FRISCO, Texas — As Dallas Cowboys cornerback Byron Jones poked his head out the opening of a long sleeve t-shirt, his eyes widened at the mere suggestion his team’s youth could somehow serve as a detriment to its Super Bowl prospects.
“We don’t think about the age,” said Jones, 26. “We just go out there and have fun. When you run your plays and you practice the way we do, things just kind of click on the field. And that’s what we’re seeing.”
When Dallas faces the Los Angeles Rams on Saturday in the NFC divisional round, it will do so with a roster tied for third-youngest in the NFL, according to ESPN Stats and Information, without a single starter age 30 or older. In fact, just two players — Sean Lee, 32, and long-snapper Louis-Philippe Ladouceur, 37 — qualify for the Cowboys version of AARP.
Big deal, they say. No pressure.
“We’re all in this league, and I’m pretty sure everybody has played in big games before, had butterflies,” said cornerback Chidobe Awuzie, 23. “But we’re all ready for that. That’s the beautiful part about this game, that people can either let the pressure break them, feel the pressure and act different, or just be locked in on your keys, be locked on your goals, and keep playing how you’ve been playing.
“So I think we’re the team that keeps playing how we’ve been playing. We’re not going to let things change. We’ll be locked in and focused.”
The two players over 30 on Dallas’ roster ranks as the fewest in the NFL. There hasn’t been a playoff team without a starter over 30 since the 1988 Saints, according to Elias.
The average age of the Cowboys roster is 26.1 years old.
But before you start reminiscing about the dominant Cowboys squads of the ’90s, it’s important to note the current roster is even younger than those teams. None of the Super Bowl teams of the ’90s even ranked in the top 20 in terms of youngest squads, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. The 1992 Super Bowl team fielded a roster with an average age of 27 years, 13 days. The ’93 club averaged 27 years, 291 days, and the ’95 team averaged 27 years, 296 days.
According to Elias Sports Bureau, the 1974 Pittsburgh Steelers played with the youngest roster to ever win a Super Bowl (average age of 25 years, 304 days) and were the only championship team with an average age of fewer than 26 years.
The Rams’ average age is 26.2 years old, which ties for sixth-youngest in the league.
“[We’re] very young, but very experienced,” said quarterback Dak Prescott, 25. “A lot of the guys that are two or three years in have played all two or three years that they’ve been in the league. So it gives you a lot of great experience; especially if you talk about all the one-possession games and close games that we’ve just had over a couple of years that serves us well.
“But just that youth also benefits us. Just having it, coming out here this late in the year and having practice like we had with the energy, the focus. It’s all going to pay off.”
Dallas’ youth also provides a sense of kinship in the locker room, according to Cowboys linebacker Jaylon Smith, 23.
“Not only do we play so well together, but we love one another,” he said. “We understand each other on a deeper scale than usual. Just being in tune with each other, with each other’s kids, families, and mamas. You know, I get to meet [defensive end] Taco [Charlton] mom, and I’m calling her my mom. And my mom is making pancakes for a few of the guys on the team, and all of that good stuff. It’s just a huge camaraderie, and we love one another. That shows on and off the field.”
Early on, the coaching staff helped the young Cowboys navigate the choppy waters of inconsistency, and that whole experience gifted them plenty of lessons they might be able to apply in the playoffs.
The Cowboys started off the season 3-5, and then won eight of nine games after sending their 2019 first-round pick to the Oakland Raiders in a midseason trade for receiver Amari Cooper. During the bye week, the club fired offensive line coach Paul Alexander and elevated Marc Colombo to the position.
“You preach the importance of consistency and mental toughness until you’re blue in the face, but sometimes you have to have some experiences,” Cowboys coach Jason Garrett explained. “We had some real-life experiences that weren’t very favorable.
“But I do think we learned from them. We were able to build on some of the good things we did early in the year, and I think we were able to learn from some of the negative experiences. That’s what’s most important, individually, collectively, as players, coaches, as units and ultimately as a football team. I feel like we’ve done that over the course of this season.”
All the while, they made all the ups and downs fun.
“The energy is good, and it’s a nice combination of that mixed veteran in there, not too old, 5- or 6-year veterans that are ascending, and a bunch of good young players coming,” defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli said. “I don’t know how young they are now, but it’s been a long season and they’ve gotten better every week. It’s a ball, it’s fun. Young legs.”
Just itching to make a long playoff run.