I realize that the theme of this offseason has been to get younger, faster, more aggressive and what have you...but like I said sometime before, there's something to be said about the voice of experience. Call me sympathetic if you want, maybe I am speaking from my heart a little, but these veteran players who are getting up there in age shouldn't be removed from consideration simply because they're getting old.
You look at players like Charles Woodson, a Pro Bowler time and time again back in the days of his prime, and even as he is now he can be productive in the secondary, just now as a Safety rather than a Corner. You can tell when a player is truly dedicated to the sport he loves when he finds ways to adapt to his ever increasing amount of years in the NFL and finds ways to say productive in spite of it. That's what Charles Woodson did.
Now don't get me wrong, I understand completely why we haven't considered Woodson or many other older players, but that doesn't mean that these players are over the hill. Far from it! I can name several examples besides Woodson himself who are getting up there in age and are still highly productive where they are, or where they were since they've retired already.
Tony Gonzalez is probably the most incredible physical specimen I've seen in a long time. How this man can still put up Pro Bowl numbers even at the ancient age (by NFL standards at least) of 37 is beyond me. But nevertheless, the Falcons knew they needed Tony and managed to convince him not to retire and sign a 2-year deal...and I'm willing to bet he'll play even after that. This man is as dedicated as they come, and more importantly he is a leader of men. Gonzalez is not only a star on the football field, he's an icon in the locker room, and a professor in the art of playing Tight End.
If I had the choice, I would trade Dustin Keller for Tony Gonzalez without even thinking twice...and if I did think twice it would only be because I would think the same thing again. Yes, Gonzalez is old, but he's still a star, and he's the voice of leadership and experience that a young locker room needs. But I'm open to the fact that not all aging stars are able to remain as productive as the freak of nature and future Hall of Famer that is Tony Gonzalez, some players their production dropped off significantly since their prime.
We all know the story. Ray Lewis announced his retirement from the NFL for the upcoming season, and after that there was no stopping the Baltimore Ravens from getting their leader one last Super Bowl ring. Ray went out with a bang, and he was the biggest reason the Ravens won the Super Bowl. But how is that possible? He was barely ever there to play, and when he was he didn't have much of an impact.
I'll tell you how...this man was a leader of men, a trait that only a precious few seem to be blessed with. Even at age 37, he made the other players around him better, through his leadership, his instincts, his knowledge that Ray himself has said is something that's helped him along in the years he's been in the NFL, knowledge he didn't always have.
And let's face it Dolfans...if Ray Lewis wasn't who he was...would we have been so gung-ho about signing his heir apparent Dannell Ellerbe? Somehow I doubt it. Ellerbe was being taught the ins and outs of playing his position by one of the greatest to ever play it. Ray will be in the Hall of Fame one day, and I'm sure about 99.9% percent of people who know who Ray Lewis is will agree with that. But again, Ray was a standout, and he's retired so who cares anyway? What about players out there who are still looking for a job? Ok, how about this then?
I know, long gone are the days where offenses would fear the sight of Brian Urlacher coming towards them, but does that mean he can't contribute? I won't believe that for a moment. The Chicago Bears released Brian Urlacher due to the fact that he wanted more money on his new contract than the Bears thought he was worth...and maybe Urlacher was stretching it a bit with the money he was asking, but I don't think the Bears gave "one of the greatest Bears ever" a very fair deal. A 1-year deal worth 2 million for your biggest name? People hear the Chicago Bears and they think Brian Urlacher, at least the younger crowd does, maybe not the older fans.
He was coming off an injury, that happens. Ray Lewis came off an injury...of course I'm willing to admit that Urlacher is not Ray Lewis, but he does still have something that all these other names I brought up have...which is the voice of experience. Like Lewis, Urlacher knows the ins and outs of playing Linebacker. He has the instincts, he's able to see when things are happening, and passing along that knowledge helps younger players to become stars like they were. It doesn't always work out, I'll admit that. But honestly there isn't much to lose by trying.
The only thing these older players have going against them is the one thing that almost every man in the world struggles with at times...his pride. His personal ego. His thought process that says "I'm getting older but I'm still awesome and I still deserve big money." Guess what guys? In this one place I can't defend you. You have to learn to take pay cuts as your production goes down, it's just that simple, you can't be paid like a Tony Gonzalez, unless you produce like a Tony Gonzalez. At some point you have to realize that your time is drawing near, and money is going to become more scarce, it's time to pass on what you know to the younger crowd, in order to enhance the game you love.
I've said in previous comments I've made that I would like to have a Charles Woodson, whose vast knowledge in playing both Corner and Safety would help the likes of a Jimmy Wilson who's being moved to Safety, maybe Woodson would help Nolan Carroll become a half-decent player, and he could give our inevitable draft pick whether it be Milliner, Rhodes, or Trufant, some much needed mentoring. Who better to learn from than one of the best to ever do it?
I would like to have a Brian Urlacher, who could greatly increase the knowledge of our young linebackers Dannell Ellerbe and Philip Wheeler. The only downside to Urlacher would be he'd want to be a starter coming in, and that more than likely won't happen no matter where he lands, there's pride in the way again. I have an idea, let's re-sign Karlos Dansby to a restructured deal, Dansby is smart, and if nobody jumps for him he might take a restructured deal to come back to Miami. Ellerbe and Dansby on the same team? Serious depth right there.
I would like to have a Michael Turner, who apparently is garnering nothing but tumbleweeds on the open market. He's only 31 years old, and he's still a productive back, why no one wants to try and sign him is baffling to me. He's a power back who could teach Daniel Thomas a thing or two about how to push and shove his way and pick his spots...or even better, how about replace Thomas altogether? Truth be told, I was never a fan of Daniel Thomas. Having a burner in Lamar Miller combined with a bruiser like Michael Turner would make our running game a force to be reckoned with in my humble opinion.
There are so many players out there looking for a job who are being looked over because of their age. Dwight Freeney, John Abraham to name a couple of pass rushers, Brandon Stokely a Wide Receiver, Randy McMichael a Tight End. There are even some big name players out there who for different reasons seem to find jobs scarce. Randy Moss for one, his effort has come into question, but he can still produce if given the chance. Terrell Owens is a physical specimen unlike any other, if he were to be given a shot, he could be a productive wideout even at age 39, but he'd have to keep his mouth shut so he doesn't obliterate another team.
I can't say all old players are worth the trouble, because that would be a ridiculous stance to take. All I'm saying is that in certain cases, older players are a good thing to have because of their experience, their knowledge, and in certain cases their ability to still be a productive player on the football field. We're already a young team...but it couldn't hurt to get a little older. Youth is fine, but it can't make up for the voice of experience, and the ability to be a leader of men.