There’s a very fine line between an old NFL team and a young NFL team.
A few strategic roster cuts and a strong draft can turn a team young in one offseason. Conversely, an active team in free agency that fills holes with veterans instead of draft picks can get old overnight.
Thanks to the data compiled by Jimmy Kempski of the Philly Voice, we can get a glimpse of which way the Vikings are trending age-wise, and discern what a team’s collective age might mean about its future — if anything.
Kempski has compiled five consecutive years of cut-day 53-man rosters and ranked the average ages of each team. As he acknowledges in the article, the numbers all change as teams pick up players off the waiver wire before Week 1, but it’s safe to say that most of those changes exchange young players for young players and don’t change the average a significant amount.
There are some basics we can glean from Kempski’s chart. The youngest team is usually right around 25 years old on average. In fact, the average age of the youngest team from 2013-16 was exactly 25.0025, but the Browns threw it off with an absurdly young 24.24-year-old team last year.
The oldest team is usually a touch over 27. The average age of the last five oldest teams is 27.1 with the Cardinals taking the age title last year at a ripe 27.28.
So, we’re talking about approximately two years difference between the oldest and youngest teams during a normal year — three years if it’s an outlier like 2017.
Most teams vacillate quickly from one end of the spectrum to the other. Twenty-two of the league’s 32 teams have been part of the older half and the younger half in the last five years.
Four teams have remained in the old half over that span: Arizona, Pittsburgh, Carolina and New Orleans. All four can boast multiple playoff appearances, but several have faced — or are facing — the harsh reality of a rebuild.
Six teams have stayed in the young half: Cleveland, Jacksonville, Los Angeles (St. Louis), Green Bay, Kansas City and Seattle. The results have been mixed. Cleveland has floundered for over a decade. Jacksonville and Los Angeles were stuck in purgatory until breaking through in 2017. Green Bay had some weak rosters but benefited from Aaron Rodgers’ quarterback mastery. Kansas City made the playoffs four of five years. And Seattle? It won a Super Bowl in 2013 but has since lost most of its core from that team.
Generally, teams try to avoid staying old for the salary cap implications. Older players require more money; young players don’t. The Vikings, who have a bevy of young stars due big paychecks, seemingly recognized this last offseason.
they are in a position to become one of the league’s youngest rosters in 2018.
Minnesota went from seventh-youngest to second-oldest between 2015 and 2016, in large part by getting a collective year older and adding a few veterans like Andre Smith, Alex Boone and Sam Bradford, all 29.
Then, a small-scale youth movement.
Smith, Boone, Audie Cole (27), Captain Munnerlyn (28), Brandon Fusco (28), Matt Asiata (29) and Chad Greenway (33) departed from that team that went 8-8 — some voluntarily, some by way of release — and the Vikings got 11 spots younger last season simply by trimming 0.5 years off their average age.
Now they are in a position to become one of the league’s youngest rosters in 2018.
It’s not hard to whip up a realistic 53-man roster that puts the Vikings average age at 25.8 years old, considering the moves they made during the offseason (and that’s taking into account about a dozen players getting a year older this summer).
Minnesota replaced Case Keenum (29), in essence, with Trevor Siemian (26), Joe Berger (35) with a lineman who will be in his 20s, Michael Floyd (28) with a receiver possibly out of college and Tom Johnson (33) with Sheldon Richardson (27).
Emmanuel Lamur (28) will be replaced by a young prospect, Kai Forbath (30) will likely be usurped by draft-pick Daniel Carlson (23), and even Jerick McKinnon (25) will probably see his old role go to a younger back.
At 25.8, the Vikings would have been the 13th youngest team a year ago.
Now imagine an even younger roster that replaces Brian Robison (35) with, say, Ade Aruna (24) and Marcus Sherels (30) with Holton Hill (21). That could put the Vikings around 25.4, which would have been a top-three youngest roster in each of the past four years.
fans should be pleased to see a young roster.
If recent history has shown us anything, it’s not a distinct advantage or disadvantage to be young or old in a particular season — maybe in the long term, but not in a vacuum. In the past three seasons, one of the three youngest teams has reached the playoffs (Packers twice, Rams once). Four times in that time frame, a top-three oldest team has reached the playoffs, twice getting to the Super Bowl (Panthers in 2015-16, Falcons in 2016-17).
From the Vikings standpoint, fans should be pleased to see a young roster. As general manager Rick Spielman noted in his pre-draft press conference, the Vikings will need to complete their roster with younger, cheaper talent in order to retain some of their high-priced stars.
“[T]he more heavier or front-loaded our roster gets with those big contracts,” said Spielman, “the more important the backups or the role players that you’re hoping will develop into starters make a significant difference.”
The Vikings have now gotten younger in two consecutive offseasons thanks to responsible roster management. It should only extend Minnesota’s playoff window, permitted they also dutifully manage the salary cap.