While addressing the press at the Senior Bowl, Jerry Jones told the assembled scribes about the Cowboys' plans to get younger this season. And for once, Jerry Jones for once was remarkably clear about the direction the team wanted to take from a personnel point of view.
"We will get younger. Now that's not to say we won't bring in a veteran or two, but we'll get younger."
The seven free agent acquisitions this year have shaved 29 years off of the Cowboys' total roster age, assuming the following personnel scenario:
Under Garrett, the Cowboys began purging some greybeards from their roster last year, incurring a sizable chunk of dead money against the salary cap in the process. And the youth movement continues this year
There are other vets on the roster whose time may be running short as well: Keith Brooking (36), Kyle Kosier (33), Kenyon Coleman (32), and Frank Walker (30) could all see their time in Dallas coming to an abrupt end this offseason.
But the Cowboys' youth movement is about more than lower salaries and youth for youth's sake.
Billy Beane, general manager of MLB's Oakland A's and protagonist of Michael Lewis's Moneyball, described the issue succinctly in an interview with the Financial Times a while back.
"Nothing strangulates a sports club more than having older players on long contracts," explains Beane, "As they become older, the risk of injury becomes exponential. It’s less costly to bring [on] a young player. If it doesn’t work, you can go and find the next guy, and the next guy. The downside risk is lower, and the upside much higher."
Look at the table above and the list of players being replaced. Outside of Abram Elam, every single one missed playing time due to injury or was significantly affected by an injury last year. If nothing else, the younger players replacing them should have a lower risk of injury.
The other benefit of youth is the 'upside' that Beane mentions. Young players can be mercurial. They can improve suddenly. They can improve in leaps and bounds. You will not get that type of upside from a veteran player.
The Cowboys are going for a youth movement for a second year in a row, and not just on the offensive line this time. Plus, they're going for experienced youth this time around. This is more than just a passing fancy, this looks like a long-term strategy of roster rejuvenation.
Because it's a long-term strategy, 'roster rejuvenation' runs counter to a quick fix mentality that is the hallmark of many free agency signings. Failing to continuously rejuvenate the roster almost always comes back to bite you in a big way and you'll find yourself scrambling and trying to plug holes at almost any cost (in dollars or player age) in free agency instead of building for the future.
Roster rejuvenation is not just about finding young and talented players in free agency, but also about finding talent through the draft and about acquiring the right UDFAs. Once the Cowboys enter training camp, the roster will be significantly younger than last year's team. Ultimately this should put the Cowboys in a position to succeed for a long time.