10 Pro Bowl seasons, six first-team All Pro seasons, and still the second-youngest unit in the NFL? That’s just not fair.
The Cowboys offensive line has combined for 10 Pro Bowl appearances and six first-team All-Pro seasons. It features three former first-round picks in Tyron Smith, Travis Frederick, and Zack Martin, and an undrafted free agent in La’el Collins who was widely held to be a first-round talent.
Tyron Smith (26) – Chaz Green (25) – Travis Frederick (26) – Zack Martin (26) – La’El Collins (24)
This lineup has an average age of 25.9 on opening day of the 2017 NFL season, and would be the second-youngest O-line in the NFL behind only the Seahawks (25.4). For the Cowboys, the lineup above is one likely scenario, but it isn’t he only possible scenario. There’s also the possibility that Jonathan Cooper (27) might beat out Chaz Green for the starting left guard spot. With Cooper at left guard, the line’s average age on opening day would increase to 26.4, which would still leave the Cowboys with the sixth-youngest O-line in the NFL this year. If you’re not a Cowboys fan, that’s got to be a scary thought.
The NFL is a young man’s game, and player agent Jack Bechta recently opined in the National Football Post that teams are more focused on age than ever.
In twenty-even years as an agent I never heard teams talk more about players ages than they do now. If you are on the wrong side of 30, not named Manning, Brady, or Brees, you may as well be ready for a tap on the shoulder any day to be shown the exit.
But back to the Cowboys and where they rank in the league. Here’s how all NFL teams compare in total combined O-line age, based on the Ourlads.com depth charts (which are usually quite accurate and up-to-date):
|Rank||Team||Avg. Age||Rank||Team||Avg. Age||Rank||Team||Avg. Age|
Keep in mind that these are averages, and because there are only five guys counting against the total of each team, having an older veteran on the line can give a false impression if you only look at the average.
A look at the NFC East division rivals shows a mixed picture. After years of struggling with their O-line the Giants have invested in youth and now show the fourth-youngest O-line with an average age of 26.2. The Redskins rank in the middle of the field with 27.6 years, while the Eagles have the oldest line in the league with an average age of 30.8. By NFL standards, that’s ancient, and the Eagles might find that out the hard way this year.
As a general rule, you want your O-line (like any other position other than perhaps QB) to be younger rather than older. For one thing, as players become older, the risk of injury becomes exponential. But as they become older, they also become more expensive as they come off their rookie contracts. The Cowboys have already handed out mega-million contracts to Tyron Smith and Travis Frederick, and they will soon make Zack Martin the highest-paid guard in the NFL.
And a quick look at the cap totals for 2017 O-lines seems to confirm this: The Seahawks have the youngest O-line in the league and also have the lowest cap hit for their unit at $16 million. The Eagles O-line is the oldest in the league and has the second-highest cap hit at $46.1 million.
Obviously those numbers are a mid-June snapshot and could still change, but there is no doubt that younger O-lines come at a (relatively) lower cap hit.
For the Cowboys, their investment in the offensive line is paying off nicely. Not only do they have one of the best lines in the league, they also have a young core, which they have been continuously refreshing.
But nothing lasts forever, and at some point even the Cowboys O-line will grow older and (much) more expensive – if the Cowboys don’t bring in fresh blood regularly. And that’s why they drafted Chaz Green two years ago, and why they’ll likely draft more offensive linemen next year. They may not be sexy picks, but they are the type of picks that keep your O-line young, effective, and affordable.
Tyron Smith is entering his seventh year in the league, Travis Frederick is on the brink of his fifth, and Zack Martin is looking at his fourth. Yet combined with La’el Collins and Chaz Green, they could still form the second-youngest O-line in the league.