The Buffalo Bills still are a young team in the building stage of their quest to become a championship contender.
That’s the widespread perception of the roster.
Yet the Bills have 12 players age 30 or more on the team, which is tied for fifth most in the NFL.
Are the Bills a young team or an old team?
Coach Sean McDermott isn’t particularly worried about the question. In fact, McDermott views the addition of 30-year-olds as critical. He said this week he’s eager to see more strong, veteran leadership develop.
“The strong veteran presence is important, and I would say we are not there yet,” McDermott said. “We looked at some opportunities this offseason, and there’s still some room to improve in that area, in terms of a leader in every room.
“That said, I think we have improved our roster in that regard."
By “every room,” McDermott means every position group. The Bills have added five veterans age 30 or older this offseason in running back Frank Gore (36), tackle Ty Nsekhe (33), tight end Lee Smith (31) and receivers Andre Roberts (31) and Cole Beasley (30). Nsekhe, Smith, Roberts and Beasley added a veteran presence to positions where the Bills were particularly young.
Barring injury, all 12 of the Bills' 30-somethings are expected to make team except for 31-year-old Vlad Ducasse, who’s an underdog to stick on the offensive line. The other 30-somethings are: Lorenzo Alexander (36), Stephen Hauschka (33), Rafael Bush (32), LeSean McCoy (30), Jerry Hughes (30) and Patrick DiMarco (30). Star Lotulelei will turn 30 in December.
Evaluating the age of a roster is a matter of perspective.
On opening day in 2018, the Bills had the seventh-oldest 53-man roster in the NFL by average age (26.47), according to a study by The News. The Bills’ starting lineup was tied for 13th oldest.
Yet, by the end of the season, the Bills ranked fourth in the NFL in terms of snaps played by rookies on offense and defense, according to Pro Football Focus. Rookies played 18 percent of all Bills’ snaps.
Clearly the Bills were not one of the most "veteran” teams in the NFL, because so many of their key players are young.
Football Outsiders ranks the “snap-weighted average” of each team for the season, based on the number of snaps played by each player. By that metric, the Bills had the 14th oldest roster in 2018, 24th oldest on offense and 10th oldest on defense (thank you, Kyle Williams and Alexander).
The average age of the starters and the average age of the most important core players arguably is a better indication of whether a team is “young and on the rise” or “old and on the decline.”
The Bills’ cornerstone players on offense and defense are quarterback Josh Allen and middle linebacker Tremaine Edmunds, first-round draft picks from last year. Allen turned 23 on May 21. Edmunds turned 21 on May 2.
The Bills' most accomplished players at offensive line, cornerback and safety all are in their 20s. Center Mitch Morse is 27. Cornerback Tre White is 24. Safety Micah Hyde is 28.
In response to the age question, McDermott made it clear his emphasis is on getting all the players to mesh together on the field, which he said is a challenge given more than a dozen were sitting out or limited during Tuesday’s practice.
“I would say with young players and time on task,” McDermott said, referring to the youth of the roster, “how do you develop? And it’s tough to develop that continuity when you got this number of guys that aren’t practicing or who are missing significant time right now. But that’s the hand we are dealt, we work with it, we control what we can control, and we can go out there and accomplish the objectives we need to accomplish today.”
As with many roster evaluations, the presence of a franchise quarterback tends to be the overwhelming factor.
Denver won the Super Bowl in the 2015 season. The Broncos had the No. 1 defense in the NFL, and 10 of 11 starters on the unit were in their 20s. However, quarterback Peyton Manning was 39 and retired after winning the title. Denver is 20-38 since, despite its talented defensive core.
The Bills had 12 30-somethings on the roster to start last season, one of four teams with a dozen such players. Oakland had the most with 15.
PLAYERS 30 AND OVER BY TEAM
NFL teams with the most players age 30 and over: