The Dallas Cowboys whittled their team down to 53-players Saturday. And while there’s still some likely changes on the tail end of the roster, it’s not too early to start breaking down the roster. Here we’ll take a look at the age of the entire roster, the starters, by offense, defense and position group.
Some background information, to put all this in context. The average age of an NFL player has remained remarkably consistent for the last five years at 26 years.
Generally, teams will fall somewhere between a “young” 25-years average age and an “old” 27-years average age. Here’s the average age by team based on rosters announced Saturday:
We see Dallas, at an average age of 26.3, is older than the average NFL team. We also see that all four NFC East teams are at or above the NFL average, with the Eagles older than every team other than the New England Patriots.
Now, the average age of a roster can be somewhat misleading. The unstated implication is “younger is better” and that’s generally true. Older players get injured more often and are susceptible to performance declines. Try telling Patriots fans that having a 42-year-old Tom Brady on the their roster is a “negative”.
Perhaps more important than the overall average age of a roster is how those ages are distributed. A look at the Cowboys’ roster by unit (offense, defense, special teams), for instance, reveals some interesting numbers:
Specifically, we see the three special teams players (Brett Maher, Chris Jones and L. P. LaDouceur) are significantly older than both the offensive and defensive units. Those units are actually below the NFL average (26.0). We can further break the units down by position group:
Most of the units fall into that 25-to-27 age range. The defensive line is quite young; despite having ten players, none are older than 29 (Tyrone Crawford). Similarly, among the eleven offensive lineman, none are over 29 (Joe Looney). However, each of the “big three” (Tyron Smith, Zack Martin and Travis Frederick) are all 28. It still amazes that Tyron Smith is only 28; it feels like he’s been playing for a decade (checks notes and realizes he is, in fact, entering his tenth season).
Again, averages can be skewed by one or two outliers so let’s take a look at the number of players by age:
There’s only six players on the roster - and only one starter - 30 or older. Those six:
- Jamize Olawale (30) - RB
- Chris Jones (30) - P
- Alfred Morris (30) - RB
- Sean Lee (33) - LB
- Jason Witten (37) - TE
- L.P. Ladouceur (38) - LS
While all of these players will be expected to contribute one way or another, it’s reassuring to Cowboys fan that the team isn’t relying upon a large group of 30+ players to play key roles. Beyond Jason Witten, none of these players are likely to be asked to play anything more than a complementary role.
We also see that 10 of the team’s 22 starters are 25 or younger, which is very good. You could break down the starters like this:
- 25 or under: 10
- 26 to 29: 11
- 30 and older: 1
Interestingly, the two oldest teams in the league (Patriots and Eagles) are also two teams expected to compete for a Super Bowl this year. Here’s a comparison of the Eagles and Cowboys by unit:
Notably, the Eagles are older in every group. Most importantly, the Eagles’ offense has an average age closer to 30 (28.8) than the league average (26.0). But is this number skewed by one or two outliers? The Eagles have ten players 30 or older, including six starters, four on offense and two on defense:
- Brandon Brooks (30) - OL
- Jason Kelce (31) - OL
- Desean Jackson (32) - WR
- Jason Peters (37) - OL
While three of the Eagles’ OL are 30 or older, all three played all 16 games last season and only Peters has missed significant time the last few years. Jackson, by contrast, has missed time each of the last four seasons. Obviously, younger is better but when your older players are both quality and reliable then you don’t fret too much over it. Philadelphia’s two defensive players over 30 are Brandon Graham and Malcolm Jenkins - again, when you have quality players over 30 you just hope their good health continues.
Summing up, the Cowboys aren’t young on average, but the core of their roster is all under 30 with the exception of Jason Witten. That’s a good situation to be in.