When the NFL instituted free agency in 1993, it added a new wrinkle to the way teams built their rosters. It allowed players to earn more money with teams seeking players on the open market, willingly paying them substantial capital to leave their current city.
It made it difficult for teams to retain star players, causing them to switch teams more often than they had in the past. Today, free agency is a staple of the offseason. The salary cap is rising, and players are changing teams more often than ever.
While that may be true, there are still plenty of players who have stuck with one team for their entire career. Here are the 20 longest-tenured players in the NFL right now, excluding special teams players and those who haven’t started at least 100 games.
TE Brent Celek, Eagles: 10 years
Celek’s best years are behind him as he’s now a secondary option at tight end to Zach Ertz, but he’s still reliable and consistent on the field. He’s missed just one game in his career and is a strong locker room presence for the Eagles, providing leadership as the team’s longest-tenured player. Seeing as he just signed a three-year deal in 2016, he’ll likely finish his career in Philly.
C Ryan Kalil, Panthers: 10 years
Kalil welcomed his brother Matt to the team recently when the Panthers signed him in free agency. The two-time All-Pro center has been outstanding when healthy, making five Pro Bowls and anchoring Carolina’s line for a decade.
LT Joe Staley, 49ers: 10 years
Staley is the most consistent player for the 49ers and has been for the past six years, making the Pro Bowl five times. On a team that’s been on the decline for years, Staley remains a staple on the offensive line.
Ed Szczepanski-USA TODAY SportsEd Szczepanski
LB David Harris, Jets: 10 years
Harris is in danger of being cut by the Jets, but for now he’s the longest-tenured player on the team. As a linebacker for the past 10 years, it’s incredible that he’s missed only six games in his career. Harris is good for 100 tackles just about each and every season.
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LT Joe Thomas, Browns: 10 years
Thomas still has never missed a game in his career despite being tasked with blocking for some of the worst quarterbacks in the league with the Browns. He’s been a Pro Bowl selection every year in the NFL. He’s also a six-time first-team All-Pro, which is a remarkable feat. If only he could make the playoffs just once.
Courtesy Joe Thomas via Twitter
TE Marcedes Lewis, Jaguars: 11 years
Lewis has never been a big pass-rushing threat in Jacksonville, but he has been consistent in being on the field. Although he’s missed 14 games in the past three years, Lewis has started 141 games for the Jaguars and made one Pro Bowl.
Getty ImagesStacy Revere
DT Kyle Williams, Bills: 11 years
Sean McDermott announced at the NFL Combine that Williams would be coming back for a 12th season, extending his long-running tenure with the Bills. He’s missed significant time the past three seasons, but when healthy he’s a force on the interior.
Getty ImagesTom Szczerbowski
OLB Tamba Hali, Chiefs: 11 years
Hali isn’t the dominant pass rusher he once was, but his name has become synonymous with the Chiefs. He has 89.5 sacks and 33 forced fumbles in his career, and while he’s seen his numbers decline in recent years, he was one of the best pass rushers in his prime.
John Rieger-USA TODAY SportsJohn Rieger
LB Thomas Davis, Panthers: 12 years
Davis gets overshadowed by Luke Kuechly a bit, but he’s a terrific linebacker in his own right. He played in the Super Bowl with a broken arm, showing a tremendous amount of toughness and dedication to his teammates. The 2015 All-Pro linebacker isn’t going anywhere any time soon.
QB Aaron Rodgers, Packers: 12 years
Rodgers sat behind Brett Favre for three years, delaying his dominance in the NFL a bit. However, since becoming the starter in 2008, he’s been one of the best quarterbacks the league has ever seen. He’s a two-time MVP, a six-time Pro Bowler and a Super Bowl champion, and while Favre finished his career elsewhere, Rodgers is unlikely to do the same.
LB Derrick Johnson, Chiefs: 12 years
Johnson has battled injuries over the past few seasons, but when healthy, he was one of the best inside linebackers in the league. A four-time Pro Bowler, Johnson has been a staple of the Chiefs’ defense, recording more than 1,000 tackles in his career.
QB Tony Romo, Cowboys: 13 years
Romo didn’t start until his third year in the NFL, but he immediately became the face of the Cowboys when he did get his chance. From the postseason gaffes to his MVP-caliber season in 2014, Romo has been a polarizing figure in Dallas. Even though he’ll likely finish his career with another team, he’ll go down as one of the best quarterbacks in franchise history, holding most of the team’s passing records.
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QB Philip Rivers, Chargers: 13 years
It took Rivers two years to become the Chargers' starter, and hasn’t looked back since. He’s started every game since the start of 2006, making six Pro Bowls and winning 97 games. Unless he forces a trade out of Los Angeles, he’s going to retire a Charger.
QB Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers: 13 years
Roethlisberger has been one of the best players the Steelers have had in recent memory, starting 183 games the past 13 years. And although he’s acknowledged that he’s not certain to come back in 2017, he’s going to finish his career in Pittsburgh. He’s a two-time Super Bowl champ and a five-time Pro Bowler, making the 2004 draft class for quarterbacks even more impressive.
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QB Eli Manning, Giants: 13 years
Manning nearly spent his career with the Chargers after he was drafted by them in 2004. He forced a trade to the Giants, which was arguably the best move for him and New York now that he's won two Super Bowls in 13 years. His play has declined in recent seasons, but probably not enough to force the Giants to cut ties with their franchise quarterback.
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WR Larry Fitzgerald, Cardinals: 13 years
Fitzgerald announced last month that he would be returning for a 14th season in 2017 after reportedly considering retirement. Given how close he is to the end of his career, and how synonymous he’s become with the Cardinals, it’s unlikely the 10-time Pro Bowler ever plays for another team.
Kelvin KuoKelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports
OLB Terrell Suggs, Ravens: 14 years
Suggs has been one of the many faces of Baltimore’s defense for 14 years, bursting onto the scene as a rookie in 2003. He had 12 sacks that year, signaling he would be in for a long, illustrious career in Baltimore. He’ll most likely retire a member of the Ravens, never hitting free agency.
TE Antonio Gates, Chargers: 14 years
When it’s all said and done, Gates will go down as one of the best tight ends to ever play the game. He has 11,192 yards, 111 touchdowns and 897 career receptions, all of which came with the Chargers. He hasn’t made the Pro Bowl since 2011, which causes him to be overlooked a bit, but the three-time first-team All-Pro is still a key part of San Diego’s offense – as he has been for 14 years.
Getty ImagesRob Carr
TE Jason Witten, Cowboys: 14 years
Witten has missed just one game in his career, and it was in his rookie season due to a broken jaw. Tony Romo is the second-longest tenured Cowboys who’s spent his entire career in Dallas, but Witten has 86 starts on Romo. He’s essentially the NFL’s new ironman, playing every game in each of the last 13 seasons.
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QB Tom Brady, Patriots: 17 years
Not just the longest-tenured player in the league but also the oldest position player in the NFL, Brady doesn’t seem to be slowing down any time soon. He’s been with the Patriots for 17 years, starting a whopping 235 games – the most among active players. Bill Belichick has never been shy about cutting veteran players, but it’s unlikely Brady ever hits free agency.