Age creeping up on Schobel, DE group (Getty)
With the 2009 NFL Draft less than two weeks away, it has long been anticipated that the Buffalo Bills would draft players with the mindset to "win now". Coming off three consecutive 7-9 seasons, Buffalo's front office - and most specifically, head coach Dick Jauron - are under more pressure than ever to put a winning product on the field. The Bills will therefore likely target rookies that can help them on the field immediately, as opposed to players that will need to learn the ropes before seeing significant playing time.
Teams that draft well, however, also plan for the future. That means bringing other factors into the drafting equation. Yesterday, we discussed the Bills' upcoming free agents over the next two seasons and the potential impact those deals will have on the team's 2009 draft plans. Today we shift gears a bit and tackle another major issue when building a roster: age.
30-something list grows longer
Age 30 is considered the "magic number" by most fans as the turning point of a player's NFL career. How many times have you heard the phrase "He's on the wrong side of 30"? Aging players are always at risk of being replaced in today's NFL; with that in mind, the Bills have eleven players that have (or will) crossed the mythical threshold this year - and the Bills will undoubtedly keep that in mind should they feel like grooming a replacement. (Number in parentheses indicates age they'll turn in 2009.)
WR Terrell Owens (36): How strange is it that the youthfully exuberant Owens is Buffalo's elder statesmen? Owens will turn 36 this coming December and his entering season 15 as an NFL player. Contract status: Signed through 2009
P Brian Moorman (33): As he's a punter, however, Moorman's got a solid decade left in the league if things go well - and the team certainly isn't drafting his replacement. Contract status: Signed through 2012
K Rian Lindell (32): See Moorman - kickers can last far longer than most NFL players. Lindell's age isn't an issue. Contract status: Signed through 2011
DE Ryan Denney (32): He'll turn 32 this June. The veteran defensive end has spent his entire seven-year career in Buffalo. Contract status: Signed through 2009
DE Aaron Schobel (32): Denney is Schobel's elder by a mere three months. Coming off of a serious foot injury - which he did not fix with surgery - Schobel has serious age and durability questions to answer this season. Contract status: Signed through 2013
DT Marcus Stroud (31): Coming off of a stellar season where he still didn't live up to exorbitant expectations set by a portion of the fan base. Just received a lucrative contract extension, so he'll be a Bill for a while - even if he'll be 31 in June. Contract status: Signed through 2012
FB Corey McIntyre (30): The Bills don't use their fullbacks much - only situationally on offense, and mostly on special teams. That's exactly the role McIntyre will assume next season. Contract status: Signed through 2010
OT Kirk Chambers (30): A reserve the past two seasons, Chambers' stock has necessarily risen thanks to the two gigantic question marks on Buffalo's offensive line - LT and LG. He doesn't have a lot of wear on his tires. Contract status: Signed an undisclosed, multi-year deal in March 2009
OT Langston Walker (30): He'll be 30 in September, and though he's had two solid seasons as a Bill, the general consensus is that when he hits the wall, he'll hit it hard and fast. Contract status: Signed through 2011
LB Kawika Mitchell (30): He ran hot and cold for the Bills last season, having several great and games and a few terrible games along the way. He's a solid NFL starter that can make plays for you in bunches. Contract status: Signed through 2012
DE Chris Kelsay (30): This Halloween, Kelsay will be the third Bills defensive end to hit the 30 plateau. He's also the most-maligned defender on the team. I think he gets a bad rap - he is what he is; a tough, hard-nosed competitor, but that's about it. Contract status: Signed through 2010
There are eleven names on this list. Two of them (the kickers) are scratched immediately. So is Owens, as he's a special case and the Bills already have solid youth at the WR position. So is McIntyre, because he's not a part of the long-term picture.
That leaves seven players. Four are defensive linemen; two more are offensive linemen. The Bills are creeping toward the point where they'll have an age problem on the most critical part of any football team: the trenches. In particular, the defensive end position is getting old; when your top three contributors at the position will be 30 by year's end and the only long-term backup plan is the highly unproven Chris Ellis, you've got the makings of a problem.
Offensive tackle is a slightly different situation, and as usual, the potential trade of Jason Peters is a huge hindrance on the situation. If Peters stays, the Bills have solid youth at the position when you factor in the presence of Demetrius Bell, a player this coaching staff is very high on. But Peters' future in Buffalo is far from certain; therefore, drafting a tackle might be a smart move, even if Peters ultimately plays here in 2009. Until the Peters situation is defined more clearly, the interior offensive line will remain a larger priority - but don't rule out a developmental tackle based on the age factor alone.