Even as the ultimate success experienced by the Patriots remains fresh, it takes little time for the glint of greed to start shimmering.
What about repeating? What about a fifth ring in 15 seasons?
That tantalizing idea appears to gain some definition when looking at the age of the Patriots roster. The average age of the roster for the 2014 season, according to Pro-Football-Reference.com, was 25.2 years old, making this New England team the second-youngest to win a Super Bowl, trailing only the 2013 Seahawks (25.0), a team that fell a yard short of repeating.
So what does it mean to have such a young roster? A couple of initial conclusions stand out while examining the ages of each Super Bowl winner.
First: It has become really hard to repeat. The 2014 Seahawks became the first defending Super Bowl champion since the 2005-06 Patriots to win a single playoff contest, let alone reach the Super Bowl.
In the eight seasons between that Patriots team and this year’s Seahawks, defending Super Bowl champions were 0-4 in the postseason, having missed the playoffs in four of the eight seasons. Of the 20 Super Bowl winners from 1974-93, 70 percent (14) went on to win at least one additional championship in the next five years. Prior to this year’s Patriots, of the 20 Super Bowl winners from 1994-2013, just 25 percent to date (5) have gone on to win another title in the next five years.
Those playing the Tom Brady-Joe Montana game can point to such a thing as dramatic evidence of the difference between eras, with Montana having played at a time when dynasties ruled and Brady playing in a time when position atop the football mountaintop has been more fleeting.
But against that backdrop, what does the Patriots’ age suggest about the likelihood of Ring No. 5 (or more)?
On the one hand, there’s some element of promise. Of the five teams to win multiple Super Bowls within the five seasons that followed a championship, three came from the youngest 11 Super Bowl winners, with average ages of 26.3 years or younger; the Seahawks team that won in 2013 looks very capable of remaining near the top of the NFL landscape for some time.
But beyond that initial promise, the conclusions that can be drawn from an age-based roster examination seem unclear. There have been four teams with an average roster age of 28.0 or older who won Super Bowls; two of them repeated (1998 Broncos, 2004 Patriots) while one made the playoffs the next year (1992 Redskins) and another missed them (1999 Broncos). There’s no clear pattern in the age data found on Pro-Football-Reference.
Of course, using the aggregate ages of those teams offers a misleading impression of how a team is situated. After all, not all contributions are created equally. A team that is loaded with special teamers and nickel backs who are 22 years old but has a quarterback and running back who are in their mid-30s might have a young average age, but its core personnel is old.
Chase Stuart, of Footballperspective.com, said such a disparity appears to be in play with the Patriots. Though the team is young relative to other Super Bowl champions in terms of average age, if one weights the age of the team based on who actually contributed to the championship run, New England fell roughly in the middle of the pack from an age-based perspective.
Stuart employs a team statistic called AV-adjusted age. He uses Pro-Football-Reference.com’s “Approximate Value,” a statistic that, like WAR in baseball, is meant to give a single value to the contribution of everyone on a team. In essence, a team’s AV-adjusted age is meant to reflect more accurately the demographics of the actual contributors, rather than fringe roster members.
“This, of course, is done by taking the controversial stance that Tom Brady is more valuable to the Patriots than Dominique Easley,” Stuart wrote in an e-mail.
So, Brady accounted for 6.5 percent of the team’s AV; thus, 6.5 percent of the team’s AV came from someone who was 37.5 years old. Easley, who was 22.9 years old at the time of the Super Bowl, accounted for 0.8 percent of the team’s AV.
Stuart went through that exercise with the Patriots and every other Super Bowl winner. This Patriots team’s average age measured out at 28.1 years old — or just above the AV-adjusted average age of a Super Bowl winner (28.0). Does that mean anything?
Certainly, there are promising precedents for the Patriots in the form of teams that hoisted the Lombardi Trophy with an AV-adjusted age of 28 or older. Indeed, the Patriots team that won in 2003 with an AV-adjusted age of 28.7 went on to repeat the following year; ditto the 1997 Broncos team that was 29.6 when it won its first Super Bowl, and 30.1 when it won its second. (Without John Elway, who retired after the second title, the 1999 Broncos raced off a cliff.)
Still, there does seem to be a slightly increased likelihood of remaining inside a “Super Bowl window” for teams that were under 28 years old. Of the first 48 Super Bowls, exactly half (24) won with an AV-adjusted average age younger than 28 years old. Of those teams, 12 (50 percent) won at least one more title in the next five years.
Of the 24 Super Bowl winners with an AV-adjusted average age that was at least 28.0 years old, nine (37.5 percent) emerged as champions within the next five years.
That difference appears real but relatively slight. Perhaps more relevant to the Patriots are the particular circumstances that have hindered title defenses — most often the result of a quarterback transition.
Ultimately, the Patriots’ average age will continue to appear awfully high — and awfully irrelevant — if Tom Brady plays next year like he’s 38 going on 25. In this instance, the likelihood of a title defense seems to depend less on the average age of the team than it does on the particular circumstances of how the team’s best players are aging.