The Eagles have seemingly turned a new leaf in their franchise novel. From the appointment of Doug Pederson as Head Coach and the drafting of Carson Wentz, to the acquisitions of Joe Douglas and Andy Weidl and a flurry of contract extensions designed to build a core group that will develop with Carson Wentz, all signs seem to be pointing toward a bright future. But as exciting as the new direction appears to be, Howie Roseman now faces one of his toughest decisions yet..and one that could send ripples through the entire roster.
That decision is simply what to do with veteran left tackle, Jason Peters. The 35-year old is scheduled to make $9.95M this season, laving the Eagles with a cap hit of $11.2M. Unsurprisingly, the Eagles have reportedly approached Peters in regards to taking a paycut. However if he was to quite rightfully neglect the request, Roseman is left with a difficult decision.
At 35-years old, Peters is certainly not getting any younger..but last season worked out perfectly for him. After being among the most penalized players in the league in 2015 and suffering a severe drop in performance, many wondered what the future would hold for Peters and his eventual heir, Lane Johnson. The nine-time Pro bowler responded in a way only an Eagles veteran could, defying the odds and proving that he still has the ability to play at an impressive level. Not only that, playing in 97% of snaps saw him shatter any durability concerns. Even though there were several instances he was taken out of the game with a scare, Peters played in all 16 games last season..acting as one of the few constants on the offensive line needed to protect Carson Wentz and open up a zonal rushing attack.
It’s not as if Peters showed signs of regression in 2016..and as a result he has plenty of ammo to fire at the Eagles upon the request of a paycut. Knowing that Peters is playing as well as he did just a few years ago, earning yet another Pro Bowl selection, the Eagles will be left with one of their most critical choices of the offseason if he chooses to keep his base salary over the next two seasons.
Cutting him to avoid such a detrimental hit could open up a hole just as big on the line itself. With Johnson returning at right tackle next season, the Eagles would either be forced to ride fifth round pick, Halapoulivaati Vaitai and allow his development to continue on from his rookie season..or look to free agency or the draft. The drop off in ability and experience from Peters to the TCU standout is large and while choosing to start Vaitai would create a new core that is set for years to come, there’s n guarantee that the efficiency will drop in he first couple of seasons that Vaitai adjusts tot he right hand side of the field, building on his rollercoaster debut year.
The Eagles also need to be careful..because while the discussions between the team and Peters are progressive, the team only have a small window to operate before losing Stefen Wisniewski to free agency. While the interior guard may not cause the biggest hole to open for the Eagles, with Seumalo waiting in the wings, the former Jaguar played 53% of offensive snaps last year and played a vital role in keeping the line bolstered when injuries struck. His future seems clear however, if what he said prior to the season still applies.
“I wasn’t getting the kind of money I was looking for in a long-term deal, so I kind of wanted to sign a one-year deal and get back to being a free agent again,”
If Wisniewski ventures into free agency and the Eagles the intend on parting ways with 32-year old Allen Barbre as reports have suggested, the weight of the decision Jason Petes makes carries even more weight. If the Eagles are to get younger on the offensive line, losing Peters, Wis and Barbre not only upsets the Apple Cart massively, but forces their hand into investing that new found cap space back into the trenches.
If Peters can play at the Pro Bowl level he has become renowned for in his career, then the Eagles could even be prepared to see his remaining two-years through. It would create stability and reliability for Carson Wentz in what could be the most pivotal years of his development, while giving the Eagles time to find those long-term replacements without comprimizing the clear holes that desparately need filling in this years draft, where the abundance of talent makes this a near perfect scenario to add starting quality throughout the draft.
Losing one full time starter in Peters could be justified. With the age, cap hit and sustainability all being factors, you can certainly make a case for the Eagles to look for the next man up. But if Wisniewski searches for a long-term deal that he more than likely won’t receive from the Eagles..and the team part ways with Barbre, they would be losing three players who were absolutely pivotal in the success of the offensive line without Lane Johnson in 2016, balancing the scales in a way many doubted would be possible.
The problem isn’t so much the current depth as it is the future pool of talent. The Eagles could allow Seumalo and Vaitai to fill in the would-be vacant LT/LG positions..but beneath them is where the issue would arise. A problem that has haunted the Eagles for far too many years in the past that was finally extinguished in 2016. It also happens to be the most likely scenario for the Eagles O-line in the years to come. With Johnson and Vaitai at tackle, Brandon Brooks and Isaac Seumalo at interior guard spots and Kelce at center. Are the Eagles ready to take that leap of faith and start the process early…just as they did with Carson Wentz in week one after trading Sam Bradford?
The Eagles already have plenty to worry about in the draft, especially when it comes to reinforcing the pass-rush and adding starting talent to skill positions. Opening up another hole could be a big risk to take..but opening up three could change the entire landscape of the Eagles offseason. Jason Peters and his agent will both be aware of the impending situation and more than likely use this to their advantage when discussing the paycut.
It may be that the offensive line rolls into 2017 as one of the strongest units in the NFC and one with tremendous upside. But whatever happens, the process will be completely controlled by Jason Peters. If he accepts the pay cut, the Eagles have time to continue building such a stern base..but if he doesn’t, it’s this kind of decision that will shape Howie Roseman’s future as well as that of the offensive line.
Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports