A former All-Pro wideout is on the open market with just over 100 days remaining until the start of the regular season. DeAndre Hopkins, after a three-year run with the Arizona Cardinals, on Friday. Arizona saves just under $9 million in cap space by releasing Hopkins, a five-time Pro Bowler who will play for his third team in 2023.
Hopkins joins a notable list of NFL stars who were released in their prime. The ranking of the most surprising releases of NFL stars in their prime includes a slew of players who are currently enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Here's the list of the top-20 players to be released in their prime. Yes, the list does include Hopkins, who caught 853 passes for 11,298 yards and 71 touchdowns during his first decade in the NFL.
Manning's neck injury and the fact that the Colts would have the No. 1 overall pick in the 2011 draft led to Indianapolis parting ways with the future Hall of Fame quarterback. The Colts ended up selecting quarterback Andrew Luck, who led the Colts to several playoff appearances during his seven-year career. Manning played another four seasons in Denver that included a league MVP, two AFC titles and a Super Bowl 50 title.
2. Jerry Rice
The 49ers decided to part ways with a then 38-year-old Rice following the 2000 season. That season, Rice caught 75 passes for 807 yards and seven touchdowns while playing alongside Terrell Owens. Rice enjoyed a career rebirth in Oakland that included a Pro Bowl campaign at age 40 while helping the Raiders reach the Super Bowl.
3. Emmitt Smith
Smith was released by the Cowboys shortly after he broke Walter Payton's career rushing record. A three-time Super Bowl champion for the Cowboys, Smith chose to continue his career after signing with the Cardinals in 2003. Smith had a forgettable first season in Arizona but ended his career on a high note after having a respectable 2004 season that saw him rush for 937 yards, the exact total he rushed for as a rookie 14 years earlier.
4. Franco Harris
A contract dispute led to the Steelers releasing the franchise legend before the 1984 season. Harris, who rushed for over 1,000 yards during his final year in Pittsburgh, had just 170 yards for the Seahawks before retiring after the 1984 season. Harris' No. 32 was retired by the Steelers this past December.
5. LaDainian Tomlinson
An underwhelming season from Tomlinson and the emergence of fellow running back Darren Sproles compelled the Chargers to release the former league MVP after the 2009 season. The Hall of Fame running back enjoyed one last run of success in New York, where he helped the Jets reach the 2010 AFC Championship Game. Tomlinson, who spent two seasons with the Jets, retired as a member of the Chargers in 2012.
6. Terrell Owens
Owens was released by the Cowboys despite catching 69 passes for 1,052 yards and 10 touchdowns during the 2008 season. Those numbers, however, were a dip from his 2007 campaign that saw him catch 81 passes for 1,355 yards and 15 touchdowns. Owens had a solid seasons for the Bills (2009) and Bengals (2010) but wasn't picked up by any club after his lone season in Cincinnati.
A member of this year's Hall of Fame induction class, Revis was released by the Jets after the team was unsuccessful in finding a trade partner. Revis spent the 2013 season in Tampa before signing with the Patriots in 2014. While he spent just one season in New England, Revis won a Super Bowl that year and was named an All-Pro for the fourth time. He then returned to the Jets in 2015, where he was selected to his seventh and final Pro Bowl.
A member of this year's Hall of Fame induction class, Ware was released after recording six sacks during his final year in Dallas. Ware, who recorded 117 of his 138.5 career sacks with the Cowboys, had a career rebirth with the Broncos, where he was selected to two Pro Bowls while helping the Broncos win Super Bowl 50.
A salary cap casualty, Woodson was released by the Packers after being a four-time Pro Bowler, two-time All-Pro and a Super Bowl champion during his seven years with the team. Woodson ended his career with the Raiders, which is where he spent his first eight seasons. Woodson ended his career in style; he picked off five passes and was named to the Pro Bowl during his age-39 season.
10. Julius Peppers
The future Hall of Fame pass rusher was released by the Bears in a cost-cutting move. Peppers decided to stay inside the NFC North by signing with the Packers ahead of the 2015 season. Peppers earned his ninth Pro Bowl nod that season while tallying his ninth season with at least 10 sacks. He spent three years in Green Bay before having a farewell season in Carolina, the franchise where he spent his first decade.
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11. Andre Johnson
The Texans released Johnson after catching 85 passes for 936 yards and three touchdowns after his age-33 season. Johnson, who then played for the Colts and Titans before calling it a career, enjoyed a Hall of Fame-caliber career in Houston that included seven Pro Bowl nods and two All-Pro selections.
12. Richard Sherman
Arguably the best player in franchise history, Sherman was released by the Seahawks after the 2017 season. A five-time Pro Bowler in Seattle, Sherman earned another Pro Bowl nod in San Francisco while helping the 49ers reach the Super Bowl in 2019.
13. Steve Smith Sr.
The best offensive player in Panthers history, Smith spent 13 years in Carolina before he was released after the 2013 season. Smith then signed with the Ravens, where in 2015 he topped 1,000 receiving yards for the eighth time in his career. Smith spent two more years with Baltimore before hanging up his cleats for good.
14. James Harrison
Harrison shocked everyone when he asked for and was granted his release from Pittsburgh late in the 2017 season. Harrison, who became the Steelers' all-time career sack leader the previous season, asked for his release due to his frustration with his limited role in Pittsburgh's defense. Harrison quickly signed with the rival Patriots and retired after helping them reach that year's Super Bowl.
15. DeAndre Hopkins
A dominant player when healthy, Hopkins is coming off two injury-plagued seasons. He missed seven games in 2021 and eight games last season, his final year in Arizona. The 30-year-old wideout will look to have a career resurgence with a new team this season.
16. Jamaal Charles
An injury led to the Chiefs parting ways with the franchise's all-time rushing leader after the 2016 season. Before the injury, Charles (who played one year apiece in Denver and Jacksonville following his release from Kansas City) was one of the NFL's best players. A four-time Pro Bowler from 2010-14, Charles retired with a whopping 5.4 yards per carry.
17. Tyrann Mathieu
Despite being an All-Pro in Arizona, Mathieu was released by the Cardinals after refusing to take a pay cut. He played well under a one year "prove-it" contract in Houston before signing a multiyear deal with the Chiefs in 2019. He earned All-Pro honors during his first season in Kansas City while helping the Chiefs win the Super Bowl.
18. Dez Bryant
A valued member of the Cowboys' No. 88 club, Bryant was released after his eighth season in Dallas, which saved $8 million in cap space by releasing him ahead of the 2018 season. An Achilles injury sidelined Bryant for two years before he finally made his comeback (albeit brief) for the Ravens in 2020.
19. Shaun Alexander
Alexander was released by Seattle two years after his MVP season that included the Seahawks' first trip to the Super Bowl. Alexander, a Pro Bowler each year from 2003-05, ran for just 24 yards during his lone season with Washington.
20. Joe Namath
Namath was past his prime when the Jets released him, but he still cracked the list largely because of the fact that he was one of the first NFL stars to finish his career with another team (with Jonny Unitas being another). Unfortunately for Namath, a new team couldn't fix his maligned knees, which contributed to Namath lasting just one season with the Rams before retiring after the 1977 season.