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September 01, 2019

Analysis of the Eagles' very old roster

Eagles NFL
090119JasonPeters Eric Hartline/USA TODAY Sports

Jason Peters and Darren Sproles are both old.

The Philadelphia Eagles' roster is so old, they remember Fifty Cent when he was a penny. The Eagles' roster is so old, they walked out of a museum and the alarm went off. The Eagles' roster is so old, they knew Mr. Clean when he had an afro. 

090119OhSnap

OK, I'll stop. But seriously, the Eagles' roster is old. In fact, at 53-man cutdowns on Saturday, it was the second oldest roster in the NFL:

 TeamAverage age Team Average age 
Dolphins 25.2 (1) Ravens 25.9 (17)
Bucs 25.4 (2) Giants 26.0 (18)
Browns 25.4 (3) Texans 26.0 (19)
Seahawks 25.5 (4) Washington 26.1 (20)
Packers 25.5 (5) Saints26.2 (21)
Vikings 25.5 (6) Bears 26.2 (22)
Colts 25.6 (7) Lions 26.2 (23)
Jaguars 25.6 (8) Cowboys 26.3 (24)
Raiders 25.6 (9) Panthers 26.3 (25)
Rams 25.6 (10) Bills 26.3 (26)
Broncos 25.7 (11) Cardinals 26.4 (27)
49ers 25.7 (12) Falcons 26.5 (28)
Bengals 25.7 (13) Titans 26.5 (29)
Steelers 25.7 (14) Jets 26.5 (30)
Chargers 25.8 (15) Eagles 26.6 (31)
Chiefs 25.9 (16) Patriots 27.0 (32)

The above chart begs the question, "Should Eagles fans begin to crack each others' heads open, and feast on the goo inside?" I would say, not yet, but maybe soon.

To begin, let's first take a moment to acknowledge that Howie Roseman has built one of the most talented rosters in the NFL. The Eagles are unquestionably Super Bowl contenders, you know, as long as the quarterback stays healthy, and fans should go right ahead and enjoy them this season.

However, creating a team that can compete for a Super Bowl year-in and year-out is difficult, and the fact that the Eagles currently have the second-oldest roster in the NFL should indicate that challenges staying near the top lie ahead.


MORE: Ranking NFL teams by age after 53-man cutdowns: 2019 edition


The Eagles' increase in age

A year ago, the Eagles actually had the 11th youngest roster in the NFL, at an average age of 25.7 years old. In 2019, as you can see in the chart above, they are now at 26.6, gaining almost a year. When this fact was pointed out on Twitter, a gaggle of morons responded, "gEe, tHaNKs fOr pOiNTiNg oUt ThaT a yEaR lAteR tHeY'Re a yEaR oLDeR!"

Of course, by that logic, the Eagles' average age in 1983 would have been -10.6 years old, and by the time 2119 rolls around, their average age will be 126.6.

The reality is that the Eagles are tied with the Cowboys for the biggest year-over-year jump in age in the NFL from 2018 to 2019, at an average increase of 0.9 years. The next closest teams (there were three of them) had an increase of 0.5 years on average.

But they'll get significantly younger in 2020 when they lose Josh McCown, Jason Peters,and Darren Sproles after this season, right?

Yes, if indeed McCown (40), Peters (37), and Sproles (36) are no longer on the roster in 2020, getting the collective ages of that trio off the tally will lower the overall average, obviously.

However, it's noteworthy that the Eagles currently have the fifth-most players in the NFL who are 30 years of age or older. They also have the most players in the NFL who are 29 years of age or older:

 Team29+ year old players Team 29+ year old players 
 Eagles18 Texans 11 
 Patriots16  Chargers11 
 Cardinals16  Giants11 
 Panthers15  Raiders10 
 Falcons14  Vikings10 
 Saints14  Seahawks
 Titans13  Colts
 Lions13  Jaguars
 Ravens12  Broncos
 Bears12  Chiefs
 Cowboys12  Packers
 Washington12  Buccaneers
 Bengals11  Rams
 Steelers11  49ers
 Bills11  Browns
 Jets11  Dolphins


11 of the 18 Eagles players who will be 30 years old this time next year are starters. In other words, the Eagles' future age concerns can't just be hand-waived away by noting that McCown, Peters, and Sproles will all be gone.


