- Rob Demovsky, ESPN Staff Writer
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GREEN BAY, Wis. -- For at least the past eight seasons, the Green Bay Packers have been one of the youngest teams in the NFL.
Based on opening-day rosters, the Packers were the sixth-youngest team in the NFL this season with an average age of 25.42 years. Before that they were fifth, second and fifth in the age rankings. And every year from 2006-09, they were the youngest team in the league.
A day after their season ended with Sunday's 23-20 loss to the San Francisco 49ers, it was worth wondering if the Packers need more veterans.
One such inhabitant of their locker room thinks so.
“A lot of guys thought they know how to prepare when they were in college and whatnot, but then they get into the league and you find out that it's a different level to preparation,” said 30-year-old cornerback Tramon Williams, who just completed his seventh NFL season. “That's what you're faced with with young guys. Even though we always say it's a young league, yeah, it's a young league but it's an old league, too, because the old guys make the league go. That's the guys who've been there before, who know how to prepare, who mold the young guys. That's what they're there for. I understand that.”
Williams' own future with the Packers could be in doubt. He's scheduled to make $7.5 million next season in salary and bonuses, and although he had his best season since 2010, his age and salary make him vulnerable in general manager Ted Thompson's youth-based system.
To be sure, Williams is worried about his own situation, but it's clear he thinks the constant roster turnover has impacted the defense, which struggled to a 25th overall ranking this season.
This season, he played in a secondary that was littered with youth and inexperience. Among the key players who played alongside him for most of the season were cornerbacks Sam Shields (age 26, fourth season), Davon House (24, third season) and Micah Hyde (23, rookie) plus safeties Morgan Burnett (age 24, fourth season), M.D. Jennings (25, third season) and Sean Richardson (23, second season). Of that group, only Burnett was in his second NFL contract.
“I had the privilege to play with [Charles] Woodson and [Nick] Collins and Al Harris,” Williams said. “I understand what chemistry in the secondary can do. That's what you try to find when you get a good group of guys. You want to get guys all on the same page. You want guys to see things like you see it if you're the leader of that group. When you can get guys to that point, it slows the game down for everyone in that back end. That's when you start seeing a lot of plays being made out there. Whether it's your play or not, you know where the ball's going and you go in and you make the play. That's what we're trying to get.
“We have a great group of young guys in this room but, like you said, they're young. They can play, very talented but still, they're young.”
The Packers have 17 players scheduled to be unrestricted free agents, meaning they all have at least four years of NFL experience. Depending on how many of them are re-signed, the Packers could get even younger next season.
“When you have a young team like this, that's what you're challenged with,” Williams said. “You're challenged with coming in and – with young guys, with talented young guys, they play but the game's still fast for them because they don't understand what teams are trying to do. They don't understand the scheme fully. They don't understand what the scheme can do for them once they understand it. That's what you're faced with.”
It may be a problem more so for the Packers' defense given that receiver James Jones – a 29-year-old seventh-year veteran who is one of the 17 free agents to be – didn't necessarily have the same view as Williams on the idea of veteran leadership.
“There's a lot of leaders in this locker room,” Jones said. “You can't just point out one or two leaders in the locker room just because they're older. A lot of the young guys lead in this room. I don't think that's going to play a part [in getting re-signed]. We've got a real good locker room here. Everybody loves each other, everybody works hard, fights for each other. I don't think that's going to be an issue. They're not going to be bring me back for some leadership.”