When the Seattle Seahawks emerged victorious over the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XLVIII, they were the youngest team ever to do so. The next year, not to be outdone, the New England Patriots broke that record. The Seahawks were an average 25.7 years old, and the Patriots were 25.5. Each year, fans are bombarded with reminders that the current trend in the NFL is to get younger. Even coaches are getting younger, though many believe the trend in both instances is not necessarily good for the league.
Per Spotrac, Seattle currently has the 7th youngest roster in the league at an average 25.6 years.
Obviously it doesn’t work just to be young, a team actually has to have good players. Just like it is of no benefit to have the most cap space at season’s end if the team’s record is 3-13. For example there were ten teams younger than the Seahawks in 2018. But of those, only Baltimore, Houston, and Indianapolis even made the playoffs. Green Bay, the NY Jets, Jacksonville, Denver, Cincinnati, San Francisco, and Cleveland sat out.
But this has historically been a strength of the Pete Carroll / John Schneider era. Seattle has long benefited from an abundance of young players contributing at a significant level. When they won the Super Bowl, Russell Wilson, KJ Wright, and Earl Thomas were 24. Richard Sherman, Kam Chancellor, and Russell Okung were 25. Jermaine Kearse and Jeremy Lane were only 23.
So what does it take to have a successful, young team in today’s NFL?
There are the obvious answers: draft well, move on from players at the right time, don’t have Tom Brady.
While it is a hot strategy – of sorts – to be young in the NFL, I think it’s safe to say that it is not Pete’s goal to be one the youngest teams year in and year out. His goal is to be a good football team. Specifically, his goal is to create a place where excellence in all things breeds winning:
I know that I’ll be evaluated in Seattle with wins and losses, as that is the nature of my profession for the last thirty-five years. But our record will not be what motivates me. Years ago I was asked, ‘Pete, which is better: winning or competing?’ My response was instantaneous: ‘Competing. . . because it lasts longer.
That’s straight out of Carroll’s book Win Forever: Live, Work and Play Like a Champion.
Creating the culture that Carroll wants to create involves having lots of young athletes on roster. Why? Motivation for one, depth for another, development for a third, and for the first time, ability to pay a QB.
I took a look at how the Seahawks constantly get to where they are – a perennial playoff team, with consistently one of the younger rosters in the league.
Factors that lower the average age:
Seattle retained eight of nine draft picks from last year. Only Alex McGough did not make the cut. Beyond that, though is where GM Schneider really shines. Eight of the eleven picks from 2017 are still on this roster, and six of ten selections in 2016.
Compare that to the two oldest teams this coming season: the Buffalo Bills and New England Patriots, and the contrast speaks for itself.
Draft Picks currently on 90-man roster:
2018: Seattle 8 of 9, NE 8 of 9, Buffalo 6 of 8
2017: Seattle 8 of 11, NE 2 of 4, Buffalo 4 of 6
2016: Seattle 6 of 10, NE 3 of 9, Buffalo 1 of 7
The Seahawks also have their very notable 11 draft picks from this year, and are trying out ten undrafted free agents. Seattle also acquired some unusually young rookies last year. Rasheem Green, Will Dissly, and Jacob Martin are still only 22 in their 2nd year, making them younger than a considerable amount of this year’s rooks.
Bottom line: there’s no factor more significant than drafting well. This is an issue of both quantity and quality. Again, it would be of no benefit if Schneider consistently traded around to get double digit draft picks that didn’t result in serviceable athletes.
But Seattle consistently retains young players far more frequently than average, and longer. Even national sources have noticed the frequency with which Schneider and Carroll hit big on late round picks.
Factors that raise the average age:
An experienced offensive line. Two of Seattle’s three oldest players are starting offensive lineman Duane Brown and Mike Iupati, 33 and 32 years old. Britt and Fluker add in to make this the oldest position group on Seattle’s roster.
In my opinion, this is fine. Unless you’re rolling out Tom Brady or Drew Brees each Sunday, offensive line is the safest position to have older players. Philadelphia had the oldest line in the league in 2016, and ranked top-10 by PFF that year. The next year they were only a bit younger, won the Super Bowl and were the top O-line according to most sources.
Even those who think they’ve pinpointed the O-line age of decline generally put it around age 32, which Iupati and Brown have just now brushed up against.
Seattle also has their experienced linebacker core. Bobby Wagner, KJ Wright and Mychal Kendricks average out to 28.67 years. Seattle clearly has faith in them, as they just re-upped Wright, and traded Frank Clark instead of Wagner. Injuries have only recently become an issue for Wright and Kendricks, but Schneider drafted true linebackers for the first time since 2014 so jury’s still out on how these three will hold up.
Another factor this year are the most recent free agent signings. The newest Seahawk additions are a few steps beyond vested veterans. Al Woods Nick Bellore, and Ziggy Ansah are all over 30.
This will change (some)
Cutting 37 players will have an impact, but not as much as you might think. The newest draft picks have a pretty decent shot because they’re so cheap. Older veterans tend to have shed-able contracts. Looking through the 90-man roster, a vast chunk of the likely cut candidates are about 25. Justin Currie, Paxton Lynch, Marcus Martin, CJ Prosise, Kalan Reed, Jordan Roos, Simeon Thomas....to name a few.
The hope for the future is not in a team’s ability to be a half year younger than most its competition. But Seattle, especially on defense, could be fielding multiple 22-24 year old starters, which does really provide hope for the future. Unless they all tank.
Young and Hypothetical:
Just for fun, here’s my take on the youngest (reasonable) team Hawks could field in the playoffs. Obviously, this doesn’t change the actual age of the team’s roster, but it is notable that Seattle could be in a position once again to have multiple contributors under the league average 25.81 years.
*Reasonable. We’re not starting 20-year old Travis Homer over either Chris Carson or Rashaad Penny just because you think they’re not All-Pro RBs yet.
QB: Russ - 30
RB: Carson - 24
WR1: Tyler Lockett - 26
WR2: David Moore - 24
WR3: DK Metcalf - 21
TE: Will Dissly - 22
LT: Brown - 33
LG: Iupati - 32
C: Justin Britt - 28
RG: DJ Fluker - 28
RT: Germain Ifedi - 25
LG/RG: Phil Haynes – 23, would be starting over an injured somebody come December. Let’s say Iupati.
Offensive average age: 25.8
DT: Jarran Reed – 26
DT: Poona Ford – 23
DE: LJ Collier – 23
DE: Jacob Martin – 22, starting for re-injured Ziggy Ansah
LB: KJ Wright - 29
LB: Bobby Wagner - 29
LB: Mychal Kendricks - 28 - yes, there’s lots of younger options here, but I’m a sucker for hoping these three get to play together.
S: Bradley McDougald - 28
S: Marquise Blair - 22
CB: Tre Flowers - 24
CB: Shaquill Griffin – 23
Defensive average age: 25.2
K: Jason Myers - 28
P: Michael Dickson - 23
This is not necessarily the best team the Hawks could field, but six months from now is a long ways away, and it’s always “next man up” in Seattle.
Thoughts? Who’s your youngest starting roster?