In 2014, the Eagles Offensive Line enjoyed a stellar campaign. Just 12 months later, the Offensive Line was burdened with inconsistencies, injury problems and inefficiencies. New Head Coach Doug Pederson has added plenty of new blood to help protect Sam Bradford and help spark what was previously a non-existent running game..but could history repeat itself in 2017?
As it stands, the Line looks far better off than it did this time last year. The addition of interior guard Brandon Brooks is regarded by some as one of the best offseason moves by the Eagles, while the free-agency signing of Stefen Wisniewski and the drafting of Isaac Seumalo solidify what were previously very weak positions in terms of both depth and talent. That doesn’t mean the line is free of concerns however.
After signing a huge extension in the offseason, it’s clear that the Eagles view Lane Johnson as the heir to the Left Tackle throne. The Eagles RT started all 16 games last year despite playing through numerous injury setbacks and even went on to play briefly at Left Tackle. His bold performance against the Cowboys cemented what many had speculated, Johnson can easily fill the void that veteran Jason Peters will leave. The question is, how soon is it until he moves over permanently..and what happens when he does?
With a degenerative injury haunting the 34 year old Jason Peters, there’s no guarantee he could rediscover the form that earned him the dominant reputation attached to his name. Whether Peters can remain healthy and regain a high level of play will be key to the future of the Line.
Jason Peters carried an $11M cap hit going into 2017 and if he fails to meet expectations this year, or his injury gets the better of him, it’s likely that this could be his last season as an Eagle..which would see Johnson take over the LT spot and a vacancy open up on the right hand side.
This is where things get interesting. As it stands currently, Andrew Gardner could be a shoe in for the role after starting a few games at Right Guard before suffering a season ending injury in 2015..but the position would likely go to the 164th overall pick in this year’s draft, Halapoulivaati Vaitai.
With experience at both tackle positions, Vaitai played a huge role in TCU’s dominant 2015 campaign that saw the teams lead rusher reach 1,000 rushing yards and their lead receiver hit 1,000 receiving yards and will likely refine his craft during the 2016 season..preparing for what could be a fully fledged starting campaign a year later.
The Left Guard spot has its own questions however. Doug Pederson named Allen Barbre the starter despite the drafting of Isaac Seumalo and the signing of Wisniewski. The idea was to promote competition..plain and simple.
“I haven’t been a backup since I have been in this league, and I don’t intend to be one now”
That’s all well and good..but it isn’t quite as simple as outperforming Allen Barbre in Training Camp. The Eagles drafted Isaac Seumalo in the third round of this year’s draft..but the former Oregon State lineman is at a disadvantage.
After missing all of OTA’s and Minicamp through no fault of his own, he’s lost a lot of time to both Wisniewski and Barbre both on and off the field. Whether it’s learning the Offense, adapting to the change of pace the NFL brings or simply working on his fundamentals, Seumalo will be playing catch up in training camp with the intention of earning the starting role.
It’s a cloudy picture. The Eagles signed Wisniewski to a one-year deal..and it would seem strange to pay him $1.5M just to be a backup center to Jason Kelce..which is where the bigger picture begins to become a lot clearer.
Kelce had a very disappointing 2015 season. From the countless penalties to reportedly playing through injury, Kelce simply has to be better in 2016. The Eagles center also appears to have dropped some weight of his frame. Whether this is due to different demands in the West/Coast Hybrid Offense or not remains to be seen..but if his form continues to stagnate or even worse, decline..then Wisniewski would be the next in line to resume control before things get messy. With the Bye-week coming so early, it’s likely that we could see this change happen regardless of form.
The Eagles could save a lot of money by shifting Jason Kelce next offseason..around $3.8M. IF Kelce failed to recover from his disappointing 2015 season, the Eagles Offensive Line could take a very interesting turn.
Projected 2017 Offensive Line:
LT- Lane Johnson
LG- Isaac Seumalo
C- Stefen Wisniewski/Jason Kelce (Depending on how 2016 pans out)
RG- Brandon Brooks
RT- Halapoulivaati Vaitai
While the line does look relatively impressive on paper..there is one small issue. The ghost of 2015 would be haunting the Eagles. Backups have become starters and without a first round pick and what could be limited cap space in a tight free-agency situation, the Eagles would again be light on depth.
The versatility, youth and potential of the starters is promising. Especially (if you assume Kelce stays) considering all are signed through the 2020 season. The problem again however becomes can they stay healthy..and if they go down, who do the Eagles turn to?
2016 is going to be an incredibly important year for the Offensive Line for several reasons. Not only are they looking to rebound after such a dismal 2015 season, but in a new Offense that demands consistency to establish a run-game and give the quarterback time during the many play-action reads and different formations, the Line has to step up.
2016 is going to shape the next five years of offensive line play for the Eagles. Will Wisniewski win a starting role at LG and play his way to a new contract..or will he be forced to sit behind Kelce and wait in the wings as Seumalo beats him to the post?
The unit is currently stuck at a crossroads..and the man standing in front of the car and stopping the decision being made, is Jason Peters. If Peters goes down with injury or his play continues to decline, he becomes the catalyst in what could be one of the most significant domino effects in recent Eagles history..and one that could land them in a similar situation to the one that faced Chip Kelly in 2015.
It will be down to Doug Pederson to cement this new young, versatile direction with some depth additions during the offseason next year. We may have an entire season to play yet and this may all seem very “what if” and skeptical..but the Eagles are going to most likely be swimming in the Offensive Tackle deep end next year..but will they sink or swim?
Mandatory photo credit: Jeffrey G. Pittenger/ USA TODAY Sports