Since the Green Bay Packers’ 2012 season ended, the team has lost three of their oldest veterans in that of Donald Driver (37, retired), Jeff Saturday (37, retired) and Charles Woodson (36, released). That makes defensive lineman Ryan Pickett their oldest player at 33 and the only veteran on the current roster with 10 or more years of experience.
It’s impossible to say what the team’s average age will be come the end of this year’s training camp, but it is clear that the team is headed for a youth movement for the next year or two.
The Packers being one of the league’s youngest teams is nothing new to most of us who will recall that from 2006 – 2009, they were the NFL’s youngest. In 2011, the Packers were third youngest and in 2012 they were fifth youngest roster in the league. In 2013, the Packers will be strong contenders for the “youngest” label once again.
Here is a list of players , courtesy of ESPN, that were on the roster during the 2012 season. I don’t expect the team to bring running backs Cedric Benson nor Ryan Grant back in 2013. That leaves John Kuhn as the only player currently 30 years old or more. Several players are set to turn 30 this year; AJ Hawk, Aaron Rodgers, Tramon Williams and Greg Jennings.
Jennings is almost certainly not going to return. There has been some talk that the team could decide to part ways with Hawk. Aaron Rodgers is as good as set in stone for the Packers and, if Jennings departs, becomes the team’s fourth oldest player. Williams is expected back but will surely face competition this offseason to keep his starting cornerback slot.
The team could turn to free agency to fill some of the voids left by departed players and in need areas. It’s hard to say whether they would get after a younger player that they hope will be around for a while or if they might take a chance on another player of Saturday’s caliber to shore up a position that is still a year or two away from being set.
This has been General Manager Ted Thompson’s strategy from day one: build this team through the draft and infuse young talent each year to try and find a few “diamonds in the rough”. With that mentality, the Packers have typically stayed fresh with talent at most positions and have also had room under the salary cap to keep those who blossom. Fortunately, they have also stayed competitive.
From a payroll perspective and under this strategy, the Packers will likely always have a few options that they can turn to in order to fill roster spots. From an experience standpoint, it creates an interesting dynamic.
Rodgers, who becomes one of the team’s “wiley” veterans now, was vocal about wanting the team to bring Woodson back in 2013. Woodson’s high price tag (nearly $9 million total between base salary and roster bonus) didn’t match the value the team likely would have seen in return. Keeping Woodson would have also hampered Green Bay’s ability to extend current players such as Rodgers, Clay Matthews and BJ Raji.
Rodgers wanting to keep Woodson around conjures up memories of some stories that I read back in 2007 when Brett Favre was pleading to management to bring in some more veteran players. We all know about his clamoring for receiver Randy Moss, for example. The idea behind Favre’s mentality was that he didn’t want to be the “old man” surrounded by young guys who he didn’t know as well and who (in his opinion) weren’t ready to help the Packers contend then and there. Rodgers may be experiencing some of this but he is also much younger than Favre was at that time.
It’s more comforting to know that you have a core of solid veterans mixed in with the younger up-and-comer’s that typically allow a team to win while learning. The Packers will need to find the next batch of core vets. Right now, that consists of Rodgers, James Jones, Williams, Kuhn, Jordy Nelson, Jermichael Finley, Matthews, Raji and Desmond Bishop. Can that core continue to gel the rest of the locker room like Woodson, Jennings and Driver did? I think so.
With the front office coaching staff largely intact from last year, there is enough continuity at key positions that I expect the Packers to continue to see good production from their young players. Sam Shields, Randall Cobb, Casey Hayward and Jerron McMillian all have a full season or more under their belt and should grow as well. Also, Nick Perry and Derek Sherrod should hopefully return from injuries that cost them quite a bit of time during their rookie seasons.
Beyond what has already been mentioned are another potential five or six new players who will join this team via the draft or undrafted free agency. The youth movement is on and we must keep this in mind when setting the expectations for next season.
Still, I expect the Packers to be in the thick of the conversation about division favorites and teams likely to see postseason action come the start of the 2013 campaign.——————
Jason Perone is an independent sports blogger writing about the Packers on AllGreenBayPackers.comFollow Jason Perone: