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Snap-for-snap, the 2020 Cowboys had the second-youngest offense in the NFL

“It’s just not fair,” says the rest of the league.

Dallas Cowboys v Seattle Seahawks Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images

Your 2020 Cowboys were the second-youngest offense in the league, according to Football Outsiders, who weighted every player’s age by the number of snaps played to arrive at the snap-weighted age for each team in 2020.

They Giants are seventh, the Eagles are 12th, and Washington is 19th - in a young man’s game, you don’t want to be the team with all the old dudes.

“But wait,” say the nattering nabobs of negativism, “that’s just a fake stat! All those injuries artificially lowered the average age.”

Well... maybe.

Injuries didn’t affect the wide receiver corps, nor did they affect the running backs. At tight end, then 26-year old Blake Jarwin’s snaps were gobbled up by then 24-year old Dalton Schultz, while at QB, Dak Prescott (26) was replaced Andy Dalton (33), Garrett Gilbert (29) and Ben DiNucci (24). That’s six out of 11 starter positions where average age was not significantly impacted by injuries.

“Nice try, buster,” mutter the supercilious sophisticates, ”everybody knows the Dallas O-line is getting old! Those young replacements drove the average age down significantly!”

Well... maybe.

Here’s a table comparing the age of the O-line in Week 1 versus Week 17.

POS Week 1 Starter Age* Week 17 Starter Age*
LT Tyron Smith 30 Brandon Knight 23
LG Connor Williams 23 Connor Williams 23
C J. Looney 30 J. Looney 30
RG Zack Martin 30 Connor McGovern 23
RT Terence Steele 23 Terence Steele 23
Total 136 122
*Player's age on Dec. 31st, 2020

That’s a 14-year drop across the entire O-line, quite a significant drop between the Week 1 starters and the Week 17 starters.

“TOLDYA!” the vicars of vacillation vent victoriously. “Now if you’d also add Tyler Biadasz to the line-up, you’d end up with THE TRUTH!”

Well... maybe.

Biadasz did start four games, and at 23 years of age, he certainly did drive the average age further down. But while Biadasz was in, Zack Martin (30) for example was also in the lineup, driving average age back up again.

Instead of cherry-picking one week (in this case week 17), we’ll probably get a better understanding of O-line age by looking at the age of the players with the most starts over the course of the entire season.

POS Week 1 Starter Age* Main Starter (# of Starts) Age*
LT Tyron Smith 30 Brandon Knight (9) 23
LG Connor Williams 23 Connor Williams (16) 23
C J. Looney 30 J. Looney (12) 30
RG Zack Martin 30 Zack Martin (10) 30
RT Terence Steele 23 Terence Steele (14) 23
Total 136 129
*Player's age on Dec. 31st, 2020

This looks much more moderate. Still a seven-year swing, but that’s effectively the difference between playing a rookie and playing a veteran, at least in Dallas’ case.

“Yes, but,” the pusillanimous prevaricators protest petulantly, ”THIS YEAR the O-line will be much older!”

Well... maybe.

From everything we know, the Cowboys will plug in Tyler Biadasz as the starter at center, and they’ll also bring back La’el Collins at right tackle, which should give them a line-up of

Tyron Smith (31) - Connor Williams (24) - Tyler Biadasz (24) - Zack Martin (31) - La’el Collins (28).

Combined, that’s 138 years, which is just two years more than last year’s opening day roster, thanks primarily to Biadasz taking over as the starter at center.

About a decade ago, ESPNs John Clayton came up with what he called the “Theory of 150.” Clayton explained that if the combined age of your starting offensive line exceeds 150 years, you should expect a decline in performance.

Just a few years prior to that, the Cowboys starting O-line hit that 150 mark with a lineup of

Doug Free (26) - Kyle Kosier (32) - Andre Gurode (32) - Leonard Davis (32) - Marc Colombo (32)

totaling 154 combined years.

That started a wholesale re-build of the O-line in Dallas that saw them trot out the youngest O-line in the league by 2015 with

Tyron Smith (25) - La’el Collins (22) - Travis Frederick (24) - Zack Martin (25) - Doug Free (31)

with a combined age of 127.

The 2021 O-line will be right in the middle of those two extremes. On opening day of the 2021 NFL season, the Cowboys O-line will have an average age of 27.6 years, and would be the 14th-youngest in the NFL.

Here’s how all NFL teams compare in total combined O-line age, based on the depth charts (which are usually quite accurate and up-to-date):

Rank Team Avg. Age Rank Team Avg. Age Rank Team Avg. Age
1 DET 24.5 12 CLE 27.3 23 CAR 28.7
2 NYG 24.8 13 GB 27.5 24 WAS 29.0
3 MIA 25.0 14 DAL 27.6 25 LAC 29.0
4 MIN 25.6 15 JAC 27.8 26 LAR 29.1
5 ATL 25.9 16 IND 27.8 27 SEA 29.3
6 CHI 26.1 17 CIN 27.9 28 KC 29.7
7 PIT 26.4 18 BUF 28.0 29 TEN 29.9
8 NO 26.5 19 DEN 28.1 30 PHI 30.2
9 NYJ 27.0 20 HOU 28.2 31 SF 30.6
10 NE 27.0 21 LVR 28.3 32 ARI 30.7
11 TB 27.2 22 BAL 28.6

Keep in mind that these are averages, and because there are only five guys counting against the total of each team, having an older veteran on the line can give a false impression if you only look at the average.

Looking across the NFC East, notice how the Giants are super young: three projected starters (LT Andrew Thomas, LG Shane Lemieux, RT Matt Peart) were drafted in 2020, the other two (C Nick Gates, RG Will Hernandez) joined the team as rookies in 2018.

Washington on the other hand is fast approaching the 150-year wall, and Philly has already hit it. What the Eagles are thinking with their geriatric O-line is anybody’s guess, but that seems to be par for the course with most decisions coming out of Philly these days.

Back to the overall age of the offense. While we saw that the average age of the O-line likely won’t increase all that much in 2021, the rest of the offense likely will: Father time is undefeated, and every returning player is one year older. But that may not be a bad thing.

Here’s Bryan Knowles of Football Outsiders ruminating on the young Cowboys offense:

[...] Three teams were among the 10 youngest we have ever recorded in offensive SWA: in descending order, the Broncos, Cowboys and Ravens. The Ravens, in particular, are worth noting—they were the only team in the top quarter of DVOA to have a snap-weighted age below 26.4; they’re the one team in the NFL in the top quartiles of both being young and good.

In contrast to the Ravens, the Cowboys offense was young but not good last year, in large part driven by the absence of their franchise quarterback. Perhaps this year they’ll be young and good.

Well... maybe.

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