For a third straight season, the Minnesota Vikings are likely to have one of the 10 youngest rosters in the NFL.
And there’s a legitimate chance it could be the youngest.
Each season, Jimmy Kempski of PhillyVoice produces a snapshot of each team’s average age following initial roster cuts. Though roster changes still happen on a weekly basis following the first cutdown, many of the personnel moves exchange young players for young players while veterans remain, meaning that the initial 53-man roster is usually a strong indication of the roster’s season-long age.
Because of the high number of long-tenured, high-salary players on the Vikings roster that led to a cap crunch and subsequent departures this offseason, there may be a perception that the Vikings were aging. Going off strictly a starting lineup — especially on defense — that might’ve been true, but the top-to-bottom roster paints a different picture, per Kempski.
The Vikings have begun each of the last two seasons with the sixth youngest roster in the NFL at 25.5 years of age on average. After their NFC Championship Game appearance in 2017, when they were the 13th oldest team in the NFL, the Vikings underwent a bit of youth movement while losing several big-name veterans at the end of their careers. Joe Berger retired, Brian Robison was released, and Terence Newman transitioned from player to assistant coach.
Minnesota sustained that level of youth in 2019 with a similar roster before enduring an exodus of veterans this past free agency period. Linval Joseph (31) was released and signed by Los Angeles. Xavier Rhodes (30) was cut and joined the Indianapolis Colts. Trae Waynes (nearly 28) and Andrew Sendejo (32) left for the Bengals and Browns, respectively. Josh Kline (30) was cut and still doesn’t have a home. Stefon Diggs (26) was traded to Buffalo.
What’s left is one of the youngest Vikings rosters yet.
Joseph was replaced by 27-year-old Michael Pierce. The gutted cornerback group may not have a player over 23 years old. Sendejo was exchanged for a rookie. Kline’s roster spot may be given to one of Minnesota’s many young guard prospects. And Diggs was replaced by 21-year-old first-round pick Justin Jefferson.
Using my 53-man roster projection from May 7, I crunched the Vikings average age based on their birthdays as of cut day (Sept. 5). What comes out is an average age of 25.2, which would have tied the Miami Dolphins for the league’s youngest roster in 2019, as well as the 2018 Bengals for the youngest roster two season ago.
Of course, this projection is not perfect. Some of the prognostications could misfire because of the virtual offseason that kept players off the practice field and likely harmed the odds of rookies (especially late-round picks or UDFAs) making the team.
For instance, the projection had defensive tackle Shamar Stephen (29) missing the cut, but he could realistically take a spot from the younger Hercules Mata’afa (24) or Jaleel Johnson (26). Offensive linemen Aviante Collins (27) or Brett Jones (29) could take the spot of my longshot projection Tyler Higby (23). Base linebacker Ben Gedeon (25) could keep his spot over upstart rookie Jordan Fehr (22).
On the opposite side of the coin, there’s a chance the Vikings choose youth over experience at some positions. Receiver Quartney Davis (22) could nab a spot from Tajae Sharpe (25), or pass rusher Kenny Willekes (23) could make the team over Anthony Zettel (27).
If the Vikings choose the older option to settle their likeliest roster battles, that could add approximately 12-16 years to the team’s collective age, upping the average to around 25.4, which would’ve tied for second youngest in 2019. If they opt for youth at each juncture, the average could plunge down to an even 25.
The end result will likely be in the middle. If it winds up being 25.2, that’s a figure that ranked in the three youngest each of the past five years.
This type of roster building is essential for Spielman and Co. to balance out their well-compensated talent at the top of the roster. To avoid salary cap conundrums in the feature, the Vikings will need to continue developing young talent at the bottom of the roster to backfill aging or departing veterans. The 2020 season offers the first big test in that regard as the young talent the Vikings started developing in 2018-19 will be asked to fill in at several key spots.