MORE: Analysis of the Eagles' initial 53-man roster after final cuts


How did they get so old?

It's difficult to imagine how the Eagles could have the biggest increase in age year-over-year during an offseason in which they lost more than a handful of older players, like Haloti Ngata (35) Chris Long (34), Michael Bennett (33), Golden Tate (31), and Nick Foles (30), but they did! 

Why? Well, the players they added in free agency (and via trades) kept their overall age high. A list of some of their older additions:

  1. Josh McCown (40)
  2. DeSean Jackson (32)
  3. Vinny Curry (31)
  4. Andrew Sendejo (31)
  5. Malik Jackson (29)
  6. Zach Brown (29)
  7. L.J. Fort (29)
  8. Johnathan Cyprien (29)

In each of the last three offseasons, Roseman has employed an "old guy strategy" in free agency, which we detailed back in March. The Cliff's Notes (with some slight editing) from that piece:

Roseman's "old guy strategy" makes some sense, as he is able to acquire contributing role players at a low cost, because they're old. It paid off big-time for the Eagles in their run to the Super Bowl in 2017. In 2018, however, the five old guys Roseman acquired missed a combined 30 games, which is a risk with older players, despite improving sports science. Those players were also largely ineffective when they were on the field, Michael Bennett aside.

Roseman is obviously going back to the "old guy strategy" in 2019. Best two out of three?

Meanwhile, in the draft, the Eagles only selected five players, and one didn't even make the team. That was one year after the Eagles, again, only had five draft picks. As we have noted several times this offseason, the Eagles are tied with the Titans for the lowest number of picks made over the last two years:

Team 2018 2019 TOTAL 
Bengals 11 10 21 
 Colts11 10 21 
 Ravens12 20 
 Vikings12 20 
 Seahawks11 20 
 Packers11 19 
 Rams11 19 
 Patriots10 19 
 Raiders18 
 Washington10 18 
 Cardinals11 17 
 Cowboys17 
 49ers17 
 Bills16 
 Browns16 
 Broncos10 16 
 Giants10 16 
 Steelers16 
 Buccaneers16 
 Panthers15 
 Lions15 
 Texans15 
 Jaguars14 
 Chargers14 
 Dolphins14 
 Falcons13 
 Bears12 
 Chiefs12 
 Saints12 
 Jets12 
 Eagles5 5 10 
 Titans10 


The Eagles had two undrafted free agent rookies (Nate Herbig and T.J. Edwards) make the team in 2019, and one (Bruce Hector) make it in 2018. Hector is already gone.


MORE: Eagles 2019 depth chart | Eagles 2020 compensatory draft pick tracker


How do they stop this age acceleration?

Well, the science of age fluctuation of NFL rosters isn't very complicated. Players who carry over from one year to the next all gain a year of age, but that gain in age is offset league-wide by a combination of a couple hundred incoming rookies taking the place of outgoing aging veterans who see their careers end.

The Eagles continue to add older players in free agency each year, but they have not simultaneously filled the pipeline through the draft with young players, at least in volume.

While filling the roster with older, low-cost veterans who can immediately fill roles is fine in the short term, at some point the Eagles will have to reserve some of those roster spots for rookie draft picks, (a) so that they're not suddenly left with an empty cupboard of young talent, and (b) so they have more players on cheap rookie contracts, which is a necessity now that Carson Wentz is no longer on his rookie deal.

Conclusion

Ultimately, the Eagles' roster construction remains sound. They prioritize quarterback, offensive tackle, the defensive line, and to a lesser degree, cornerback and wide receiver. All of those positions have been addressed early in the draft since Roseman reemerged from his basement hideout in 2016.

Still, the team cannot continue to make a small number of draft picks anymore, or they run a serious risk of a major rebuild in a few years.


*Those "Yo momma's so old" jokes were stolen from various places online.

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