Analysis

2021 Graybeards: A team of the NFL's best remaining free agents, age 30 or older

It's Graybeards season.

For the seventh year, I've navigated the depths of our NFL.com database of unattached free agents to build a starting roster of players who remain available to all 32 teams.

The goal of the Graybeards is the same as it ever was: Just win (sometimes), baby.

In past years, I've populated my squad with the best of what's left in the latter waves of free agency. But, after deep and solemn introspection, I realized this was kind of cheating. These are the Graybeards, after all -- this is supposed to be a collection of grizzled, salt-and-pepper grinders considered long in the tooth by NFL standards. Having some 25-year-old former first-round pick playing wide receiver just doesn't feel right.

Therefore, effective immediately, you must be at least 30 years old -- either now or by the end of the 2021 regular season -- to be Graybeard-eligible. Even with these strict new standards, I've built a roster I believe can compete.

But don't take my word for it ... you be the judge.

OFFENSE

Alex Smith
Alex Smith
QB | Age 36

A year ago in this same exercise, I was thrilled to have Cam Newton leading my huddle. That's obviously no longer an option, so we turn to Smith, the reigning Comeback Player of the Year and a success story from which we can all draw inspiration. Of course, Smith was showing signs of slippage before his grisly leg injury, and it's fair to say the 36-year-old's best suited as a backup at this stage of his career. Well ... unless the next best option is RGIII or Geno Smith. We're off to a rough start.

Cordarrelle Patterson
Cordarrelle Patterson
RB | Age 30
Adrian Peterson
Adrian Peterson
RB | Age 36

Offensive coordinators have been trying to make Patterson a thing for a decade. Now it's our turn. Patterson still possesses the elite athleticism that's made him the most dynamic special teams return man of all time, so let's give him 200 carries and see what happens. (Note: Establish The Run's Evan Silva stumped for Patterson's inclusion here on Thursday's edition of the Around The NFL Podcast.) Peterson is a first-ballot Hall of Famer whom we can work in for a series here and there. He's a good face to slap on the front of the media guide, too.

Jamize Olawale
Jamize Olawale
FB | Age 31

I have nothing else to add here other than to express well wishes to the entire Olawale family.

Antonio Brown
Antonio Brown
WR | Age 32
Alshon Jeffery
Alshon Jeffery
WR | Age 31
Marquise Goodwin
Marquise Goodwin
WR | Age 30
Larry Fitzgerald
Larry Fitzgerald
WR | Age 37

Some big names here! Brown is the Graybeards' No. 1 receiver for the second straight season. Yes, we also wonder why Bucs GM Jason Licht and coach Bruce Arians have brought back literally everyone besides Brown for their title defense. Players, coaches, ball boys, seat ushers, hot dog vendors, the girl who runs the giant pirate flag across the end zone after scores -- they're all returning ... but not AB. Hmmm. Goodwin is on hand to open up defenses and run fly routes until he passes out from exhaustion. Jeffery has reached the "reclamation project" stage of his career -- and that's what the Graybeards are here for. As for Larry Fitz? Our unruly den now has its Papa Bear.

Jordan Reed
Jordan Reed
TE | Age 30
Tyler Eifert
Tyler Eifert
TE | Age 30

Fun fact: Reed and Eifert have missed a combined 3,764 games due to injuries in their careers. Durability is obviously a mondo concern, but I also ... kind of like the ceiling here? Reed flashed in moments for San Francisco before his body went into its annual hibernation, while Eifert has actually appeared in 31 of 32 games since 2019. We'll keep Jason Witten on speed dial when reinforcements become absolutely necessary. He has to grow back his fascinating Monday Night Football hair, though. I loved that stuff.

Russell Okung
Russell Okung
OT | Age 32
Mitchell Schwartz
Mitchell Schwartz
OT | Age 31
Lane Taylor
Lane Taylor
OG | Age 31
D.J. Fluker
D.J. Fluker
OG | Age 30
Austin Reiter
Austin Reiter
C | Age 30 in Nov.

It's pretty wild that we had the option to bring in both starting tackles for the Super Bowl LIV champion Chiefs. Schwartz has been one of the best right tackles in the game for years ... we just need to talk him out of retirement. (Fisher profiles as a fallback plan if Schwartz walks off into the sunset.) Okung has been a steady blind-side protector for years, Taylor and Fluker are OK options at guard, and Reiter is a rock-solid man in the pivot. You know this is a Serious Football Article because I just referred to the center position as THE PIVOT.

DEFENSE

Melvin Ingram
Melvin Ingram
EDGE | Age 31
Aldon Smith
Aldon Smith
EDGE | Age 31
Justin Houston
Justin Houston
EDGE | Age 32
Olivier Vernon
Olivier Vernon
EDGE | Age 30

The Graybeards won't score many points, but our pass rush is going to keep us in football games. This is a fine crop of 30-something talent, and we'll put them all in a rotation to maximize the juice they have left. Even if his sack total doesn't show it, Ingram was still regularly getting to the quarterback in his final season with the Chargers. Smith returned to football after a four-year absence and made a real impact in his lone season with Dallas. Houston doesn't have another 22-sack season in the offing, but he remains a productive pass rusher and a solid rush defender. Vernon was playing at a high level before an Achilles tear ended his Browns career. I expect 30 sacks from this unit. I demand it!

