Antonio Bryant’s Return to Football (or, How Life Doesn’t Necessarily End for Wide Receivers After 30)

As many of you have probably heard, Antonio Bryant has signed up with the Seahawks and will be competing for a roster spot in camp this summer.  Bryan was among a few veteran wide receivers brought in for tryouts by the team, but so far he’s the only one they’ve decided to bring back.

There’s no doubting that Bryant has had a solid player.  In seven NFL seasons, he’s played in 106 games (82 starts) and racked up 5,685 receiving yards and 30 touchdowns on 372 catches, averaging a respectable 15.3 yards per reception, 3.5 receptions per game, and 53.6 receiving yards per game.  Not Hall of Fame numbers, perhaps, but amply good enough to keep coaches and fans alike happy.

No, the real question regarding Bryant is whether or not he can still match his previous production, for a couple of reasons.  Bryant is 31, two previous teams have jettisoned him because of arguments with his head coaches, and  he hasn’t played in an NFL game since 2009 due to problems stemming from a knee injury.

If his knee is still an issue, a couple weeks of two-a-day practices in the August heat should reveal that pretty quickly.  As for his previous fights with head coaches in Dallas and San Francisco, it should be noted that the two head coaches were Bill Parcells and Mike Nolan.  It would probably be easier to make a list of the players who haven’t clashed with those two at some point.  But even if Bryant turns out to be a confrontational ass, well, just ask LenDale White if Pete Carroll is the sort of guy who willingly puts up with that kind of crap from his players.

That brings us to his age.  I wasn’t sure how gracefully wide receivers age, so I dove into the statistical database over at Pro Football Reference to find out.  I looked at how every wide receiver performed at the age of 31 dating back to the 2001 season.  To make sure I wasn’t skewing the numbers by including career backups and special teamers I eliminated everyone who hadn’t averaged somewhere in the neighborhood of 500 yards per season prior to their 31st year on the planet, leaving me with a list of 55 players to work with.

The results were pretty encouraging (all figures are averages of all 55 players):

Games Played Games Started Receptions Yards TDs Yds/Rec Rec/Game Yds/Game
13.04 10.31 51.55 690.98 4.45 13.41 3.95 53.00

As you can see, those numbers aren’t far off from Bryant’s career averages. I don’t know about you, but I’d be okay with him turning in a season performance like that in a Seahawks uniform.