Veteran NFL reporter Rick Gosselin of The Dallas Morning News points to the New England Patriots as the model for teams to follow because of their ability to draft and develop, and also their willingness to play youngsters.
"In a salary-cap world, teams need a steady infusion of young players on the roster to stay afloat financially," Gosselin writes in a piece that urges the Dallas Cowboys to look closer at the Patriots' approach. "The draft provides that cheap labor force. Young players with minimal salaries allow you to give your quarterback $100 million contracts and your pass rusher $75 million deals. Talented young players allow you to stay competitive along the way."
Gosselin then highlights some notable stats from 2013:
There were a record 1,030 games started by NFL rookies in 2013. The Patriots had a league runner-up 57. Despite all that youth on the field, New England still won 12 games, another AFC East title and reached the AFC title game.
The league is getting younger. The number of rookie starts has increased by the year from 650 in 2008 to 706 in 2009 to 763 in 2010 to 853 in 2011 to 1,000 in 2012 and now 1,030 in 2013.
The Patriots have kept pace. They have retained 43 rookies on their roster over the last four years -- 27 draft picks and 16 college free agents. Those rookies have combined to start 186 games for New England.
Gosselin's piece serves as a preview to the NFL combine, which kicks off Thursday in Indianapolis. One additional thought to complement Gosselin's piece is that picking the right players is part of the equation; coaching them up and cultivating them is equally as important.
That's where the teaching of Bill Belichick and his staff often shines through, with the latest example 2013 top draft pick Jamie Collins.