Patriots' 30-and-over club grows as team balances experience, youth

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- In signing 31-year-old defensive end Chris Long and 32-year-old receiver Nate Washington to one-year contracts within a span of a few days last week, the New England Patriots inched closer to the top of the NFL for most players in their 30s on a roster.

The Patriots currently have nine, with receiver Julian Edelman set to make it 10 in May.

While rosters are fluid across the league with daily personnel changes, only the Ravens, Jets and Colts (all with 11) and Falcons, Steelers and Browns (all with 10) have more than New England, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

Five other teams are tied with the Patriots at nine.

The Rams, on the other hand, have a league-low two players on their roster who are in their 30s. For further contrast, the Broncos and Seahawks have just three apiece.

This is the balance that teams often must strike in free agency, sprinkling in some experienced veterans but being careful not to voluntarily make themselves older (and possibly slower) in a league that seems to trend younger and faster each year. The 2015 Indianapolis Colts -- who signed receiver Andre Johnson, running back Frank Gore and defensive end Trent Cole to big deals last offseason -- are one of the most recent cautionary tales in this area.

Of the Patriots’ nine players in their 30s, most have a good chance to be on the final roster:

QB Tom Brady (38) -- He obviously isn’t going anywhere, and is a reminder that senior citizen status in the NFL isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

WR Nate Washington (32) -- He’ll vie for a roster spot as a No. 3-4 option, but his lack of work on special teams could count against him.

DE Rob Ninkovich (32) -- Steady as they come, he’s a calming and reliable presence on and off the field.

K Stephen Gostkowski (32) -- He hasn’t seemed to lose much (if any) leg strength and remains one of the game’s best at the position.

OT Sebastian Vollmer (31) -- The starting right tackle enters the final year of his contract; when healthy, he’s been one of the NFL’s best at the position.

DE Chris Long (31) -- The Patriots signed him with the intention that he’d be a part of their plans.

DT Alan Branch (31) -- A 15-game starter last year, he turned in a solid season and the Patriots would be pleased to see a duplicate of that effort in 2016.

ST Matthew Slater (30) -- A perennial Pro Bowler, he’s still viewed around the NFL as one of the game’s premier special-teamers.

WR Danny Amendola (30) -- No. 3 receiver had a rebound season and has earned the trust of Brady. That should earn him a spot on the team, although economics could be a factor.

WR Julian Edelman (turns 30 on May 22) -- He’s the team’s No. 1 option at the position and when he’s not there, the offense hasn’t seemed the same.