They say the NFL is a young man’s game and, to a large extent that is true, but what is the difference between a young team and an old team?
Often times the difference is when a team starts to get old together as a group. In an annual study conducted by Jimmy Kempski of PhillyVoice.com, he takes the current ages of the 53 players who ended up on the final rosters after the Saturday cut-down date to determine the average age of the players on the roster.
While the Minnesota Vikings at first glance would appear to be a relatively young team, when compared to the rosters of the other 31 teams, the Vikings are the second-oldest team in the league with an average age of 26.58 years. Only the Atlanta Falcons (27.08) have an average age older than the Vikings.
The difference from top to bottom in average age per player is just 2.07 years, but the difference that can make can be enormous. For example, Denver lost Peyton Manning to retirement and a few of its veteran players to free agency, dropping its average age from 26.19 years per player to 25.47 – a drop from the 18th youngest to fifth in one year.
For the fifth straight year, the Los Angeles/St. Louis Rams are the youngest team in the league with an average age of 25.00 years, followed by Cleveland (25.08). For the second straight year, the Packers finished third on the list with an average age of 23.56 years.
Of the other teams in the NFC North, Chicago ranked 10th with an average age of 25.85 years and Detroit is 18th with an average age of 26.09 years.
The reality of the age rankings pertains to how many of the same players stay with an organization from one year to the next. New England has been one of the most successful franchises over the last five years and the Patriots’ average age has increased each of the last three seasons – going from 11th youngest to 13th to 15th in that span.
As it pertains to the Vikings, their life cycle has changed markedly over the last five years. In 2012, the Vikings were on a youth movement, a process Rick Spielman began upon taking over as the general manager. It seemed as though anyone over the age of 30 was on death row on the Vikings roster.
In 2012, the average age of a Viking on the final 53-man roster was 25.64 years, making them the fourth-youngest team in the league – a vast departure from the veteran-laden team that imploded in 2010.
In Leslie Frazier’s last year as head coach, the average age of the Vikings spiked to 25.96 – not a huge jump (one-third of a year on average), but it moved them from fourth to 13th.
When Mike Zimmer took over the Vikings, he cleaned house of some of the existing veterans, which is not unusual for a new coaching staff taking over and looking to make over the team in their own image – typically with young players.
The result was immediate. The Vikings’ average age dropped to 25.58 years, pushing them down to the fifth-youngest team in the league.
Then a funny thing happened. The Vikings liked what they assembled in 2014 and kept everyone they wanted to keep and added a couple of key veteran players (like Terence Newman). While the rookie class was infusing youth, more than 40 players from the 2014 team were another year older in 2015. As a result, the average age of a Viking bumped to 25.83 years – taking them from the fifth-youngest to the seventh-youngest.
So how did the Vikings jump from the seventh-youngest team to the second-oldest in one year?
They still like what they have with their players and don’t want to let them go elsewhere.
Of the 53 players on the final roster, only nine of them weren’t on the team last year – Mackensie Alexander, Alex Boone, Sam Bradford, Kentrell Brothers, Jayron Kearse, Emmanuel Lamur, David Morgan, Andre Smith and Laquon Treadwell.
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That means that 45 others all got one year older and remained on the roster, which goes a long way to explaining how the team got three-quarters of a year older in one season – by far the biggest jump of any team in the last year.
The simple breakdown of the numbers tell a story. The Bears, Packers and Lions are all getting younger because they’re turning over their rosters. The Vikings are getting older because they’re convinced if they keep the band together, their finite window to win it all can happen – this year or next with the majority of the current members of the band.