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Tackling the age question on the Dolphins

I remember covering Dolphins games that had Bill Parcells on the other sideline, and in some of those games, Parcells trotted out players such as Keith Byars and Bryan Cox and Drew Bledsoe and got excellent production out of them.

Those players were older veterans. So it didn't seem to me Parcells had a problem with older players back then. In fact, in some cases, it seemed he preferred the older guys.

So it continues to be a point of inquiry for me that now Parcells is running the Dolphins and he seems to have an aversion to older players. He'd rather sign a younger, unproven cornerback named Eric Green than an older and more proven Shawn Springs or Chris McAlister or Ken Lucas.

He'd rather pay a younger but oft-injured Jake Grove $29.5 million over five years than show interest in a older but more reliable Matt Birk, who ends up signing for three years and $12 million.

Why?

“It depends on the health of the player," general manager Jeff Ireland said, no doubt forgetting both Grove and Green have not exactly been pictures of health recently. "There is no doubt about it; you have to have younger players on your team. You want to build through the draft. That’s a strategy and philosophy that this trio has felt real strongly about as many times as we have been together. Age does make a difference as well as longevity, how many more years a guy can play and if a player is ascending or descending.”

I totally buy it if the team is drawing the line between filling a need through the draft verus free agency. In that comparison, the drafted player will always be younger, always have his best days ahead if he turns out to be good, and will usually be less expensive.

It makes sense.

The Dolphins need, must continue to fill in talent through the draft. They need, must continue to stay young and keep their salary cap structure manageable.

But if the comparison is one free agent versus another, the strategy needs some gray area between the extreme black and white of youth versus age.

The fact of the matter is some younger free agents get hurt a lot also, be it by happenstance or bad luck or something else. Grove, all of 29, has been hurt a lot in his career. Justin Smiley, 27, came to the Dolphins having been hurt in San Francisco. He got hurt and missed the end of the season last year.

Meanwhile, some older players such as Kurt Warner play and play and play with relatively few injuries.

And sometimes the younger players, despite their injury history, still draw bigger paychecks in free agency while the older players often come at a bargain. Age doesn't always work against a team when one is comparing free agents.

Bottom line: The age question is important for the Dolphins. They are a team still trying to get better for tomorrow. They need younger players. And it makes sense for them to draft those younger players. 

But once they start looking at free agents, where injury history, performance history, and price tag need to matter, I'm thinking youth is a variable that cannot always be considered most important above all others. 

 

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