NFL teams get­ting too young?

Rome News-Tribune - - SPORTS - By Josh Dubow AP Pro Foot­ball Writer

ALAMEDA, Calif. — When NaVorro Bow­man joined the Oak­land Raiders days af­ter be­ing let go in a youth move­ment in San Fran­cisco he made a procla­ma­tion.

“I’m only 29 years old and I still have a lot of juice left in me,” he said.

That Bow­man even needed to make the case that a player still in his 20s wasn’t over the hill shows how much the game has changed since he en­tered the league in 2010. Play­ers at ages once con­sid­ered to be their prime play­ing years now strug­gle to find jobs.

The NFL has un­der­gone a dra­matic youth move­ment in the past decade as teams grow more in­clined to go with cheaper, more in­ex­peri- enced play­ers ahead of sea­soned veter­ans.

The change is a re­flec- tion of the col­lec­tive bar­gain­ing agree­ment signed be­fore the 2011 sea­son that capped rookie salaries and lim- ited the chances for young play­ers to rene- go­ti­ate deals they had out­per­formed.

“I thought the rea­son we sup­pos­edly changed the CBA was to keep vet­eran guys around, quote-un­quote, but that hasn’t been what’s ma- teri­al­ized,” said Wash- in­g­ton cor­ner­back DeAn­gelo Hall, who en- tered the league in 2004. “It’s been: go younger, go cheaper.”

While teams are still will­ing to shell out big money to quar­ter­backs, elite pass rush­ers, shut­down cor­ner­backs, a few dom­i­nant of­fen­sive line­men and some big-play re­ceivers, they are fill­ing out the rest of the ros­ter with play­ers mostly on rookie con­tracts. The cur­rent CBA capped rookie salaries for the first four years — and an ex­tra fifth for first-round picks — with the idea that more money would be avail­able to veter­ans on sec­ond and third con­tracts. But that wealth has only ma­te­ri­al­ized for a mi­nor­ity of stars at key po­si­tions, with a large share of veter­ans get­ting left be­hind.

“Veter­ans are be­ing passed over in fa­vor of younger play­ers who cost half as much and don’t even have a frac­tion of the ex­pe­ri­ence,” said long­time agent David Can­ter. “When­ever that hap­pens, re­gard­less of pro­fes­sion, the qual­ity of the prod­uct is go­ing to de­crease. The new CBA helped cre­ate this en­vi­ron­ment as own­ers duped the play­ers and NFLPA into think­ing that the sav­ings on rookie con­tracts via an un­nec­es­sary rookie scale would be passed along to vet­eran play­ers, with the union scor­ing the vic­tory of less time in fa­cil­i­ties in the off­sea­son.”

In­stead the re­duced off­sea­son prac­tice time, elim­i­na­tion of train­ing camp two-a-days, and the re­duc­tion of in-sea­son padded prac­tices in hopes of mak­ing the game safer have hurt the qual­ity of play even more; young play­ers get even less prepa­ra­tion.

The Raiders were a per­fect ex­am­ple of how the move to go young can be detri­men­tal. De­spite a glar­ing need at line­backer in the off­sea­son, gen­eral man­ager Reg­gie McKen­zie re­fused to spend money to up­grade the po­si­tion, al­low­ing a proven vet­eran like Zach Brown to sign with Wash­ing­ton de­spite vis­it­ing Oak­land first.

That de­ci­sion back­fired as the team strug­gled at the po­si­tion and even was forced to use a pair of un­drafted rook­ies be­cause of in­juries to other young play­ers be­fore sign­ing Bow­man last week to so­lid­ify the spot.

While ag­ing quar­ter­backs like Tom Brady and Drew Brees get much of the fo­cus, the rest of the league is get­ting younger around them. In nearly ev­ery ma­jor sta­tis­ti­cal cat­e­gory the per­cent­age of pro­duc­tion in the league com­ing from play­ers age 25 and younger has risen sig­nif­i­cantly com­pared to a decade ago. Play­ers in their 30s who used to serve as men­tors for young play­ers are be­com­ing a dy­ing breed.

Now the young guys are called on to do it all. The share of pro­duc­tion from play­ers age 25 and younger has shot up in the past decade. Nearly 60 per­cent of all yards rush­ing come from that age group com­pared to 42 per­cent in 2007.

That pat­tern is echoed across nearly all statis­tics, with the share of yards re­ceiv­ing for young play­ers jump­ing from 37 per­cent to 48 per­cent; touch­downs ris­ing from 41 per­cent to 51 per­cent; yards pass­ing go­ing from 22 per­cent to 32 per­cent; and tack­les in­creas­ing from 39 per­cent to 48 per­cent as play­ers on rookie con­tracts get more re­spon­si­bil­ity.

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