- John Clayton, NFL senior writer
- 0 Shares
The final cuts reinforced how tough it is to survive in this league beyond the age of 29.
Following Saturday's cuts that took teams to the 53-man limit, there were only 260 players who are 30 or older left on rosters. Included in that group are 34 kicking-game specialists (place-kickers, punters and long-snappers). The number matches the 226 position players who opened last season in their 30s, but it's pretty easy to see NFL teams are going for youth.
The number of 30-year-olds making $6 million or more annually has dropped significantly the past couple of years. The trend toward "pay as you go" contract concepts makes it less costly for teams to cut players. This reduces job security for older players, who are being forced to take significant pay cuts to continue playing after their long-term deals are terminated.
Even the oldest teams are getting younger. The Oakland Raiders opened the offseason with $65 million of cap room and made a concerted effort to sign veterans between the ages of 29 and 31 who could provide leadership for their younger players. They ended up as the NFL's oldest team, but their average age is 27. By comparison, the Pittsburgh Steelers had an average age in the high 27s while they were making their playoff runs through the 2000s. Four teams finished Saturday with average ages under 25.5. It's a young man's league.
Several teams got younger at kicker this year. The number of 30-or-older kickers went from 15 to 12. Though the San Francisco 49ers kept Phil Dawson as their kicker, they released about five core group special-teamers to get to the 53-man roster.
Here are a few lingering concerns after Saturday's cuts:
The New York Jets' CB situation is a mess: After cornerback Dimitri Patterson went AWOL for the 48 hours around the preseason finale, it's no surprise the Jets released him. But that left them with the worst cornerback situation in football, and they face the toughest first-half stretch of quarterbacks I have ever witnessed (In Weeks 2-7, they see Aaron Rodgers, Jay Cutler, Matthew Stafford, Philip Rivers, Peyton Manning and Tom Brady). With Dee Milliner likely to miss the opener with a high ankle sprain, all the team has left in the secondary is Darren Walls, Kyle Wilson and a bunch of safeties. Jets coach Rex Ryan can't be pleased.
The 49ers' defense is on thin ice: Aldon Smith's nine-game suspension turns the 49ers from a potential division winner into a wild-card team. I still think they can go 6-3 in the nine games without Smith and most likely NaVorro Bowman (knee). Without those linebackers, I can't see them winning on the road against Denver or New Orleans. They also have three NFC West games among their first nine -- two against the St. Louis Rams -- and might lose one. But if they sustain more injuries on defense or lose lineman Ray McDonald to a suspension because of his arrest on domestic violence charges, they could slip out of the playoff picture altogether.
The Indianapolis Colts' weakness is on the O-line: The Colts brought back A.Q. Shipley because they were desperate for help for the interior of their offensive line. Backup guard Joe Reitz suffered a high ankle sprain in the preseason finale. Center Khaled Holmes has an ankle injury. Hugh Thornton and Jake Mewhort have been banged up. It doesn't help that the Colts are opening up against Denver.
Why did a Ryan Mallett trade take so long? The Houston Texans gave the New England Patriots a conditional seventh-round pick to acquire Mallett, who struggled during the preseason. New Houston head coach Bill O'Brien coached Mallett for one season in New England. Unless the Patriots were asking for a second-round pick early in camp, it would have served everyone better for Mallett to get to Houston before the preseason games and get some time in learning the offense. Still, this was a good move for the Texans.
From the inbox
Q: It's a shame that as another fantastic NFL season looms on the horizon, all the headlines deal with punishment of their players. Here we are a week away from kickoff and everything is about Ray Rice, Josh Gordon and Aldon Smith. We also have a decision on Greg Hardy and Jim Irsay still to come. The NFL is big enough to handle this kind of adversity just fine, but the timing, so soon before the season, is unfortunate.
