Marcus Mariota effectively took his ball and went home during the Atlanta Falcons‘ bye week. After learning that he’d been benched for Desmond Ridder, Mariota — to put it as kindly as possible — stepped away from the team.
In a sport built on toughness, tenacity, and teamwork, quitting is a cardinal sin. So, where does Mariota fall on the list of biggest quitters in NFL history?
Biggest NFL Quitters Of All Time
In the NFL, when a player wants to quit, there’s nothing quiet about it. But some handle it in ways less damaging than others.
With the caveat that this is a totally subjective list, it’s important you know the criteria: The player or coach’s importance to a team, when in the calendar it happens and whether the quitting in question impacts a contender.
So without further ado …
Wide Receiver Antonio Brown, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
This one checks all the boxes.
High-profile player? Yup.
Contending team? Yessir.
Worst possible time? You know it.
And AB gets bonus points for the pageantry that went into it.
In terms of drama, it’ll be hard to top AB ripping off his shirt and doing jumping jacks on his way to the locker room during the Buccaneers’ Week 17 win over the New York Jets last winter.
That was the last image we’ll ever have of Brown in (half of) an NFL uniform. His career is over after far too many on and off-field antics.
Brown, who is among the world’s last reliable narrators, insisted later that he didn’t quit, but rather was fired.
To that we say, “Sure An.”
Running Back Ricky Williams, Miami Dolphins
We’re not saying we agree with a then-27-year-old Williams’ decision to retire on the eve of Miami’s 2004 training camp.
But we certainly understand it.
He carried the ball a staggering 775 times in his first two years with the Dolphins, and there was little doubt Caveman Coach Dave Wannstedt was going to run Ricky into the ground again in 2004.
Plus, Williams was dealing with a bunch of personal issues, not the least of which was his inability to abstain from marijuana — a big no-no in those days. He might have quit because he was about to get thrown out of the league.
Either way, his decision torpedoed the Dolphins’ season (the Dolphins went 4-12) and probably got Wanny fired.
Coach Bobby Petrino, Atlanta Falcons
What can we say about a guy when crashing a motorcycle with a love interest aboard who wasn’t his wife (and who Petrino both officially and unofficially had on the payroll) isn’t even a slam dunk as the most dishonorable mark on his record?
Four and a half years before he got fired from Arkansas for cause, he quit on the Atlanta Falcons after just 13 games.
Petrino’s time in Atlanta was doomed basically from the start. Prior to training camp, it was revealed star quarterback Michael Vick had bankrolled an illegal dogfighting operation — which obviously meant Vick wouldn’t play for the Falcons or any NFL team for some time.
Not surprisingly, the Falcons struggled, losing 10 of their first 13 games. What was a surprise: Petrino was working on an exit strategy. He quit the Falcons to coach Arkansas on Dec. 10, 2007 — just 24 hours after insisting to owner Arthur Blank he was staying with Atlanta.
“I threw up emotionally,” Blank said years later. “I felt really badly because I thought I had a good relationship with coach Petrino.”
Coach Josh McDaniels, Indianapolis Colts
McDaniels basically pulled a Petrino — except he didn’t go to the trouble of coaching any games for Indianapolis.
The year was 2018, and the Colts announced that McDaniels — the longtime Patriots offensive coordinator and current Raiders HC — would replace Chuck Pagano as their head coach.
A press conference was planned. McDaniels even began assembling a staff, convincing Matt Eberflus to join as defensive coordinator.
But hours later, McDaniels simply changed his mind and decided to return to New England.
“After agreeing to contract terms to become the Indianapolis Colts’ new head coach, New England Patriots assistant coach Josh McDaniels this evening informed us that he would not be joining our team,” the Colts announced that same night. “Although we are surprised and disappointed, we will resume our head coaching search immediately and find the right fit to lead our team and organization on and off the field.
“The scheduled press conference at Lucas Oil Stadium will not take place tomorrow. More information will be forthcoming.”
Turns out, Patriots owner Robert Kraft threw in a sweetener to convince McDaniels to stay. But there was nothing sweet about it for the Colts.
Cornerback Vontae Davis, Buffalo Bills
If an NFL player is lucky, he gets to go out on his own terms. But those terms are almost never at halftime of a game.
And yet, that’s the story of Davis, who knew midway through the Bills’ Week 2 game in 2018 that he was done playing.
“He pulled himself out of the game,” Bills coach McDermott said after the game. “He told us he was done.”
Not just for the day — for good.
Davis later told ESPN that quitting when he did was “one of the best decisions I’ve made in my life.”
“Most people, when I did what I did, they thought I was literally going insane or something,” he said. “But I was actually fine. I was totally fine. And I’m totally fine today.”
Defensive Tackle Albert Haynesworth, Washington
The team currently known as the Commanders was called something far more problematic when it signed Haynesworth to a seven-year, $100 million contract in 2009.
Less than two years later, Haynesworth was gone from the nation’s capital. And it was probably a relief to everyone in the organization to see him gone.
He was a problem from nearly his first day with the organization. And it all came to a head in December 2010, when he refused to participate in practice and other team activities.
He was cut soon thereafter, resulting in NFL Network calling Haynesworth the worst free agent bust in NFL history.
Coach Bill Belichick, New York Jets
It’s entirely possible that if you’re under the age of 30, you had no clue that Belichick was the Jets coach for about 10 minutes.
But it’s true. Look it up. In January of 2000, the Jets announced that Belichick had been promoted from assistant head coach/defensive coordinator to the top job.
His introductory news conference was the next day. It turned out to be a resignation announcement. Belichick, worried about “ownership uncertainties,” preferred the Patriots’ vacant HC opening — and by taking it, made one of the best career decisions in NFL history.
One more side note: Belichick pulled one of the great power plays by informing the Jets he was quitting on a napkin.
“I resign as HC of the NYJ.”
Quarterback Marcus Mariota, Atlanta Falcons
After reading those previous seven, Mariota doesn’t seem so bad, right?
He knew his days as a Falcons starter were over. He’s been dealing with a chronic knee injury that was the predicate for Atlanta placing him on injured reserve.
And the Falcons, even in the terrible NFC South, are very much a longshot to make the playoffs.
But by leaving the team, Mariota all but guaranteed he won’t be back in 2023, despite signing a two-year, $18.9 million contract extension in the spring.
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