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Falcons on their way to becoming one of the youngest teams in the NFL

Atlanta’s going from ancient to young, but it has to come with more wins.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers v Atlanta Falcons Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

At the start of the 2020 regular season, the Falcons were the oldest team in the NFL. Atlanta had been building toward that for a while, as they were the 5th-oldest team in 2019, 2nd-oldest in 2018, and 9th-oldest in 2017. In an effort to re-capture the magic of the 2016 season, the Falcons doubled down on their own veterans, leaned on free agency as much as their limited dollars would allow, and unfortunately fell well short of being a contender every year except 2017.

There is nothing inherently wrong with having an older football team, but you don’t want to be old, cap-strapped, and not that good, a position the Falcons found themselves in for years. Whether they can successfully dig out of that or not remains to be seen, but the youth movement is well under way as the 2022 NFL Draft approaches.

While Thomas Dimitroff nailed some of his late tenure draft picks—A.J. Terrell and Chris Lindstrom spring readily to mind—it was clear that the new front office was going to have to get younger and cheaper in the short term while they looked to build a contender anew. That process hasn’t been extremely smooth—the team went from evidently planning to move forward with Matt Ryan for one more year to trading him away for the lesser of two Colts’ third round picks—but we’re well on our way now. The team’s big dead money hits will be off the books next year, and they have the potential to head into 2022 as one of the younger rosters in the league, to say nothing of 2023.

Before the Falcons add their new draft class, the average age of the roster is about 25.8 years old.

After cutdowns in 2020, the roster stood at an average of 26.9 years old, or the oldest roster in the NFL, and last year it was 25.9 years after cutdown, or 20th. The incoming draft class will likely drive that post-cutdown number down further, and that plus the departure of Josh Harris and trade of Matt Ryan will likely make for the youngest roster on average that the team has had in at least a decade. It’s that young despite the team’s raft of one-year deals for veterans,

Heading into 2023, the Falcons are set to only have (by my admittedly poor math) four players over 30 under contract, those being Jake Matthews, Cordarrelle Patterson, Casey Heyward, and Marcus Mariota. The Falcons don’t want to call it a rebuild, a reset, a bloodletting, or any other terms that capture the totality of the change, but that hardly matters when we’re seeing it play out. Atlanta’s either going to be a very good and fairly young football team when the 2023 season kicks off and they’ve splurged in free agency, or a very young and cheap football team that has the flexibility to go in a number of different directions if they decide they aren’t ready to contend. If they’re not great we’re all going to be annoyed—Falcons fans have endured a lot of bad football and head-scratching decisions over the past five years—but simply getting away from “bad and old without the flexibility to change either of those things” is progress.

Getting younger and cheaper can be a good precursor to, well, getting good. The Falcons are likely to stumble a bit this upcoming season, but the hope is that all those shed contracts and outgoing veterans combined with a killer 2022 draft class will make this team young and great before long. We certainly haven’t gotten any younger waiting for that.