Age Ain’t Nothin’ But A Number. Except When It is.
When you reach your mid-twenties, it becomes impossible to not try and compare yourself to others in your position, especially once combined with the ease of access to information in the social media age. Sean McVay graduated from high school in 2006 and now he is an NFL head coach. This news sent me (and I imagine…er, hope…many other millenials) into an emotional swing ranging from pride to jealousy to shame. If the Rams take on the Patriots next year, McVay will don the headset to try and take down a quarterback a full decade older than him in Tom Brady.
However, once you take a step back, McVay’s hiring isn’t the beginning of the end for football-crazed millenials who feel like time has passed them by, it’s the beginning of the beginning. The NFL is getting younger across the board. Four of the seven youngest coaches in NFL history have been hired in the last ten years. Seventeen of the twenty-one highest passing yardage totals put up by rookie quarterbacks have occurred since 2008, including ignominious names such as Brandon Weeden and Geno Smith. A senior in college has not won the Heisman Trophy since Troy Smith did in 2006.
In the 1980s and 1990s, rookie NFL players were neither seen nor heard from for at least a few years after they were initially drafted, meant to be pupils in the school ran by the elder statesmen of the league. Nowadays, teams with draft picks in the early part of the first round expect the player they take to make an immediate impact on the field the next season, but still be a central figure in the franchise for a decade. For the evidence, don’t look any further than AT&T Stadium where Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott have ignited a defunct Cowboys offense a year prior to a possible Super Bowl trip.
The only age not getting younger in the NFL is the age that people are allowed to enter it. Despite the depth of younger Heisman candidates and winners, these players are then faced with the prospect of risking injury by returning to campus for another year. If a player decides to forego a single (typically meaningless) game to maintain their chances of earning a livelihood going forward, talking heads determine that they do not have the heart or desire to compete at the next level.
What is to say that a 19 year old can not lead a team to a Lombardi Trophy? From an economic standpoint, athletes are unique subjects in the evaluation of labor. Athletes, in an absolutely ideal scenario, will be able to monetize their skills for twenty years due to physical constraints. Why is the NFL the only skilled labor pool in the world that prevents individuals from being compensated due to their age? As the NFL’s executives keep searching for younger and younger talent, when will that search push them headfirst into the archaic NCAA bylaws?