The average NFL career is short — not many players get to stick around into their 30s, let alone their 40s. The few who play that long don’t often make much of an impact. SB Nation NFL is celebrating those rare players who defy Father Time and play quality football much longer than most with an all-old guy week.
Russell Wilson has a lot in common with Tom Brady. Both are resilient, accurate quarterbacks who’ve led their teams to new heights. Both follow alternative diets to keep their bodies churning at a high level (nanobubbles for Wilson and avocado ice cream for Brady). And both know when they want to leave the NFL behind — at the ripe age of 45.
Wilson recently tossed out an estimate of 10-15 more seasons in Seattle, giving the one-time Super Bowl winner the chance to match Brady’s goal of playing halfway through his fifth decade before hanging up his cleats. And while the Seahawks’ quarterback has absorbed his fair share of damage behind a perpetually rebuilding offensive line, it may not take much of an exaggeration to think he can get there. In seven seasons as a pro, he has yet to miss a single game. That gives him an edge on Brady, whose torn ACL in 2008 resulted in the team’s only missed postseason since 2002.
So let’s gaze into the crystal ball and examine the NFL in 2029. Roger Goodell is gone, replaced by a rule-spouting robot that actually works this time. Revenue hits an all-time high when Thursday Night Football games are broadcast exclusively on Real Player (it makes a comeback). The shield remains protected ... and Wilson is hoping to be the oldest non-kicker and non-punter to take the field.
Over the past decade, only five non-kickers have played into their 40s. Four of them were quarterbacks (Brady, Brett Favre, Mark Brunell, and Matt Hasselbeck). The fifth is longtime Dolphins long snapper John Denney. Still, there’s a chance a Jerry Rice-type position player who contributes along the sideline long into his NFL career. Whoever is jockeying for position as the league’s most senior player will have to combine talent and longevity while avoiding injury.
So who are the candidates to be 2029’s elder statesman? I started with quarterbacks currently in their late 20s or early 30s who wouldn’t be terribly rerouted if their athleticism declined with age. Then I eliminated some players who’ve missed long spans due to injury — sorry, Andrew Luck and Jimmy Garoppolo, but Brady is the exception and not the rule. From there, I took a similar look at offensive linemen (a not-inconsequential piece of the league’s 40+ club), wideouts, and defensive backs (shoutout to Charles Woodson and Darrell Green) to produce some educated guesses.
Here are my candidates as to who will the league’s oldest active player one decade from now, starting with Seattle’s prized possession (we also ran most of these guys through FaceApp’s aging filter in order to let Russia know which skill position players it should look out for in 2029).
Age in the 2029 season: 40/41 years old
Wilson takes more damage than most quarterbacks; he’s been sacked at least 40 times per season over the last six years and was dropped for a loss on nearly 11 percent of his dropbacks last season.
This would be a rock-solid reason to root against his durability, but the Seahawks quarterback somehow blanks this damage with no lasting outward effect. Whether it’s tiny bubbles or just a Wolverine-like ability to heal, Wilson stays on the field enough to give Pete Carroll the confidence to make Paxton Lynch and Geno Smith his backup quarterbacks, and in 2019, he’ll take the field without one of the league’s worst OL coaches designing his protection.
Either way, Russ is on board with the idea of playing until he can get his AARP card.
Told y’all I’m gonna play a long time! #SilverFox pic.twitter.com/GUbCtzCuj5— Russell Wilson (@DangeRussWilson) July 17, 2019
Age in the 2029 season: 40 years old
Much like Wilson, Newton is a potent mobile quarterback who absorbs more hits than the average passer and mostly shrugs it off — he’s only missed five games in eight seasons so far, though he’s had two shoulder surgeries. But while Wilson is an accurate enough passer to deal with a loss of mobility in the latter half of his career, Newton may struggle to adjust to a less athletic gameplan in the pocket.
Then again, the former MVP completed a personal-best 67.9 percent of his passes with last season’s motley crew of receivers, so Newton could be better suited for his golden years than previously thought.
Kirk Cousins and Matthew Stafford
Age in the 2029 season: 41 years old
Playing into your late 30s as a quarterback is as much about sticking around as it is pure talent. Cousins and Stafford could each come from the third tier of starting quarterbacks (good, not great) to last as part-time starters and veteran mentors as 2030 looms. Both rely on big arms and wouldn’t suffer terribly from a lack of mobility behind center.
The fact that both are considered solid locker room presences would give either the opportunity to be the bridge from old guard to new franchise quarterback for a rebuilding club one decade from now.
Age in the 2029 season: 38 years old
There’s a long list of linemen who could play into their late 30s, including Joel Bitonio, Kevin Zeitler, or either of the Pouncey brothers.
Instead, I chose Lewan to follow the Andrew Whitworth model and take the field as a valued pocket-protecting presence at the stately age of 38. Entering the NFL at age 23 means he’d be coming into his 16th season as a pro in 2029 — a big number for sure, but he has less wear-and-tear than other linemen who jumped to the league at 21. Lewan is a powerful, mean blocker who has shown little hesitation when it comes to trash talk. If he can avoid injury, that competitive fire could keep him in the league for the next decade.
Honorable mention here goes to David Bakhtiari, who has improved as he’s gotten older but also struggled with nagging injuries throughout his career. If nothing else, the soon-to-be 28-year-old takes care of his body the way only an elite lineman can:
#Packers David Bakhtiari and Aaron Rodgers do a little Chug Off at the Bucks-Raptors game. [@LoriNickel]pic.twitter.com/wN0BXEi2yL— Dov Kleiman (@NFL_DovKleiman) May 24, 2019
Age in the 2029 season: 40 years old
Jones’ outstanding career has been predicated on otherworldly athleticism, balance, hands, and field awareness. As the first part of that equation wanes those last three traits, plus his 6’3, 220-pound frame, should keep him productive well into his 30s.
Exceptional wide receivers find ways to contribute as the age by adding new tools to their arsenal every year. Rice, Tim Brown, and Larry Fitzgerald have all done it (even if Rice was the only one to do so into his 40s, so far). That’s a group with whom Jones can keep pace.
Age in the 2029 season: 40 years old
Versatile cornerbacks have been able to fight through the sands of time en route to late-career oases in the past, and a 40-year-old Harris could fit the bill come 2029. The All-Pro corner is a tough defender who overcame average speed and explosiveness to stick to opposing wideouts like glue. With experience playing safety at Kansas, he’s also versatile enough to move to the middle of the field and remain a tackling machine once his top-end speed can no longer match up with opposing deep threats.
He’ll have to remain healthy — the broken leg that ended his 2018 is cause for concern — but the Broncos’ top corner could wind up sticking around for another decade.
Age in the 2029 season: 52 years old
I dunno, I’m not ruling anything out with this guy.