For the fourth year in a row, the Green Bay Packers have the youngest team in the NFL at an average age of 25.7. The team also has the fewest players over 30, with four.
I’ve bitched about this in the past because I felt quality teams had quality veteran leadership. However, at this point, I really have no problem with it. The fact that the Packers have fielded a young team in the Ted Thompson era is simply a byproduct of Thompson’s philosophy that good teams are built through the draft.
This is a philosophy shared by some of the most successful franchises in the NFL – the Pittsburgh Steelers, Indianapolis Colts, Tennessee Titans and New York Giants come to mind. Something these teams have in common is long-term success. They are competitive year in and year out, and they are in the playoff picture year in and year out – an accomplishment that’s tough in the NFL’s salary cap era, where parity supposedly reigns.
On the other hand, take a look at the teams who consistently spend big money on free agents – the Washington Redskins, Oakland Raiders and Denver Broncos. Where the hell are these teams year in and year out?
Teams who sign free agents on a regular basis are typically investing large sums of money in those players (with the Broncos, who seem to just pick up everyone else’s scraps, possibly being the exception). Often, that’s money that could be spent on signing several of the team’s own young players. If a free agent signing turns out to be a bust, then a team not only loses out on the opportunity to sign their own players, they’re at least temporarily stuck with millions of dollars tied up in a guy who’s dead weight.
Quality franchises draft and develop players, which is what the Packers have been doing over the past few years. Look at recent additions to the Packers’ starting lineup – Johnny Jolly, Josh Sitton, Jason Spitz – and key contributors in other areas – Clay Matthews, Will Blackmon, Mason Crosby. All were drafted by the Packers in the last four years.
There’s something to be said for the kind of continuity that comes with acquiring and developing young players. When a veteran player departs, many teams are left scrambling to find a replacement. The Packers, and teams who subscribe to the same build through the draft philosophy, rarely go outside of their own roster to find new contributors because they rarely have to.
There is, of course, a potential downside to a seemingly continuous youth movement – a team may have several young players come up for new contracts in the same season. The Packers are currently staring that dilemma directly in the face. Several players contracts end after this season, including Nick Collins, Jason Spitz and Aaron Kampman.
It’s possible, barring any in-season extensions, the Packers may end up losing one or more of their free agents next season, simply because they can’t afford to pay them all.
However, if Ted Thompson takes care of business, this Packers team could be consistently good for a very long time.