9 Days ’Til Camp: NFL’s Youth Movement

Every day until the start of camp on July 26, we’ll provide one juicy nugget to whet your appetite for the return of football. We’d give you more but the CBA forbids two-a-days. Sorry. Yes, the Packers are young, but the rest of the league is trending in that direction, as well.

Out with the old and in with the new is the old-fashioned way of building an NFL roster.

Today, it’s out with the kind-of-old and in with the new.

During last month’s minicamp, Green Bay Packers coach Mike McCarthy said the team’s new defensive focus of “less scheme and more personnel” is the byproduct of a forever-young roster.

Join the club, Mike.

Last season, Green Bay’s Week 1 roster was the ninth-youngest in the league, with an average age of 25.64 years, according to league data. How’s this perspective on the direction of the NFL: When Green Bay fielded the youngest teams in the league in 2007 and 2009, those teams were actually older than last year’s edition, with average ages of 25.72 and 25.70 respectively.

Who needs veteran leadership and a bunch of grizzled veterans to change the diapers of the youngsters? Seattle fielded the youngest team in the NFL last season at an average age of 24.98 to start the season. Rather than celebrate their Super Bowl championship by popping the cork on a bottle of champagne, the Seahawks enjoyed some warm milk from their sippy cups. San Francisco (25.43) had the fourth-youngest roster.

Over the last four seasons, the average player on the Week 1 roster has gone from 26.46 years old to 26.09. While that might not sound like much, that’s 19.6 years less experience per team and 627.5 years less experience league-wide.

At the end of last season, 24 of the 53 players on the Packers’ roster were ages 21 to 24 and 21 players were ages 25 to 28, according to the team’s “2013 Season Review.” Only one player, Ryan Pickett, was 33-plus. Naturally, he’s no longer on the team. Neither are James Jones or Johnny Jolly, two of the seven players in the 29-to-32 age group at season’s end. That’s what made the signing of Julius Peppers so out of character for general manager Ted Thompson.

Peppers, 34, is the oldest player on the roster, with only John Kuhn and Tramon Williams (both 31) over age 30. Jarrett Bush, A.J. Hawk and Aaron Rodgers are 30.

One key factor in the NFL increasingly being a young man’s game is the salary cap and how teams are operating within the cap. More than ever, rosters are being filled with the equivalent a handful of Mercedes and a bunch of stripped-down GM products with manual transmissions, crank windows and AM radios. The veteran role player practically has become extinct, as teams build their rosters with several high-priced veterans and then fill in the blanks with a bunch of minimum-salaried players working under their rookie contracts.

Just look at Green Bay. In 2009, when Green Bay rebounded from a six-win season and put itself in position to win the Super Bowl in 2010, Aaron Rodgers had a relatively modest contract and Clay Matthews was playing on his rookie deal. Its top 10 players took up 53.2 percent of the salary cap. In 2014, with Rodgers and Matthews at or near the top of their position groups after lucrative extensions, its top 10 players take up 68.3 percent of the salary cap. That’s because the salary cap has increased by $10 million over that span, with the Packers’ 10 biggest cap charges taking up almost $8 million of that.

Here are the averages and rankings of the Packers’ roster during Thompson’s tenure.

Year Average Age NFL Raking
2005 26.19 Tie, Ninth
2006 25.57 First
2007 25.72 First
2008 25.57 Tie, first
2009 25.70 First
2010 25.92 Fifth
2011 25.74 Tie, third
2012 25.70 Sixth
2013 25.64 Ninth

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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.

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