The NFL is constantly one of change and, at given times, there are clusters of great veteran players who retire at the same time as they call it quits on long and illustrious careers.
At some positions, the expiration date comes at 30. For most other positions, the proverbial wall tends to come a little later, but not much.
There are certain times in the flow of 32 teams moving forward that young players come and older starters go. We are in one of those periods for NFL quarterbacks, as an inordinate number of them are already or soon to be on the wrong side of 30 – almost half the starters in the league.
On Nov. 8, Minnesota Vikings QB Sam Bradford turns 30, which is about the time a quarterback has hit his prime. From there, the difference between good and great quarterbacks starts to take shape. If you’re not an elite QB or someone who has a Super Bowl ring on his hand, age 30 is when organizations keeping an eye on college quarterbacks to find an eventual replacement.
The number of starting quarterbacks over the 30-year mark is about as high as it’s ever been in the modern era of the NFL and, with only a couple of exceptions, none of them plans to quit any time soon.
Tony Romo retired, although it seems clear he still wanted to play but wasn’t going to wait for Dallas to make a decision until after the draft, which likely would have already had Romo in his offseason workout regimen. He turns 37 on April 21.
Who is in the 30-Plus Club? Bradford and Andy Dalton will get their red crushed velvet Club 30 smoking jackets in the span of 11 days – Dalton earning membership Oct. 29 and Bradford on Nov. 8 – joining vested members who have been in the club for some time.
Atlanta’s Matt Ryan turns 32 on May 17.
Baltimore’s Joe Flacco is 32 on Jan. 16
Kansas City’s Alex Smith turns 33 on May 7
Free agent Jay Cutler turns 34 on April 29
Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers turns 34 on Dec. 2
Free agent Ryan Fitzpatrick turns 35 on Nov. 24
Pittsburgh’s Ben Roethlisberger turned 35 on March 2
The Artist Formerly Known as San Diego’s Philip Rivers turns 36 on Dec. 8
The Giants’ Eli Manning turned 36 on Jan. 3
Arizona’s Carson Palmer turns 38 on Dec. 27
New Orleans’ Drew Brees turned 38 on Jan. 15
New England’s Tom Brady turns 40 on Aug. 3
By the time we get to the midseason point of the 2017 season, there are likely going to be 14 starting quarterbacks who are 30 or older (44 percent) and the list will include presumptive Hall of Famers Big Ben, Rivers, Eli, Brees and Brady (the jury is out on Palmer). But, if you include Palmer in that group, you have six of 32 teams (19 percent) rolling with 35-year-old quarterbacks or older with no long-term backup plan in place. A-Rog isn’t far behind, but he was a low-mileage vehicle early in his career, so he probably shouldn’t count.
Regardless, the 2017 draft class isn’t expected to produce many elite quarterbacks, but given the recent success of mid-round picks Russell Wilson and Dak Prescott, teams are looking for the next big thing.
For those most part, the old guys who have been with one team for a long time have experienced plenty of success, including nice postseasons runs. But, the clock is ticking – from the Patriots on down – and eventually it’s going to strike midnight. When that happens, the balance of power will change.