Last week on ESPN Insider, I took a look at which NFL offenses enter 2015 in win-now mode after adding veterans this offseason, and which are getting younger and building for the future. Today, we'll take a look at the same metrics for the defensive side of the ball.
Once again, we're going to be analyzing teams using Football Outsiders' snap-weighted age metric, which measures the average age of the players on a team based on which players actually played that season. A player with 1,000 snaps counts twice as much as a player with just 500 snaps. This offseason, for the first time, we decided to create an approximate snap-weighted age estimate for each offense and defense. We analyzed projected starting lineups and created formulas to project the average number of snaps played by lower-round picks based on position. Of course, we can't predict where injuries will force teams to start rookies and other young players. But by looking at where teams added free agents and where they drafted rookies, we can get an idea of which offenses and defenses are building for the future and which want to win now.
A reminder: Getting older/younger doesn't necessarily make a team better or worse. (Older teams do perform slightly better based on Football Outsiders' DVOA metrics, but it's a small correlation: 0.15 on offense and 0.17 on defense.) With that in mind, let's look at the five offenses that are build to win now. (You can find the five defenses that are built with the future in mind here.)
All player ages listed below are for 2015, based solely on birth year.
2014: 26.2 (24th-oldest) / 2015, estimated: 27.6 (third)
The Saints apparently missed the memo: Teams facing a salary-cap crunch are supposed to get younger, not older. The offense was already the league's oldest -- and isn't getting that much younger. And now, after adding a slew of veterans this offseason, the defense is projected to be the NFL's third-oldest unit.
Last year, only two players in their 30s played at least 20 percent of defensive snaps for New Orleans: Brodrick Bunkley and Parys Haralson. This year, we estimate there will be seven. Bunkley (32) is still there, but some of his rotational snaps will go to a free-agent addition who is even older, Kevin Williams (35). The two starting linebackers, holdover David Hawthorne and trade acquisition Dannell Ellerbe, are both 30, while Brandon Browner (31) takes over as a starting cornerback. The Saints drafted three defensive players in the first three rounds, but none of these players is expected to start as a rookie.
With all these veterans coming aboard, it's hard for anyone to complain that the Saints aren't doing everything they can to get Drew Brees back to one last Super Bowl before he retires. Well, except for Jimmy Graham. He might not agree. Along with anyone who is friends with him, or anyone who has ever seen him play.