Geno Atkins
Geno Atkins
IDL | Age 33
Kawann Short
Kawann Short
IDL | Age 32
Damon Harrison
Damon Harrison
IDL | Age 32
DaQuan Jones
DaQuan Jones
IDL | Age 30 in Dec.

The interior features more warhorses who have something to give if deployed effectively. Atkins is the marquee name, a potential Hall of Famer who gets a fresh start after seeing his prime mostly squandered by the Bengals. Injuries have slowed Short in recent years, but he can do some heavy damage against the run, especially when we pair him with "Snacks" Harrison. Jones was a rock in seven years with the Titans -- your classic glue guy.

K.J. Wright
K.J. Wright
LB | Age 31
Josh Bynes
Josh Bynes
LB | Age 31
Sean Lee
Sean Lee
LB | Age 34

Wright was a steady presence in Seattle's front seven for years, and he graded out on Pro Football Focus in the top 10 among linebackers in 2020. We're racing to put pen to paper on his contract. Bynes was a captain last season with the Bengals, starting 16 games and setting a career high with 99 tackles. Lee has lost a step (perhaps three or four), but he's an old pro who knows how to play the game.

Richard Sherman
Richard Sherman
CB | Age 33
Casey Hayward
Casey Hayward
CB | Age 31
Jason McCourty
Jason McCourty
CB | Age 33

We're surprised Sherman hasn't reunited with Robert Saleh in New York. That still feels like a great landing spot for the former All-Pro, but for now, we'll plug him in as the fiery and intelligent leader of the Graybeards' secondary. Hayward was one of the most underrated cornerbacks in football for a decade before his game nosedived in his final year with the Chargers. We're betting on a bounceback season with Sherman teaching him how to adapt in your 30s. McCourty is a Belichick darling who brings versatility and A WINNING MENTALITY.

Kenny Vaccaro
Kenny Vaccaro
SS | Age 30
Earl Thomas
Earl Thomas
FS | Age 31

Vaccaro will do most of his business up near the box, allowing Thomas to reclaim a career that has floated into the abyss. It was shocking -- and telling -- that Thomas never found an employer during the 2020 season after his brief run with the Ravens came to an unceremonious conclusion. Thomas is simply too great a talent for his career to end with such a whimper. Let's use the Graybeards as a springboard for Thomas' pro football reboot.

SPECIAL TEAMS

Dan Bailey
Dan Bailey
K | Age 33

Remember when the Cowboys signed Bailey to a seven-year contract extension? It's hard to fathom how that team hasn't won a Super Bowl in 25 years. Anyway, that version of Bailey -- the Pro Bowl version -- is long gone, but the 33-year-old who remains is still a decent option despite his wipeout of a 2020 in Minnesota. Full disclosure: We plan to kick the tires on Sebastian Janikowski just to see what he's up to. Honestly, we just want to see what hoss looks like these days.

Thomas Morstead
Thomas Morstead
P | Age 35

Morstead is a highly respected guy fresh off a forever run with the Saints that ended on amicable terms. Granted, he'd probably still be working for Sean Payton if his game hadn't fallen off, but we're happy to give him a home and the possibility of a bounceback season.

Cordarrelle Patterson
Cordarrelle Patterson
RET | Age 30

I'm going to need about 11 touchdowns from my man this fall.

COACHES

Wayne Fontes (AP Photo/Werner Slocum)
Wayne Fontes
Head coach
Miami Dolphins offensive coordinator Chan Gailey walks on the field before an NFL football game against the Jacksonville Jaguars, Thursday, Sept. 24, 2020, in Jacksonville, Fla. There are two Buffalo memories Dolphins offensive coordinator Chan Gailey would prefer not be brought up as Miami travels to face the Bills needing a win to clinch a playoff spot in the season finale on Sunday. The first is the teary-eyed speech Gailey provided upon being fired by the Bills following the 2012 season. The other was a 2015 loss to the Bills when he was the Jets coordinator. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)
Chan Gailey
Offensive coordinator
1989-1992, 2015-2016
Wade Phillips
Defensive coordinator
Leave it to the Jets' cranky special teams coach to put this whole thing in perspective. It's a long season, and these teams surely have issues with lots of other folks besides each other.<br><br>
"I pretty much don't like anybody," said Westoff.
Mike Westhoff
Special teams coordinator

At the absolute minimum, these guys will be a blast at the hotel bar.

AND NOW, AN EYES-WIDE-OPEN EVALUATION OF THE FINAL ROSTER

Listen, I ramped up the degree of difficulty through the roof by eliminating 20-something talent from the mix. It shows in the final product. This team will struggle to produce chunk plays in the passing game or establish an effective running game. My brittle tight ends are in more danger than teens in a Final Destination sequel. Frankly, I'm concerned.

On the plus side, I have a stacked defensive line that should get to the quarterback and stifle the opposition's running game. I have two former "Legion of Boom" superstars with something to prove. Did I mention Wayne Fontes is pulling the levers?

Still, I can't sugarcoat this. We're gonna get waxed. Book us for 3-14. Man, that looks weird.

Dan Hanzus hosts the award-winning Around The NFL Podcast and is the official Power Rankings guy for NFL.com. Follow him on Twitter.

Related Content

Gamepass_vert_web_r

See all the Action

Replay every game all season.