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The Youth Movement

Will the 2014 Jets be the youngest Jets team in more than 30 years?

Photo courtesy or Wikipedia Commons

In 2008 the Jets were an old team. In fact, that team was the oldest team in the 53 year history of the Jets franchise, clocking in at an average age of 27.5 years. The team has been getting younger ever since, dropping to 27.2 years in 2009 and 2010, followed by 26.2 in 2011, 26.0 in 2012, before ticking up a notch to 26.1 in 2013. Those numbers probably seem awfully close, so that the drop seems somewhat inconsequential. That is actually not the case. In fact NFL teams exist in a very narrow range of average ages. The Jets highest average age in 53 years of Jets history is 27.5; the lowest is 24.2. In only two years has the average age fallen below 25, and in only four years has it fallen below 25.4. So for practical purposes the age range from oldest to youngest teams has been just a bit more than 2 years. That makes the drop from 27.5 down to 26 look a lot more significant. In fact, in the long history of the Jets, the team has only dropped so far so fast in average age one other time, from 1975 through 1978. Other than that one stretch, no other comparable period exists; no other period has ever even really come close.

The rapid drop in average age may sound good to many. It is, however, something of a mixed blessing. While it is certainly nice to get younger and presumably more athletic, such a rapid drop in age usually means rebuilding, and a somewhat less than successful record. The youngest 4 year stretch in Jets history was from 1977 through 1980, during which the Jets never had an average age greater than 25. It is perhaps no coincidence that the rapid drop in age from 1975 through 1978 saw dismal Jets records of 3-11, 3-11, 3-11 and 8-8, and that no Jets team in the six years from 1975 through 1980 had a winning record. Thus we see how too much youth is not healthy for a team's record.

That brings us to the 2014 Jets. The team will likely have 12 draft choices in 2014. If we assume that about 10 of those draft choices, along with one or two undrafted free agents, one or two promotions from the practice squad, and 6-10 newly signed free agents averaging 28 years old, displace anywhere from 19 - 23 players from the 2013 roster, and we crunch the numbers on the players most likely to be replaced, accounting for each of the remaining players adding a year in age from last year (I won't bore you with the calculations, but I have crunched these numbers), it is likely the Jets' average age in 2014 will drop anywhere from 0.5 to 0.7 years, meaning the 2014 Jets have a pretty good chance of having an average age of something like 25.4 - 25.6. If this were to be anywhere close to accurate, the 2014 Jets would be the youngest Jets team since at least 1981. That sounds great, but it may actually portend some not so good things for 2014.

Remember, periods of rapid declines in average age generally correspond with pretty dismal results. This isn't an ironclad rule, but it is more than likely. The only times in Jets history that the team was as young as 25.6 were the years from 1964 through 1966 and the years from 1976 through 1981. We have already seen how the late 1970s were disastrous. The mid 1960's were not much better. The records from 1964 through 1966 were 5-8-1, 5-8-1, and 6-6-2, respectively. Not good. But there is a rather large silver lining. The 1960's youth movement led directly to the Jets' glory years of 1967 through 1969, when they had three straight winning years, two playoff appearances and one Super Bowl victory. And the dismal late 1970's were followed directly by the era of the New York Sack Exchange, perhaps the best six year stretch in team history, with four playoff appearances and one Conference Championship Game in six years.

So what does all this mean? Who knows? Past is not necessarily prelude, and history is not necessarily destiny. But if there are any clues worth taking from the past, it might be the case that an extremely youthful 2014 Jets team is in for a more difficult year than most fans expect. And perhaps, if we're fortunate, that will be directly followed by some new Jets glory days, as the team finally gives its younger than middle aged fans a Super Bowl memory of their own. Hope springs eternal, led by the new Jets Fountain of Youth.