Jason in Bellingham, Washington
A: That is always going to be the case. As much as the NFL wants players to protect the shield, there always will be players and even owners who make mistakes. It is unfortunate, but that is reality. With the Internet and social media, information about NFL people doing bad things comes to us so quickly. The bigger the name, the bigger the interest. With so many media platforms, the bad news doesn't go away. There are 1,696 players on NFL rosters. Some will do bad things. While it may be hard to accept, it's reality.
Q: With the emphasis on head injuries and the recent concussion by Wes Welker, do you see the league trying to push for mandatory retirements when the next labor agreement comes up?
Joseph in Bentonville, Arkansas
A: I can't see that happening. First, pushing for a mandatory retirement takes away a player's ability to make a living. If the league forced a retirement for a concussion, the player would sue. The NFL is making a lot of progress on dealing with concussions, and there will be more help along the way. Each year, the methods of studying concussion-related injuries improve. I like that monitoring devices are being used to study contact and the impact of hits. In time, maybe there will be a standard scale in which a player can judge the damage done and make the right decision for his football future. But taking the game away from a player in a collective bargaining move wouldn't be right.
Q: Aldon Smith is rated No. 15 in the #NFLRank defensive ratings. Obviously, his lengthy suspension hurts the 49ers' chances for this season. Do you think Roger Goodell has been consistent in his recent decisions? Do you think he maybe has too much influence in creating winners and losers?
Jeremiah in Denver
A: It's pretty obvious by the new domestic violence policy issued by the NFL that the commissioner was not being consistent with his punishments. Two games wasn't enough for Ray Rice. Now, a first domestic violence offense will get six games. Goodell's admission of a mistake may mean he is trying to be more consistent. He was calculating in the Smith decision. Smith got four games for driving while impaired and five games for player conduct. But there are always going to be winners and losers in conduct decisions. Goodell has to set a penalty that creates a deterrent for other players. That's not easy to do consistently for different types of cases.
Q: This offseason, the Green Bay Packers let their starting center sign with Tampa Bay for about $3.5 million a year. The new center will be the fourth Week 1 starting center in as many years, and the guy they thought would start is already hurt. Why does a successful franchise like the Packers put so little value in its center position?
Paul in Milton, Wisconsin
A: As you know, general manager Ted Thompson believes in the draft and finding starters of the future. Evan Dietrich-Smith was a decent center, and his $3.5 million salary wasn't too bad. But all teams have to make judgments on which players they can re-sign. Thompson felt JC Tretter could fit in as Dietrich-Smith's replacement, but Tretter's injury set things back. That happens. But you raise a good point. I'm sure Aaron Rodgers would like some stability at the position, particularly trying to run a fast-paced offense that gets off 75 plays a game.
Q: The Panthers lost only two of their last 13 games last season after their Week 4 bye. Do you see them continuing on with that kind of momentum through this season, or is there another NFC team (besides Seattle, Green Bay and San Francisco) that will put together a better run into the playoffs?
Cory in Seattle
A: It's hard to carry on that momentum when your left tackle retires, you are breaking in four new wide receivers, your quarterback is coming off ankle surgery and has sore ribs and you have to make changes in your secondary. The Panthers are still a good team. They have the best defensive front seven in football. For overall talent, however, they have taken a step back. I think they are more of an eight- to 10-win team than a 12-win team. I also worry that Cam Newton's ankle surgery might leave him vulnerable to further injury. During the preseason, he appeared to have a harder time getting away from hits. Without him, they won't make the playoffs.
Q: So with the new domestic violence policy, what would happen if Ray Rice did something again? Is he kicked out of the league or does he get a six-game suspension and have one more shot? I feel like there is no way the NFL would win the appeal if they kicked him out of the league after another offense.
Aaron in Omaha, Nebraska
A: Good question. The policy was put in place after Rice's ruling, so technically he would be a first-time offender in this program. But this is the player conduct policy, so Goodell would have some wiggle room to make the penalty more than six games. First, I don't think Rice will put himself in that position. If he did, however, and Goodell gave him a six-game suspension, the outcry would be as bad for Goodell as it was for the two-game suspension. He couldn't go with just six.
22hDoug Clawson, ESPN Stats & Information