7 NFL Veterans on Their Last Legs
The NFL is cruel to aging players who don’t know how to deal with losing some of their athleticism. Every year it seems like a handful of players hit the wall and just look old. This year won’t be any different.
Looking across the NFL, I pinpointed several veterans who are on the last leg of their careers. We can expect to see a drop in production from this list of players. It’s even possible that they experience a drop in playing time.
Justin Tuck, New York Giants
Justin Tuck has had a terrific career with the New York Giants, but his time as a top-notch pass-rusher is over. His numbers over the past two seasons show a player who just doesn’t have the same type of impact on the game.
Tuck has only registered a combined total of nine sacks over that time period. The Giants have noticed his decline which is one of the reasons why they drafted Jason Pierre-Paul a few years ago and added Damontre Moore in the third round of this year’s draft.
New York will still keep Tuck in the rotation because he offers help against the run, but look for them to consider taking him off the field in passing situations.
Greg Jennings, Minnesota Vikings
The Minnesota Vikings took a pretty significant risk when they signed Greg Jennings to a five-year deal worth $45 million. Jennings is 29 years old and coming off two injury-plagued seasons with the Green Bay Packers.
In those two seasons, Jennings saw his production drop off to the point where he failed to top the 1,000-yard mark.
He now heads to a Vikings team that has issues at the quarterback position and likes to focus more on running the ball. Jennings needs Christian Ponder to take a step forward in his development if he hopes to have a bounce-back season.
Ed Reed, Houston Texans
Ed Reed’s decision to sign with the Houston Texans was a bit of a surprise, but it seems like the Baltimore Ravens were ready to part ways with their aging safety. They are hoping that rookie Matt Elam can step in and help ease the loss of Reed.
Despite dealing with nagging injuries and age, Reed has been productive over the past few seasons. The Texans must feel that he has a few years left or they wouldn’t have signed him to a three-year, $15 million deal.
However, Houston shouldn’t expect the same type of player we all have come to know. Reed has lost a step and heads into the season recovering from a hip injury.
Troy Polamalu, Pittsburgh Steelers
Troy Polamalu has missed 22 games over the past four seasons due to injury. His inability to remain healthy has taken a toll on his production and the play of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ defense. At this point, the Steelers need to head into the season expecting Polamalu to miss a few games.
The combination of injuries and age has taken some quickness away from Polamalu. He isn’t able to run sideline to sideline like he could in the past.
Pittsburgh used a fourth-round pick in this year’s draft to bring in safety prospect Shamarko Thomas. He has the potential to both be the long-term solution at safety and an injury replacement for Polamalu. Another injury-riddled season could spell the end of Polamalu’s time with the Steelers.
James Harrison, Cincinnati Bengals
The Pittsburgh Steelers cut ties with James Harrison this offseason in large part because the team wanted to get younger on defense. This led to Harrison signing with the division-rival Cincinnati Bengals.
Cincinnati needs to temper its expectations for the 35-year-old linebacker. Over the past two seasons, Harrison has seen his production drop and has dealt with several injuries.
It’s also important to note that the Bengals’ defense is nothing like the one in Pittsburgh. Harrison is going to have to find a way to adjust to a new scheme while he still battles age and injury concerns.
Steven Jackson, Atlanta Falcons
Over the course of his career, Steven Jackson has tallied a total of 2,395 carries which puts him at an average of around 266 carries a season. This is a lot of wear and tear on a body. As a comparison, only 11 running backs this past season topped the 266-carry mark.
NFL teams are starting to realize that running backs break down earlier in their career the more carries they receive. Jackson is just the latest example of that trend.
The Atlanta Falcons are hoping that Jackson has enough left in the tank to help them make a run at the Super Bowl. They may have to consider limiting his touches in the regular season with the hope that he’s fresh for the playoffs.
Jonathan Vilma, New Orleans Saints
Jonathan Vilma is facing an interesting situation this upcoming season. He’s not only dealing with being a year older, but he also faces the challenge of adjusting to a new defensive system. The New Orleans Saints brought in Rob Ryan this offseason to help switch the defense to a 3-4 alignment.
Vilma also needs to show up to training camp ready to compete. He’ll face some heavy competition from David Hawthorne and Curtis Lofton for a starting job.
The Saints may prefer to go with the younger and quicker options rather than rely on Vilma’s experience. Either way, he can expect to see less playing time and more of a challenge working his way to the football.