The shelf life of an NFL running back has been rumored to be between five and seven years, and anything more is considered amazing. There have been several players who have defied the odds and blown this number out of the water.
The brutality and constant pounding that is part of a running back's job definitely takes a toll on a player's mind and body. Team management knows this. As soon as a runner, or any NFL player, comes close to the age of 30, it strikes fear in the hearts of all general managers.
Between the ages of 27 and 30, a runner will be traded, released, replaced, cut, or at the very least placed under close scrutiny unless his play remains at a high level.
Is the player just done?
Has the players' mileage counter exceeded 100,000?
In the eyes of several GMs, players who come close to the age of 30 can no longer handle the job and are at risk of major injury that could be detrimental to the success of the team.
Even in this age of the two-running back system, when a runner comes close to the age of 30, he is now under a microscope. If it appears he has lost a step, his GM is on the phone immediately gauging his worth, trying to move the runner or both.
The current runner who has defied the odds and played well after the age of 30 is Jacksonville Jaguars RB Fred Taylor, who had a tremendous season and ran for 1,202 yards and five touchdowns.
He is now 17th on the all-time rushing list and last year was selected to his first Pro Bowl.
The NFL is a business, and you can’t fault a GM or team for protecting themselves because at the end of the day there isn’t one player that's bigger than the team.
Several things happen, such as players looking for new deals that will take them past age 30, and teams looking to address the issue with the runner at age 27.
Jamal Lewis had a good season for the Cleveland Browns and has avoided the “close to age 30” snub. He ran for 1,304 yards and nine touchdowns.
He recently signed a three-year deal, even though he might not have three years left in his legs. In the event he does and the Browns can finally beat the Steelers, Cleveland could be playing in January.
Edgerrin James ran for 1,222 yards and seven touchdowns for the Cardinals.
He isn’t the best fit for the type of offensive system coach Whisenhunt prefers. Even though his numbers in 2007 ranked fourth in the NFC, he had runs of 20 yards or more only four times last season and will turn 30 on Aug. 1.
The Cardinals might be looking to move “the Edge” at the end of the season.
In light of James' age, the Cardinals drafted running back Tim Hightower in the fifth round.
Philadelphia Eagles RB Brian Westbrook ran for 1,333 yards and seven TDs. He is a dual purpose threat who also had 90 receptions for 771 yards and five touchdowns. He is a tremendous talent and a huge part of the Eagles offense.
Westbrook is looking for a new deal. According to a league source, he is after a contract that pays him $30 million over the next three years.
It will be interesting to see what happens in Philadelphia, because Westbrook is good, but I don’t think the team will open up the vault for a 29 year old running back.
Things could change when that same running back has led the league in total offense for the past two seasons.
If he doesn’t receive a new deal it could set back the Eagles, because he could hold out of training camp.
I know that he will not fall into the category of what can only be called “homeless players,” meaning players without an NFL team.
Under that category are a few familiar names; former Bronco and Raven Mike Anderson; former Giant and Texan Ron Dayne; former Bear, Cowboy, Saint and Bill Anthony Thomas; and last but not least 2005 league MVP and former Seattle Seahawk Shaun Alexander.
Is it a coincidence that they’re all former NFL starters?
The team felt the need to cut ties with Alexander, partly due to the fact that he had signed an eight-year $62 million deal in March 2006 to remain a part of the Seattle Seahawks organization. At the time, the deal made him the highest-paid running back in league history.
It is hard to believe Alexander’s play has fallen off to the point that he is no longer in the league. The writing was on the wall in the 2007 season. All Alexander and his agent can do now is continue to wait for the right situation.
Several players over 30 have been pulled off of the NFL veteran free agent list so far. The list includes Anthony Clement (Patriots), Kevin Jones (Bears), Dan Kreider (Rams), Greg Spires (Raiders), Barry Sims (49ers), and Michael Pittman (Broncos).
You will notice that none of the free agent pick ups mentioned are lead running backs.