For Quarterbacks, the NFL Is No Country for Old Men

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For Quarterbacks, the NFL Is No Country for Old Men

The NFL is a young man's game. Father Time stalks his prey like a murderous Javier Bardem on a mission.

Just this year, Jason Hanson's retirement single-handedly reduced the average age of NFL players by three years. 

Well, not quite, but the 43-year-old's retirement was a microcosm of the youth movement in today's NFL. Older players are having more and more trouble finding work. Just look at Kerry Rhodes or Michael Turner—neither is terribly old at 30 and 31, respectively, but they have languished in free agency for months now.

The story is not so drastic at quarterback, but the position is getting younger despite the relatively advanced age of its future Hall of Famers. 

The halcyon days of 40-year-old quarterbacks might be over, unless Peyton Manning and Tom Brady can get there unscathed. Even if they do, they might be shells of their former fantastic selves.

The average age of starting quarterbacks last season was below 28. Take out Manning, Brady, Drew Brees and Carson Palmer, and it plummets to 26.9. Of course, that's hardly fair—the first three in that list are arguably the top three in the sport until further notice.

But that notice could be around the corner.

These averages are no fluke. The previous season featured the youngest average age of leaders at quarterback. "When it comes to age, the passing leaders are an average 28.9 years old. The youngest season was 2011 with 27.5 years old," wrote Bleacher Report's Scott Kacsmar over at Cold, Hard Football Facts.

The average age of Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks over the past five years is 28, though that is a number that might be quite higher were it not for David Tyree's heroics or Wes Welker's big drop.

The next wave of starters at quarterback has crashed on the sandy beaches of the NFL.

Aaron Rodgers, Joe Flacco and Matt Ryan are the oldest of these at 29 and 28, respectively, but there is a host of budding stars 25 years old and under.

Thirteen current NFL starters are 25 and under. If EJ Manuel (23), Geno Smith (22) or Matt Barkley (22) can win starting gigs, that number will go up.

Matthew Stafford just inked a huge extension—his second massive contract in the NFL—at age 25. He has thrown for over 10,000 yards in the past two seasons alone, though it helps to have the best receiver in the game.

While panned in some circles, he is poised to jump into the conversation as one of the top five quarterbacks in the league. That is, of course, if he can fix his mechanical issues and keep his head on straight.

Rob Carr/Getty Images
They are the future, and they can run.

Cam Newton (24) and Colin Kaepernick (25) are in their third seasons in the league, both bringing the pain to opposing defenses with their legs. The dynamic quarterbacks have helped create a new breed of running quarterback.

Andy Dalton (25) hasn't produced the fireworks of some of his young compatriots, but he has led the Bengals to two straight playoff appearances. With a little more seasoning, continued dominance from A.J. Green and continuing improvement elsewhere around him, Dalton might actually win one of those games.

Despite seemingly starting for the Buccaneers for the past decade, Josh Freeman is only 24 years old. He has had a roller-coaster career but still possesses the potential to be great. Sam Bradford is still 25 years young after three years with the Rams.

Then there is last year's unprecedented rookie class, led by Andrew Luck (23), Russell Wilson (23) and reigning Rookie of the Year Robert Griffin III (24). Those three have just about completed the youth movement at the position, even if Brandon Weeden (29) doesn't do much to help the average age of that class.

Beyond the amazing trio, Ryan Tannehill (24) is poised to make a big leap with the Dolphins in his second year. Even some of the backups like Nick Foles (24) and Kirk Cousins (24) could have a chance to shine in the coming years.

Of course, youth is no guarantor of success. 

Indeed, this crop of budding NFL stars will need to stay on that trajectory if they want to continue buoying the young generation.

There are also some duds in that group to date, most notably Christian Ponder (25), Jake Locker (24) and Blaine Gabbert (23). They are both young and talented enough to be given another shot or two as starters, though.

The old guard is set to give way to the new breed. Many of these players will be the top dogs at quarterback in their late 20s, but some are already there.

 

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