“Out with the old, in with the new”. The NFL is entering a new age. Most of the stars we have known and loved throughout the last two decades are either already retired or on the last leg of their career. While the previous generation is hanging up the cleats, a new one is just putting them on.
It seems as though the stars of the NFL come in waves. Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers, Peyton Manning, and Ben Roethlisberger came into the league in the early 2000s (with the exception of Peyton Manning and Tom Brady, who arrived in the late ’90s). Of those who are still in the league, all are nearing the end of their careers for one reason or another.
Beyond the quarterback position, players such as Antonio Gates, Rob Gronkowski, Adrian Peterson, Frank Gore, Joe Thomas, and many more are also either already retired or are ready to do so. What does this mean? It is time to welcome in a new generation of young stars to fill the void left by those who are calling it a career.
Headlining this new generation are players such as Lamar Jackson, Patrick Mahomes, Saquon Barkley, and Michael Thomas. All of them entered the league around the same time, meaning that we will be able to enjoy their play for years to come. We are witnessing the beginning of perhaps multiple Hall of Fame careers, such as someone in the early to mid-2000s would have.
Don’t be mistaken, however, as their style of football will undoubtedly be drastically different than the stars of old. With Lamar Jackson, there is a resurgence of the mobile threat. Patrick Mahomes is bringing innovation to the field in ways we’ve never seen before, such as his trademark no-look pass. Even a traditional workhorse running back like Saquon Barkley now has to be a threat when passing as well.
The games are changing. Coaches are getting younger and the game is now predominantly driven by the passing attack. With younger minds in charge and an emphasis on the passing game, we are going to see things that we have never seen before.
“The more things change, the more they stay the same”. As offenses shift to accommodate the pass-heavy styles of the new generation of stars, defenses have to shift as well. This shift means more defensive backs and a greater emphasis on stopping the pass. The nickel package is becoming a base defense around the league. Eventually, defenses will learn to stop the pass.
What happens when the passing game is stifled? The offense runs the ball. Then the defense must adjust to the run, opening up the pass. This cycle can continue forever. While it seems as if we are entering an era where the NFL will be changed forever, we are really just experiencing the results of this new age of stars playing to their strengths.
This new generation of stars will carry it through for a decade, maybe two. Eventually, we will see a resurgence of the run game and another generation enter the league ready to take advantage of it. Right now, the game is focused on quarterbacks and wide receivers. Soon, it will increasingly value the defense to stop this (we already see that with the value of edge rushers).
As these new stars play out their careers, there will obviously still be change throughout. New stars will pop up here and there, a new coach may come up with a groundbreaking scheme, etc., but the cycle will still play out.
Every football fan should be excited, as we are witnessing the NFL enter a new age.