Pittsburgh Steelers center Maurkice Pouncey started 46 professional football games before the day he would turn 24 years old.
He could have started over 60 games before his 25th birthday, which comes late next month, if not for an unfortunate mistake by his fellow interior lineman, which put an end to his fourth season just eight snaps into it.
As it currently stands, Pouncey is the second-youngest starter on the offensive line, yet also the second-most experienced.
And he’s also the only one to have been honored for his performance, earning three Pro Bowl trips and three nominations to the All-Pro team for his work in his first three seasons.
It’s difficult to fault the organization’s decision to extend Pouncey for five years to the tune of $44 million in new money just on those grounds alone, yet there’s so much more that goes into the signing than statistics—as ephemeral as they might be for offensive linemen—can explain.
Pouncey may be the second-youngest starter—for the moment—but he is also the second-most tenured on the team, as well as the most accomplished, and that grants him the ability to command a young offensive line group that is nonetheless made up primarily of individuals that are older than he is, including the reserves.
Marcus Gilbert, drafted the year after Pouncey, is in fact already 26 years old. Kelvin Beachum, drafted two classes later, just turned 25 about a week ago. Only David DeCastro among the starters is younger, having turned 24 in January.
Ramon Foster, of course, has been here a year longer than the center, and he is already 28. He is also the only player more experienced, notching 72 appearances with 57 starts. Without last season’s injury, Pouncey would have more starts to his name.
Pouncey has accomplished more entering his year-25 season than any Steelers lineman has in some time—perhaps ever.
Alan Faneca did not earn a Pro Bowl nomination until his fourth season, and he, like Pouncey, started as a rookie. Dermontti Dawson did not start until his fourth season in 1991, and first made the Pro Bowl in 1992 in his fifth year.
He has already accomplished so much at such a young age, this despite missing essentially an entire season a year ago with a knee injury that he has already recovered surprisingly well from. But there’s still a long way to go in the next six years.
By the time Pouncey completes his 10th season at the completion of his current five-year extension, he will still be just 31 years old.
That is the same age at which Faneca’s time with the Steelers ended, though he went on to play three more seasons. He was still making Pro Bowls. Dawson was still earning Pro Bowl nominations for the Steelers in 1998, at the age of 33.
It’s impossible to know, of course, if Pouncey will be able to follow suit and continue to rack up the perennial distinctions, but that can be said of any player. The Steelers made a very rational decision to lock up their center now, and his age was a major reason why.