Dawkins posted the news on his Twitter account Monday, thanking the teams he played for, his coaches and teammates and fans. Dawkins spent his first 13 seasons with the Philadelphia Eagles and his last three with the Denver Broncos.
He suffered a serious neck injury in December that sidelined him for the stretch run and the Broncos' two playoff games.
"I would like to thank the Eagles & the Broncos 4 believing in me," he tweeted. "I would like 2 thank all my teammates & coaches that I have been blessed 2 go to battle with. Along with u, the fans 4 helping make my career 1 that I have enjoyed tremendously. In other words. I am announcing my retirement from the NFL."
Broncos boss John Elway replied via Twitter: "Congratulations on a Hall of Fame career, Dawk!!!"
Nobody played safety longer in the NFL than Dawkins, 38. The only other safeties to log 16 seasons in the pros were Hall of Famer Paul Krause and Eugene Robinson.
Longevity isn't normally associated with the position where the hardest hits are both received and delivered.
"If you look at the majority of the huge collisions, they come in that second level back there," Dawkins said last season. "Safeties are 15-20 yards deep sometimes, we're coming down running full speed at somebody that's running full speed at us a lot of times, so those collisions are very, very hard. And so to play the game the way that I play it for this long is an absolute blessing."
Dawkins was a six-time All-Pro and made nine Pro Bowls, including last season as an alternate.
As a member of the NFLPA executive committee, Dawkins pushed for new league rules that limited full contact during camp and also in the regular season. He credited those changes for keeping him fresh at the beginning of what turned out to be his final season, which he played a year after laboring through sprains to both knees.