There are only two active NFL players in their 40s. The oldest, of course, is Tom Brady, who gets a lot of attention for his … unorthodox training methods, and (deservedly) a lot of credit for playing quarterback at such a high level at 44. But the league’s second-oldest player is doing something perhaps even more impressive.
Forty-year-old left tackle Andrew Whitworth is the oldest player ever at his position. And he isn’t just playing—he’s thriving. Pro Football Focus grades Whitworth as the best pass blocker among all tackles in the NFL this season. He’s top five in pressure rate allowed, according to PFF, and top five in blown block rate, according to Sports Info Solutions.
Like Brady, Whitworth is dominating players half his age week after week. Unlike Brady, Whitworth is doing so in the trenches.
“Whitworth is doing this, and he’s getting physically beaten down every single week,” says former Browns left tackle and current NFL Network analyst Joe Thomas. “It’s more amazing what he’s doing out there than it is with Brady because of the physical nature of his position.”
It’s stunning to many around the league that Whitworth can still play at this level in his 16th NFL season—and even more impressive that he’s doing so while being the centerpiece of an often-changing Rams locker room. So how has the NFL’s oldest left tackle continued to flourish for this long? And can the captain of this star-studded L.A. roster help lead the team to a Super Bowl appearance in its home stadium?
Whitworth always has been an ironman. Throughout five years at LSU, he missed one total practice (to attend his own graduation). And as part of the program’s first recruiting class under Nick Saban, he set the school record for starts (52). The Tigers won the national championship in 2003—kind of—and three years later, Whitworth was taken by the Bengals in the second round of the NFL draft.
Whitworth stayed in Cincinnati for 11 seasons, and he played in 168 of a possible 176 games. But as the team trudged through losing seasons and one-and-done playoff performances, Whitworth received little national attention, despite being one of the league’s best tackles. He really started to get recognized only after he signed with the Los Angeles Rams in 2017.
The Rams pursued Whitworth to give young quarterback Jared Goff a veteran presence on the blind side and new head coach Sean McVay (who is four years younger than Whitworth) a leader in the locker room. Goff is gone now—sent to Detroit last spring in a trade for Matthew Stafford. But by all accounts, the Whitworth-McVay partnership has been a huge success. Since the two got to L.A., the Rams have the third most wins and the third fewest sacks allowed of any team in the league. In their second year together, they made it all the way to the Super Bowl before being knocked out by Brady and the Patriots.
Last year, at 39 years old, Whitworth tore his MCL halfway through the season, a potentially career-ending injury. But somehow, he missed just seven games—almost equaling the number he’d missed in the previous 14 years combined (nine)—and he returned from injured reserve to appear in the playoffs two months later. “Pretty wild to be able to come back as fast as I was,” Whitworth says now. “Even in those eight weeks, you thought that was it.”
That was not it. Despite coming off of that knee injury and turning 40 in December, Whitworth seems to be aging like Benjamin Button. Even legends at his position agree. “I don’t really see a guy that’s any different from when he was playing in Cincinnati,” says Thomas, who admired Whitworth’s game as his division rival for a decade. “His set is so smooth and easy. It doesn’t look like he’s expending any effort or energy.”
While Whitworth and Brady are the only two NFL players in their 40s, their methods of getting to this point couldn’t have been more different. If Brady is the epitome of new training techniques—pliability, deep tissue massages, avocado ice cream—Whitworth is a caricature of an old-school tough guy: someone worthy of entering the Salty Spitoon. When COVID disrupted the offseason in 2020, Ryan Sorensen, Whitworth’s trainer, had Whitworth push Sorensen’s Ram 1500 down the street as a workout. “That was just a complete breeze for him,” Sorensen says.
But Whitworth doesn’t often go through Rocky-style training montages to stay in shape. In fact, maybe the most impressive part of his regimen is what he does not do. He doesn’t use hyperbaric chambers or cryotherapy. He didn’t have a personal trainer until a few years ago. He barely uses the cold tub. He doesn’t even use ice. He stopped using painkillers in 2013 and only makes exceptions for surgeries or truly dire situations. Whitworth says he takes anti-inflammatories, but only on game days, never during the week.
