Ted Thompson doesn’t sign a lot of free agent veteran offensive linemen, but when he does, he usually fails (Adrian Klemm , Matt O’Dwyer, et al.).
The most recent of his failures was Jeff Saturday, who somehow made the Pro Bowl in his lone year as a Packer despite playing so poorly that he was benched by the end of the year.
When the Packers signed Jahri Evans, a long-toothed free agent offensive lineman, it immediately brought to mind flashbacks of the whole Saturday situation.
Rightfully so – with how few free agents Ted signs, it’s an easy comparison. However, there are some critical differences.
The first one is age. Yes, they are both old by football player standards. When Jeff Saturday made his first start for the Packers, he was 37. That’s not just old for a football player, that’s really old, even for a kicker. This guy had to take on the big boys on the defensive line plowing into him head-first play after play. That gets old quick even if you’re not 37.
Evans is old, joining the Packers at 33. He will be 34 by the time opening day rolls around, but that still younger than Saturday. Saturday’s wheels clearly came off at 37, but he was still good enough at 36 that the Packers wanted to sign him. When Saturday was 34 (where Evans will be this year), he actually made the Pro Bowl after missing it the previous year. It’s plausible (though not likely) that Evans could have a similar career renaissance.
The second difference is size. Saturday was 6’2″ 295 compared to Evans at 6’4″ 318. Centers are typically smaller than guards, but that doesn’t mean some extra cushion and leverage don’t help you play on a little longer.
The third difference, and potentially most important, is the eras they played in.
Jeff Saturday played from 1999 through 2012.
Jahri Evans entered the league in 2006.
In 2011, the new CBA agreement drastically reduced the amount of offseason workouts (there was next to nothing in the 2011 offseason because of the negotiation process) and, compared to what things were like pre-2011, basically eliminated contact from practices.
When you add up all the hitting that took place in minicamps, in training camp, in weekly practices, throughout the entire year, it was at least 16 hours more of contact. That’s like adding another regular season of contact to the year by having so much contact in practices.
Bodies didn’t get to recover as much pre-2011. Bodies took a lot more wear and grinded out much quicker in those days. When Jeff Saturday joined the Packers, he had 11 seasons of that kind of wear on his body – it’s like his effective age in football years was 48. Jahri Evans, on the other hand, in addition to being three years younger, only had 5 seasons of old-school offseason workouts and practices. That’s less than half the number Saturday had to endure before his farewell tour.
That’s a big difference on a body. It doesn’t mean that it will all work out rosy (we have our doubts), but Evans has a lot more going for him than Jeff Saturday did when he joined the Packers.