Tomlinson seemed to carry the swagger of a player still at the top of his game. One of his best moments: A torching of the Buffalo Billson Oct. 3, 2010, where Tomlinson ran for 133 yards on 19 carries and scored a pair of touchdowns. The following week against the Vikings, he carried the ball 20 times for 94 yards.

Year: 2015.

Highlight: Some of these swan songs didn't exactly produce in terms of statistics. After being traded by the Bears in late September, Allen had just two sacks in 12 games with the Panthers, plus one tackle in their eventual Super Bowl crumble against the Broncos. That being said, Allen helped define that team. Then-general manager Dave Gettleman did an extraordinary job of buttressing the locker room with experienced, level-headed veterans who would shape the culture. By the time Super Bowl 50 came around, nearly the entire defensive line was wearing cowboy gear at Allen's insistence -- and playing like one of the best fronts in football.

Years: 2015 and '16.

Highlight: The main highlight for Freeney had to be piling one sack on top of another down the stretch of Arizona's 2015 season, allowing him to clean the front office out of money due to his incentive-laden contract. But Freeney's contributions to the 2016 Falcons cannot be forgotten. He was a gift to budding defensive end Vic Beasley and was nearly unblockable for one half of Super Bowl LI.


Years: 2015 and '16.

What went wrong: The 2015 Colts reminded me a bit of the 2011 Jets: this was a team loaded with talent, poised for great things, but at the same time tragically flawed. Johnson was coming off a messy breakup with the Houston Texans, a team for which he'd toiled since 2003. In a lot of ways, the 2015 season felt like a new beginning, a chance to play with a top-flight quarterback in Andrew Luck. Everything changed after Luck was injured, missing nine games. Johnson was released by the Colts and went on to play eight more games for the Titans in 2016, doing what he did best: clocking in and doing the dirty work, though he only managed nine catches for 85 yards before retiring last October. It wasn't the Randy Moss-like hero sendoff many were hoping for, though Johnson went out revered as always.

Year: 2016.

What went wrong: Foster struggled to stay healthy, confirming the rest of the league's worst fears. As one of the great dual-threat backs of the last decade, Foster's signing with the Dolphins seemed to be the right pairing of young head coach (Adam Gase) and savvy veteran. What ended up happening? Foster missed three of Miami's first five games and never gained a foothold, while Jay Ajayiproduced the breakout season the Dolphins had been looking for, and Foster retired in late October.

Years: 2011 and '12*.

*Johnson did not play in the 2012 regular season with the Dolphins.

What went wrong: Johnson's title-grab season with the New England Patriots in 2011 culminated in a loss to the New York Giantsin Super Bowl XLVI and some sad, non-Ochocinco quotes, like this one from media day:

"Now, I keep my mouth shut and do what I'm told," Ochocinco said. "Or, I could have done it the other way and said: 'This is what I want,' and I could have been at home watching at this point. Get it?"

Johnson finished his season in New England with 15 catches for 276 yards and a touchdown. He wound up in training camp with the Dolphins the next season. Despite some early hype, he was released in August following a series of disagreements with head coach Joe Philbin and, ultimately, an arrest on a domestic violence charge.

Team: New York Jets

Years: 2015-16

What went wrong: That question still may be unanswered. Thanks to the $6 million he was guaranteed from the Jets for 2017, there is no financial motivation for him to play football at a bargain price and re-prove himself if he doesn't feel like it after being released in March. (Though if he did sign somewhere else, the Jets would recoup that money, thanks to offset language in his contract.) The 2016 season was painful for Jets fans, given how close they were to a playoff return under Todd Bowles in 2015. It was also painful for Revis' legacy. As coverages broke down, he was often the one seen chasing a receiver. His season ended amid public discussions about a move to safety: a sad end to what was supposed to be a magical homecoming.

This article has been reproduced in a new format and may be missing content or contain faulty links. Please use the Contact Us link in our site footer to report an issue.

Related Content