How best to put into perspective the duration of Jason Hanson's career with the Detroit Lions? Here is one attempt: When his tenure began in 1992, about two-thirds of the players on the Lions' roster weren't yet in the first grade.
Hanson spent 21 seasons with the Lions, more than six times the length of the average NFL career, before announcing his retirement Thursday. No player in NFL history has played more games -- 327 -- with a single team. He kicked the league's third-most field goals (495), scored the third-most points (2,150) and holds the record for the most 50-yard field goals (52).
Hanson's career was notable not just for its duration and efficiency, but also for its perseverance through a playoff drought that spanned 11 seasons (2000 until 2011). In total, only six of his 21 seasons included a trip to the playoffs, and Hanson was often one of the few bright spots for a then-desultory franchise.
Even so, the timing of his retirement comes as a surprise after he expressed interest this offseason in returning for the 2013 season. Although his kickoffs might have shortened a bit, he converted 32 of 36 field goal attempts last season, and over the past three years, he converted 10 of 14 attempts from at least 50 yards.
But he entered free agency last month after his contract expired, and his agent expressed public disappointment in the Lions' contract offer. This week, veteran David Akers made a visit to the team's practice facility.
Did Hanson retire rather than play for the veteran's minimum after his long service to the franchise? He told Mike O'Hara of the Lions' website that a previously unrevealed heel injury spurred his decision.
"I would have worked out a contract with the Detroit Lions," Hanson told O'Hara. "There was talk, and at the start, with their initial offer, it gave me some time to evaluate: 'OK, am I going to do this?' Ultimately, no. It would not have been an issue. There are no hard feelings. It never got to a point where there was serious back and forth with numbers. It didn't matter."
If you accept that the NFL is a business above all else, you understand that most decisions are driven by money. In this case, however, we'll take Hanson at his word. Let's not confuse this instance with the divorce between the Chicago Bears and linebacker Brian Urlacher, who turned down a low offer from the team. A 42-year-old place-kicker knows he probably won't be paid a premium salary to remain in the league in today's tight salary-cap environment.
So the Lions will move on and should attract interest from veteran free agents who would love the chance to kick at least nine games indoors this season (eight at Ford Field and one at the Metrodome.) Or the Lions could look to the draft; if you're interested, here are the top five college place-kickers available, according to ESPN's Mel Kiper:
Florida State's Dustin Hopkins
Florida's Caleb Sturgis
Kansas State's Anthony Cantele
Nebraska's Brett Maher
Louisiana-Lafayette's Brett Baer
Hanson will hold a news conference next week at the Lions' Allen Park practice facility. It opened in 2002 -- 10 years after Hanson joined the team. He played almost as many games at the Silverdome, shuttered for a decade, as he did at Ford Field. Even in the unique realm of place-kickers, Hanson was an all-timer. We won't soon see another one like him.