Through much of training camp and the 2017 season there have been rumblings about the Seattle Seahawks window closing as the Legion of Boom ages and gets to the point where their play drops. There have been grumblings about the fact that the defense is one of the oldest in the NFL, and that because of Bevell or Cable or the offensive line, this team’s chance to bring home a Lombardi will have soon passed it by. That is, in a word, inaccurate.
More bluntly, the idea that Seattle has one of the oldest defenses in the NFL is flat out incorrect.
It may have been true some time ago, but times change and it’s important to keep on top of the current situation. According to this article from ESPN, for week one of the 2017 season, the Seattle defense was indeed the fourth oldest in the NFL and the offense was the second youngest across the league. But, as mentioned, while that may have been the case way back in September, things have changed.
The starting defense against the Green Bay Packers had Jeremy Lane at right cornerback, Cliff Avril at defensive end and Terence Garvin at linebacker. So, taking into consideration the simple facts that Lane lost his starting job to Shaquill Griffin, Avril hasn’t played since October 1 due to a neck injury and that the Hawks utilize three linebackers on defense barely a third of the time, we can make some adjustments. In addition, as we all know Richard Sherman has been lost for the year with a ruptured Achilles and Kam Chancellor is going on IR at some point, it’s just not certain exactly when, those two can be replaced in calculating the age of the starting defense as well.
So, adjusting for the starters that Seattle is currently using on defense, the defensive unit for the team has an average age of 26.75. In comparing that to the list of ages from the ESPN list, that would have made the Seahawks defense the 12th oldest in the NFL. Still not young, but far from the oldest defense in the league.
However, the ages used for comparison in this table are from the opening weekend of the season and the opening weekend was nearly three months ago. That means in order to accurately compare the age of the current Seahawks starters to the rest of the league, then it is necessary to adjust the ages back to what they were for the opening weekend. So, here is the table of current starters once again with an extra row at the end adjusting the current starters for their opening day ages.
It’s not a huge difference, but there is a relatively small range over which NFL teams ages are distributed, so the small change in average age from 26.75 to 26.53 actually moves the Seattle defense to the 18th oldest in the league. Or, in other words, had the Seahawks been starting their current group of starters on the opening weekend, it would have ranked in the younger half of all starting defenses in the NFL.
Now, this is not to say the team does not have some aging pieces to replace going forward. It most certainly does. K.J. Wright and Bobby Wagner are 28 and 27, respectively. Earl Thomas is 28 and Michael Bennett is 32. That said, with the way the team has managed the cap and the current salary cap situation, the team may be able to successfully segue into the next set of Legion of Boom members without too much difficulty.
Thomas is likely to lose a step as he approaches and passes 30, but he is so good right now that even losing a step he should remain above average. Potentially well above average. Other safeties, such as Brian Dawkins and Ed Reed, have played at an elite level well into their thirties, and it’s not out of the realm of possibility to expect the same from Earl. Dawkins was an All Pro free safety four times in his career, with three of those All Pro selections coming at age 29 or later, and he made the Pro Bowl six times after his thirtieth birthday. Reed is in the same boat, as four of his five All Pro nominations came after his 29th birthday. This should instill confidence in fans that Thomas can be rewarded with a three or four year extension, and that it would be entirely possible for him to continue to play at an extremely high level. This would give the team plenty of time to continue to look for his replacement, and to prepare for the day when he is no longer patrolling area 29.
Moving to the oldest current starter on the defense, Michael Bennett, his contract is very favorable for letting the defense get younger. That does not mean fans should look for him to be cut or to expect the team to move on from him. His contract carries combined cap hits for 2018 and 2019 of less than $16M combined, which, on a percentage of cap basis, is far less than Cliff Avril made on his initial two year, $15M contract in 2013 and 2014. At that time the salary cap was roughly forty percent lower than the projected levels for 2018 and 2019, and that means Bennett’s contract is completely palatable for a situationally disruptive player in their 33 and 34 year old seasons. It would not be a surprise for the team to use a draft pick this year on an impact edge player who can begin to learn from Bennett in 2018, potentially taking over as a starter in late 2018 or 2019.
From there, that leaves the biggest areas of need for youth at linebacker and cornerback. At this point Bobby Wagner is playing at a level that has to put him in discussion with some of the all time greats at the position. There is no way to deny that replacing him will be an extremely difficult task. Likewise, the team will need to find a replacement for Sherman because the best by date for a corner of Sherman’s age is just ahead. That said, the team has had success drafting and developing linebackers and cornerbacks, and hopefully they will be able to continue to do so. The team currently holds eight draft picks for next year, and no one will be surprised to see them trade down out of the first round in order to add some more. Further, it won’t be surprising if they use multiple picks on corners and linebackers.
Thus, while the team certainly faces challenges as it works to retool the Legion of Boom for a continued period of sustained success moving forward, the idea that the defense is one of the oldest in the league is simply wrong at this point. The defense has some aging playmakers and will indeed need to replace them, but the idea that the Seahawks defense is among the oldest in the NFL is simply no longer true.