The NFL is getting younger and it is a growing concern.
The Ringer’s Kevin Clark talked to various coaches and executives about how players are entering the league younger, and the game is not being played at as high of a level as was once expected.
“It’s just a fact, you have to continue to load your team with younger players, in hopes they are ready to go and ready to play productive football,” Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis told Clark. “And yet, they are staying less in college, the rules are prohibitive, and [college] coaches are spending less time with players in college. The process from the bottom-up is shrunk, and you have to try to move them forward as quickly as you can.”
Rule changes throughout the years have contributed to this issue that Clark said is a rare consensus among executives and coaches. Hard salary caps, the rookie-wage scale and limits on practice time in both college and the NFL have led to players entering the league as fast as possible. However, they need to be productive players just as fast. Today the NFL has some of the greatest athletes the world has ever seen, but many are not fundamentally sound football players.
Green Bay Packers head coach Mike McCarthy told Clark a great example of this is on the offensive line. When he started coaching it was common to see 35-year-old linemen. This season the Packers cut their oldest lineman, Josh Sitton, who is 30 years old.
Shaving costs by getting younger is a common business practice. The problem that many companies live with is putting a lot of responsibility on someone who isn’t quite ready to handle it, which is a problem with the market that can be seen clearly in the NFL.
Rookie contracts are the cheapest, so loading as many of them onto a roster as possible and paying a few stars handsomely makes financial sense. However, this isn’t basketball. There are 22 starters on a team, not five. So a “big three” can’t help. For a team to be able to develop and retain quality depth consistently, there have to be some changes to the collective bargaining agreement.