Maurkice Pouncey has waned on the notion he’ll retire because Ben Roethlisberger does. It shouldn’t come as a surprise. The premise never made sense, was never going to be true. It was either a statement of solidarity with his quarterback, the only starter Pouncey has ever known, or a ploy to keep Roethlisberger away from the retirement line.
Pouncey will play as long as he feels capable of doing so. There’s no question about that. What there is question about is how long of an NFL career he might have. Definitively, that answer is unknown (duh). To everyone. You, me, and Pouncey himself. But the answer might wind up being shorter than you think.
Entering his eighth season and 28th year of age, he is a top two center in the game. He’s had plenty of highs, a three time Pro Bowler and two-time All-Pro. Few linemen in the game, not just centers, pull and move as well in space as he does, and he’s well-liked in the Steelers’ locker room.
Unfortunately, there have been plenty of lows too. Most of those have come in the form of injury, of which Pouncey has found himself on with regularity. A high ankle sprain to his left leg that cost him the 2011 Super Bowl. The torn ACL and MCL in his right in the 2013 opener. And most recent, perhaps even most severe, the on-going knee and ankle injury on his left leg he dealt with in 2015. By the time it was fully recovered, an infection set him way back, he had to undergo seven surgeries.
Much to his credit, he bounced back in 2016 and showed no signs of regression. Back was Pouncey as one of the elite centers. The long-term question are the effects of those injuries having on him later in his football career. Obviously, and thankfully for you, I’m no doctor, and I can’t come close to precisely answering that question. Even for a laymen, the history seems to lend itself to issues with scar tissue and joint problems. Playing on the offensive line automatically means your knees and ankles aren’t going to feel very good when you’re 40.
Coming into last year, only 12 starting offensive linemen were 32 years or older, according to this Philly Voice article. Seven of them were offensive tackles and only one, for what it’s worth, was a center. That was Nick Mangold. An ankle injury withered him away, the Jets cut him, and he is still a free agent. A career probably over.
And before 2015, a Reddit user compiled a list of the oldest centers in the league. They were:
1. Manuel Ramirez
2. Joe Berger
3. Will Montgomery
4. Nick Mangold
5. Kory Lichtensteiger
Ramirez retired after his age-32 season last year. Montgomery flamed out at the same age while Lichtensteiger hung up his cleats at 31. We know the story on Mangold. The only name left is Berger, flipping between center and guard, and he says he’ll retire after this year at age 35. But he’s enjoyed good health throughout his career, playing in 14 games seven of the last eight seasons.
Of course, Pouncey is more talented than anyone in that group. But he’s also got a more troublesome injury history than those five. The point is centers don’t tend to last too long in the league. For one who is going to feel the affects of the game sooner than most, it’s conceivable he steps away sooner than the average, too.
His contract ends after the 2019 season. Concidentally, the same year as Roethlisberger’s deal is up. Pouncey would be turning 31 when that happens, already near the end for most centers.
While I don’t think Pouncey would retire because of Ben, there is a chance Pouncey exits alongside #7 for his own reasons.