One of the few people who could theoretically appreciate what Whitworth has done to stay in the game is Thomas. Thomas was an NFL ironman himself who played 10,000 consecutive snaps for Cleveland from 2007 to 2017 before retiring at 33 years old. But he was absolutely dumbfounded when told about Whitworth’s lack of medication.
“I’ve never heard of an NFL player not taking pain medicine,” Thomas says. “My last three years, every day I was on the strongest anti-inflammatory pain pill. Then I would take Tylenol on top of that for every practice. And on game day I would take a [narcotic painkiller]. So I was triple stacking it, and that was barely enough to be able to do the warm-ups.”
Thomas began that regimen when he was a decade younger than Whitworth is now. And Whitworth doesn’t even bother with Tylenol or Advil to get through practices. Sometimes his stubbornness is to the chagrin of team trainers—and even his wife, Melissa.
“The last time I got him to take a Tylenol, he had a 102 fever,” Melissa says. “I was like, ‘Sorry, that’s enough. We’re going to take Tylenol today.’”
Whitworth decided four or five years into his career that he didn’t want to rely on pills to play. He figures that no matter what the pain medication is, he’s eventually going to develop a tolerance to it. So why not just develop a tolerance to pain itself?
“What is the movie—Road House—when Patrick Swayze gets the staples [without anesthesia]?,” Whitworth says. “It’s that mentality. At some point if I’m going to do this for a living, and do it as long as I’m going to do it, I’m going to have to have a pretty high tolerance for pain. … If I can grow a tolerance to where I need more [pain medication], then why can’t it work the other way?”
Even though they use radically different tactics (Tom Brady’s dad estimated last year that Brady took roughly 45 pills a day) and play radically different positions, Brady and Whitworth both independently arrived at a similar conclusion on how to play into their 40s: Since the biggest challenge is getting back into game shape after time away, their solution is to always be at or near game shape.
“At this point in my career, the best thing to do is just to do it year-round,” Brady told Pro Football Talk in 2017. “I don’t think the ebbs and flows—get in great shape and then get out of shape and then see if you can get back into shape—is a good thing. So I prefer to keep my arm always ready to go.”
Whitworth agrees. “I want to go and end my season feeling the best possible. No matter what happens with our season, I’m immediately going into training. I don’t look at it like, when the season ends, it’s ‘take a break’ time. I look at it like, as soon as the season ends, it’s time to roll and be prepared for the next year.”
In-season, Whitworth’s biggest secret is that he doesn’t lift much until December. For him, it’s more important to always be moving. He’s tried everything—MMA, boxing, CrossFit, long-distance running. He golfs (and is apparently down to a 3 handicap). He walks. He’s even a good dancer for a 300-pounder. “If he were on Dancing With the Stars,” Melissa says, “he would win.”
Whatever he’s doing, it’s working. He’s allowed pressure on less than 3 percent of his pass protection snaps this season, according to PFF, and blown just over 1 percent of his blocks, according to Sports Info Solutions. Both are among the top five marks at his position. “I’ve been making the joke, which isn’t really a joke, for years now,” Rams right tackle Rob Havenstein says, “[that] he’s actually getting younger.”
Eternal youth comes at a cost, though. Whitworth has four children between 7 and 10, and his schedule forces him to miss time with them. One of Whitworth’s kids was named student of the month this winter. Whitworth was not able to make the ceremony because he was at practice. His oldest son plays football, and while Whitworth attended his son’s season opener on Labor Day weekend, he missed every other game. His son tried to get his dad to come to practice, but Whitworth had to go to his own practices. “I’m like, ‘Man, I can’t, dude,’” Whitworth says. “‘I’m going to be at work.’”
“These are the sacrifices that you have to make,” Melissa says. “‘Daddy won’t be at your football game.’ ‘Well, OK. We’ll send him a video.’ ‘Daddy won’t be at your singing performance.’ ‘Well, OK. We’ll send him a video.’”
One of the reasons Whitworth has missed so much is that he and the Rams are aggressively pursuing a championship. No team has been more all in than L.A. over the past few years. The Rams haven’t had a first-round pick since 2016, and they aren’t scheduled to until 2024 due to trades the team has made to win immediately. In the 2022 draft alone, the Rams have dealt away their first-, second-, third-, fourth-, and sixth-round picks in deals for stars like Stafford, cornerback Jalen Ramsey, and pass rusher Von Miller (not to mention their in-season signing of receiver Odell Beckham Jr.).
