Age is a subject matter with which Andrew Whitworth is reluctantly becoming more and more acquainted. There has been plenty of talk about the long time Bengals left tackle's future in the NFL. One of the more recent examples involves the question of whether or not he could make a move inside to guard to adjust for his incredible strength as well as the natural regression of his speed and agility due to the aging process.
When questioned about it, Whitworth has remained open to the possibility of changing positions, but will 2016 be Whitworth's last season in the league? The veteran tackle becomes a free agent at the end of the upcoming season. Is he open to playing in the NFL once he's 36-years-old, as he will be during the 2017 season?
"Who knows?" Whitworth said in response to Geoff Hobson when asked about what the future holds. "Maybe I get down to 280 pounds and I'm a blocking tight end. You never know what happens. You have to keep your options open."
The idea that Whitworth might potentially convert to a blocking tight end is probably a huge exaggeration and something that the team would never consider. Sure, left tackles like the legendary Anthony Munoz have occasionally shifted to tight end to mix things up a bit. More recently, Jake Fisher was given multiple unconventional roles for his position last year, purely because the coaches wanted to get him in the game but didn't have room for him in a conventional offensive line role. Still, a total conversion to a skill position like tight end just seems like a big reach.
Whitworth probably knows that a conversion to a blocking tight end won't happen, barring the most dire of circumstances. But, he just wanted to emphasize the fact that he loves the game and wants to do whatever is necessary to keep going as long as he can.
"The will every year to re-build yourself and see how good you can be, that's the challenge to me. I just love it," Whitworth said. "There is just a lot of work to be done. Thinking about years past this, you just can’t do it now. As you get older, it takes a lot more focus to play. A lot of mental drain. You have to rehab correctly. You have to stay in and get treatments. You have to keep your body in shape. There are so many more things now. When you were young you could run through a brick wall and bounce back no matter what you did."
Whitworth maintains a strong and focussed mindset, which you need to play in the NFL period, but especially at his age. To be fair, a $9 million salary in 2016 if he plays all 16 games, makes the Pro Bowl (he gets $1.2 million in incentivized money for making the game), and meets his workout requirement, is a pretty fantastic reason to keep yourself motivated and hungry for more. But, he insists that he's not focused on the money. The love of the game is what is keeping him around at this advanced age, and there's no telling when that will run out.
"I just want to make sure to never take money if I'm not working for it," Whitworth said. "If I ever felt mentally I'm just not that interested or not that inspired, then I don't want to do this. I want to do something I'm interested in."
At 34-years-old, he seems as motivated and committed as ever. Most players at his age are thinking about hanging up their cleats soon and spending more time with their families, but that doesn't seem to be on Whitworth's mind.
"I couldn't see myself playing 10 years in the league, either," Whitworth said. "You adapt as you go. Hopefully if I play it will be here. That would be the No. 1 thing I want to happen."
10 years seems like a pretty crazy benchmark. He's saying that he probably won't play that long, but the fact that he is even considering the possibility is impressive. In 10 years, Whitworth will be 44-years-old. If he even continues to play near that age, it will be a feat worth talking about.
Some of the best offensive linemen can put together pretty lengthy NFL careers, but the fact that Whitworth is still going hard and not slowing down at 34, is really impressive; he will turn 35 in December. Whitworth is about as motivated and committed as players come, so hopefully he gets his wish to continue playing in Cincinnati for as long as he can maintain a commendable level of play. For now, it seems he's taking it one year at a time.