The Green Bay Packers have a well-deserved reputation for keeping their roster young and productive.
A big part of that strategy is to discard players whose skills are on the decline. How does the 2016 roster stack up?
Let’s use age 30 as a starting point. The likely Packers roster will feature the following players 30 or older: Julius Peppers (36), Aaron Rodgers (32), Mason Crosby (32), Jordy Nelson (31), James Starks (30), Clay Matthews III (30), and Josh Sitton (30). How many of these players can we describe as on the downside, or past their peak years?
Peppers fits the description, but we need to add an asterisk. We know from last year that his age means fewer reps, though not necessarily declining performance. Peppers in fact led the team with 10.5 sacks last year, even though his number of snaps were down.
Many sports experts are predicting Aaron Rodgers will be the league’s MVP this year, so it’s pretty safe to conclude that Aaron has not yet peaked. In fact, last year’s top six QBs, in terms of passing yardage, were: Drew Brees (37), Philip Rivers (34), Tom Brady (39), Carson Palmer (36), Matt Ryan (31), and Eli Manning (35).
Mason Crosby certainly isn’t on the downside, as kickers can excel into their 40s.
Jordy Nelson doesn’t rely on stunning physical assets to get the job done. His strengths are preparation, discipline, and savvy. So long as his knee fully heals, he should still be going strong at 34 or 35. Plus, an entire year of rest has to be rejuvenating.
Running backs have among the shortest NFL careers, so James Starks, at 30 years old could be at or past his peak. I’d argue, however, he’s not there yet for a number of reasons. First, with 555 career carries, Starks is low mileage – compare that to the 2,702 carries of Frank Gore (33), 2,381 for Adrian Peterson (31), or 2,035 for Matt Forte (30). Eddie Lacy had 530 carries in his first two years alone, plus another 61 in the postseason. Second, Starks had a pretty strong year in 2015 (except for fumbles), including by far his best stats as a receiver. Third, Starks is athletically gifted, and he keeps himself in great condition.
Clay Matthews just turned 30 in May. Based solely on his genetic makeup – his uncle and his father both played for 19 years in the NFL – Clay’s peak might not occur for another three or four years.
Josh Sitton turned 30 in June. The worry here is not so much his age as that injuries are taking their toll on the veteran. But he is a reliable and consummate professional, so his performance isn’t likely to precipitously drop off. Sitton also has an added incentive: his five-year contract is up after this season.
It’s a credit to the front office that in recent years players who are in decline have been eased off the roster.
Among the players who have fairly quietly exited of late: John Kuhn (33), Brett Goode (31), James Jones (32), and B.J. Raji (30).
Age was likely a factor in still other departures, such as and Mike Neal (29) and Scott Tolzien (29 in September).
The bottom line – and a good omen for 2016 – is that almost every returning Packer player should be better this season than last.
Agree in general, except the Packers tried to resign Raji. I believe the only thing that saved the Packers from throwing away more money on Raji was Raji. Thank you Raji for helping the team out on that move. Also fairly confident Neal was not resigned because Neal never has been, and never will be productive. Neal’s last contract at 4 mil a year was a mistake. Glad the team finally saw the error of their ways. Always felt like Neal was like Brad Jones, and that is not a compliment.
Wow, glass half full guy huh? I usually come to this site for a bit of cynicism.