Young and old of West as free agency nears

The Seattle Seahawks and St. Louis Rams take two of the NFL's youngest rosters into the free-agent signing period Tuesday.

The first chart shows where teams in the division rank after subtracting from rosters those players scheduled to become unrestricted free agents at 4 p.m. ET. I also eliminated from consideration kickers, punters and long-snappers because age variations matter less at those positions.

Age Ranks, Minus Specialists

Levi Brown, Justin Bannan, Jason Brown, Fred Robbins, James Hall and Ron Bartell were among the players I removed from rosters based on reports indicating their releases were imminent.

A relatively small difference in average across 50 or 60 players can give us a general feel for a roster. NFL careers can be short. Every year counts. That is why general managers and salary-cap analysts pay attention to where their teams stand in these areas.

The Rams have the youngest offensive players in the league. The Seahawks have the youngest defensive players by a wide margin. The 49ers have the oldest specialists, and their overall team age increased after adding 35-year-old receiver Randy Moss.

Last offseason, the Rams patched their roster with veterans signed to one-year deals. In retrospect, that reflected a team with less young depth than would have been ideal.

The Cardinals have the second-oldest offensive linemen in the NFL. That is not always bad. The New York Giants have the oldest offensive linemen on average; they just won a Super Bowl. AFC champion New England has the fourth-oldest players at the position.

Having an older line is tolerable and even preferable if that line has strong talent and has played together for years. But the combination of advanced age and below-average talent signals an inability to improve over time.

The Cardinals will presumably add younger linemen through the draft and possibly free agency.

The 49ers, though strong along the defensive line, have the fourth-oldest players at that position when we count Aldon Smith as an outside linebacker. That is one area the team could address for the future. Justin Smith, arguably the NFL's best defensive lineman, turns 33 before the season and has started 171 consecutive games, 92 more than any active defensive lineman in the NFL.

The chart below shows age ranks for teams by position and overall, counting specialists.


NFC West Average Ages