For the past week the focus of the Dallas Cowboys and their fans has been the beloved rivals, the Philadelphia Eagles. The outcome will leave the winner as the early leader in the NFC East as both teams sit at 1-1. The Washington Football Team could still be in a tie for the lead, but with the fighting Teams a seven point underdog against the Buffalo Bills, there is a good chance the winner on Monday Night Football will be alone in first place. It is perfectly understandable that some of the broader things about the Cowboys and the league might have slipped your notice.
One of those things was the subject of an article by Mark Sando of The Athletic. He did some number crunching of a different variety and looked at the average age of starters across the NFL. The overall age of rosters has been a topic in past years, but just looking at the starters could indeed be more relevant. The full 53-man roster can have a bunch of young players at the bottom who have almost no effect on the team’s strength. It can also have older players who are now in a backup role. Either can skew things without really telling us much. Focusing just on the starters is much more indicative of how age could impact the performance of the team not just this year, but into the future. Relatively old teams will soon have to replace some of their starters, while younger rosters can often remain more intact. As Sando puts it:
What does it all mean? Being good and young is the preferred state of being. “Good and old” comes next, followed by “bad but young” and, finally, the most dreaded combination in sports: “bad and old.” The Chiefs fit into the first group. The Buccaneers fit into the second. The New York Jets are the classic “bad but young” team, while the Houston Texans and Chicago Bears could fit into that “bad and old” group, depending on how their seasons play out.
So if younger is good, what does this say about the Cowboys? They are the third youngest starting lineup in the league. However, it must be noted that while they are definitely young, the qualitative part is still to be determined. As it turns out, the Chiefs are the youngest, while the Jets are between them and Dallas. We still have about three and a half months to see just how good the Cowboys are.
Let’s assume that our early season optimism is not false and this is the cream of the NFC East, and maybe even better. This means that a lot of that talent is going to be with Dallas for a typical NFL lifetime, or about three years. Barring a lot of regression from the younger players, that could be a very good window for this team to make some real noise in the league.
How did they get there? A lot goes to the position group that shed the most years for them, the defensive front seven. It got almost two years younger on average, the tenth best of any position group across the league. Here’s how they did it.
Cowboys Front 7: Rookies Micah Parsons and Osa Odighizuwa are starting. Aldon Smith and Dontari Poe are gone, while Sean Lee, who started only two games last season, retired.
It is also interesting that while the Cowboys are one of the youngest teams in the league, they did not make the top eight teams in terms of getting younger this year. It is a reflection of the long standing, and sometimes lamented, reluctance of Dallas (cough) Stephen Jones (cough) to sign big-name free agents, who usually are long in the tooth by NFL standards. Instead, the team relies on the draft. With the most picks in the league this offseason, it is easy to see how they not only got younger, but could be poised to continue to do so with draftees like Kelvin Joseph, Chauncey Golston, and Jabril Cox still waiting in the wings and having a chance to break into the starting lineup in a year or two.
Where do our division rivals stand? The New York Giants are not far behind the Cowboys in youth, sitting at eighth. They don’t look to be in the “good” category yet. The Team is 13th and may be somewhat stagnant since last year, when they stumbled into the division crown at 7-9.
Both are at least in the top half of this listing, which appears to be where you want to be. But those beloved Eagles sit down the list at 25. They have long been proponents of the “get better fast by signing name free agents” theory, and we may be seeing the results here. The ranked twelfth in terms of who got the oldest this offseason, with their offensive line the place age came the fastest for them.
This still is just one of multiple factors in building a roster. Obviously teams usually need to do well in more than they don’t to have success, and being very strong in a couple can offset some poor areas. But stack enough of the good together, and you can create some “long-term” success in the fleeting environment of the NFL. The Cowboys seem to have combined their draft-first strategy with some really good scouting and solid jobs by Kellen Moore and Dan Quinn so far, as well as having some very good veterans all over the offense to put together what looks like a promising squad. They even benefitted from bargain-bin free agent shopping on defense, with Keanu Neal, Damontae Kazee, and Jayron Kearse all still in their mid-to-late 20s while coming in and already contributing as starters in the first two weeks.
While this is indeed a youth movement, it is not really a new thing. It is actually an ongoing strategy for the team that goes back years. We still have to see if things hold up for Dallas after the week two win over the Los Angeles Chargers. But if they do, it could be something they can sustain for a few years.