Borrowing from future assets puts even more pressure on the team to perform now—especially with the prospect of playing a home Super Bowl. And in a Brady-esque move last March, Whitworth restructured his contract to help the Rams get under the salary cap. He took a $3 million pay cut and deferred money to 2022—meaning he’s getting just $4 million in cash this season, which ranks 45th among all tackles, and his cap hit is less than $6 million this year, which ranks 27th.
“In my situation, to actually move money that was already guaranteed to me years down the road was probably not something they expected me to be willing to do,” Whitworth says. “I don’t know how many players have actually ever done that before, but it was something that meant something to me because it helped us be competitive.
“I’ve been invested in this team and this organization, and it’s a lot more than just playing. This place means a lot to me. It’s more than just a football team to me.”
This past Thanksgiving, Melissa Whitworth cooked two turkeys, two gargantuan hams, a brisket, and 60 twice-baked potatoes. That’s what happens when you invite the entire offense to dinner and 30 players decide to show up. The Whitworths started hosting teammates at their home for the holidays when Andrew played in Cincinnati, because they realized many younger guys were spending the time alone. They continued the tradition when they moved to L.A.
“His mindset is, we are his family,” says Rams offensive lineman Brian Allen. “Thanksgiving, we’re going to his house to eat. Christmas, we’re going to his house. So just very appreciative of the type of environment that their house, their structure, fitting us into it and allowing us to be a part of their family.”
During the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, Whitworth built a professional-grade gym in his garage, and players began working out together there while the team headquarters were closed. (They call it “the Dojo.”) That routine eventually continued into the season, and on Tuesdays—players’ off day—they show up at 7:30 a.m. ready to get a workout in. By the time they get there, though, Whitworth is usually done. Sometimes he sips coffee and observes. Sometimes he’s not there at all. His teammates just show up and let themselves in.
“A lot of thinking in his day goes into, ‘How can I help somebody else?’” Allen says.
Most of the Rams offensive line—Allen (26), left guard David Edwards (24), right guard Austin Corbett (26), and swing tackle Joe Noteboom (26)—were all drafted within the past few years, and all of those guys were in grade school when Whitworth started his career with the Bengals. Some veterans might see that youth and feel threatened. After all, Noteboom could replace Whitworth in the lineup if Whit retired or his play declined. But Noteboom says Whitworth schools him on technique every day after practice.
“A lot of guys, from what I’ve heard, don’t talk to the younger guys,” Noteboom says. “They don’t want to help them out as much. But with Whit, he’ll try to bring younger guys along and help them out. … That’s what I think about with him: a willingness to help everybody around him.”
Rob Havenstein, the second-oldest player on the Rams offensive line at 29 years old, says playing with Whitworth has helped extend his career. “I wouldn’t be here as long as I am now without him,” Havenstein says.
Allen, the starting center, feels similarly. “There’s a lot of guys who are great football players,” Allen says. “And it doesn’t mean that much if they’re not a great person.”
If this group is indeed a family, then the kids are doing all right. Collectively, the Rams are the no. 2 rated pass blocking group in football by PFF, which grades plays subjectively, and the no. 6 pass blocking team in the league by Football Outsiders, which uses advanced statistics. And consistent blocking will be critical for the Rams to go on a playoff run.
Like many of McVay’s offenses from the past few years, this squad has struggled in the second half of the season. According to Pro Football Focus, Stafford has been a bottom-half quarterback under pressure since Week 9. He also has the most picks in the second half of the season, including seven interceptions in his last three games. Keeping Stafford upright and unhurried might be the single biggest key for the Rams as they head into a wild-card matchup with Arizona—and that’s where Whitworth and his linemates come in.
Shouldering a franchise’s playoff hopes inherently creates pressure—something that got to the Rams’ line in the Super Bowl three years ago, when it and the rest of the offense was dominated by the Patriots. But Whitworth brushed off that performance at the time, saying: “At the end of the day, we’re all going to die. And you won’t have the opportunity to play football. And who you are, how you carry yourself, and whether you pout or feel sorry for yourself is the only thing that’s going to matter. That’s what people are going to remember about you.”
However the season ends this time for the Rams, Whitworth will certainly be remembered for his performance and poise in it. And it won’t be long until he starts preparing for next season—during which he’ll turn 41.