Build the perfect NFL roster. What is your players’ average age? The right answer isn’t so simple.
The 2013 Seahawks checked in at 26.4, the second-youngest team to ever reach the Super Bowl, and they hoisted the Lombardi Trophy. But that doesn’t mean the old guys can’t hang. The 2002 Raiders (30.7), 1998 Broncos (30.1) and 1972 Redskins (29.8), all got to the NFL’s championship game leaning on experience.
Which brings us to Sunday afternoon at Mile High.
First-year Raiders coach Jon Gruden is taking his old-school football approach a bit literally, considering the makeup of his team. There are an NFL-high 16 players age 30 or older on Oakland’s roster, and essential pieces, too, like running back Marshawn Lynch (32), tight end Jared Cook (32), cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (32), wide receiver Jordy Nelson (33) and defensive tackle Frostee Rucker (35).
While some opposing squads might scoff at Gruden’s approach to filling immediate needs, an influx of veterans is seen as a critical juncture for a total culture rebuild by Oakland players and coaches. The Raiders last won a playoff game in 2002, proof the locker room might be in need of some age-old wisdom.
“That’s helped our young players a lot, having veterans in every room is important on both sides of the ball,” Oakland quarterback Derek Carr said. “For the young guys to see the older vets and guys who have made Pro Bowls and made plays in this league, how they work and what it takes to compete every Sunday and really the effort you have to do in taking care of your body. All those things are things that are important to an organization. It’s been good.”
The Broncos’ average age right after 53-man cut day checked in at 26 year old, which ranked No. 17 league-wide, according to the Philly Voice. Oakland topped the list at 27.4. Denver has a significant share of veterans, though, with eight Broncos older than 30 — cornerback Adam Jones (34), defensive tackle Domata Peko Sr. (33), right tackle Jared Veldheer (31), wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders (31), wide receiver Demaryius Thomas (30), safety Darian Stewart (30), cornerback Tramaine Brock (30) and quarterback Case Keenum (30).
Where Denver finds balance are roster spots filled with promising young talent such as running backs Royce Freeman (22) and Phillip Lindsay (24), receiver Courtland Sutton (22) and edge rusher Bradley Chubb (22). All that matters to coach Vance Joseph? Which Broncos can be trusted on game day — age be damned.
“Even though they’re young players, they’re good football players,” Joseph said. “They’ve earned their way to play, so it’s not about holding their hand or making it easy for those guys.”
Keenum added: “We have experience, we have young guys and we have all sorts of talent on all sides of the ball.”
The downside to relying on players born in the 1980s is the increase for potential injuries. No need to remind 55-year-old Gruden. A plan is already in place to best keep his veterans fresh when the schedule rolls to December.
“Sometimes you battle the cap, but we brought in some veteran guys that have come in and contributed,” Gruden said. “We will monitor everything they eat, we’ll put sleep bracelets on them, we’ll take care of them with all of the technology that mankind has provided.”
Before Broncos Country cracks too many jokes about the Raiders’ age, they should also consider recent history. Denver’s last championship rested on the 39-year-old shoulders of Peyton Manning — the oldest quarterback in history to win a Super Bowl.
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