After the great salary cap purge which gutted the team, the 2005 edition of the Tennessee Titans was the youngest team in the league. Only three of their starters were age 30 or older, ten were 25-29 and nine were younger than 25. The NFL’s youngest team finished the season with a 4-12 record, third worst in the league.
How times have changed. After three consecutive years of improved records, including two playoff berths, the Titans added some veterans and have matured into what will be one of the oldest teams in the league this season.
Tennessee’s projected starters for 2009 fall into the following age groups — nine players in their thirties, nine from 25-29 and only four under the age of 25.
Following are the ages of the projected 2009 starters by the end of the year. As you can see, the Titans are top-heavy with older players.
Kevin Mawae, 38
Kerry Collins, 37
Nick Harper, 35
Jevon Kearse, 33
Keith Bulluck, 32
Alge Crumpler, 32
David Thornton, 31
Kyle Vanden Bosch, 31
Ahmard Hall, 30
Chris Hope, 29
Tony Brown, 29
Justin Gage, 28
Jake Scott, 28
Eugene Amano, 27
Michael Roos, 27
David Stewart, 27
Nate Washington, 26
Cortland Finnegan, 25
Stephen Tulloch, 24
Michael Griffin, 24
Chris Johnson, 24
Jason Jones, 23
So what does all of this mean? Well, it certainly means the Titans are a lot more experienced than they were before, which is good in one way. However, there’s a point when a team becomes too old.
I am reminded of this by the two most successful teams of a decade over the last fifty years. Here’s a look at the age groups of their starters at the end of their successful streaks.
The Green Bay Packers of the 1960s won five NFL championships in seven years. The starters of their 1967 team
, which won that fifth championship, was slightly older than the 2009 Titans will be. Green Bay’s 1967 starting lineup had ten players in their thirties, ten from 25-29 and two under the age of 25.
The Pittsburgh Steelers of the 1970s won four Super Bowls in six years. Their 1979 team, which won Pittsburgh’s fourth Super Bowl, was very similar in age to the Titans’ projected 2009 starters. That Steelers team
had eight starters aged 30 or older, eleven aged 25-29 and three under 25.
And here’s what I mean about a team getting too old. Both of those dynasties fell into decline following their glory days.
After their run of five titles in seven years, the Packers had their first losing season of the decade in 1968, with a record of 6-7-1, followed by only two winning seasons in the next nine years. Their older players who didn’t retire weren’t as good as they once were.
The decline of the 1970s Steelers wasn’t as precipitous but it was a decline nonetheless. Pittsburgh played merely mediocre football, earning playoff berths in just three of the next nine years and a 1-3 postseason record in that time.
Can the Titans avoid a decline similar to the hard times suffered by those two great teams?
The main advantage that Tennessee and all other teams of this era have is free agency. Prior to free agency, teams had to rely heavily upon the draft to improve their rosters, developing their own talent. Now there’s new veteran talent on the market every year, enabling teams to replace older players with younger, but still experienced, veterans.
As I wrote in this article
on Sunday, Mawae, Harper, Kearse, Bulluck, Crumpler and Vanden Bosch are all over 30 and in the final year of their contracts.
I’m looking forward to the Titans 2009 season, hoping the older players stay healthy and don’t have their skills diminish too much. But I’ll keep in mind that this will be the last season in Tennessee for some of those veterans.