The 2016 season saw the Eagles turn a new leaf, acquiring a franchise quarterback and beginning to build the foundations of a team primed for long-term success. Signing the likes of Zach Ertz, Brent Celek and Lane Johnson to huge extensions, the Eagles also began to adopt a new method of building their team. A method that has served the likes of Pittsburgh, Oakland, New England, Atlanta, Dallas and Green Bay tremendously well in recent years. Building from the ball out.
It’s with good reason too.The Eagles want and need to protect the future of their franchise. Going into week one last year, the Eagles had a total of eleven offensive linemen on the roster. As of right now, after the re-signing of Stefen Wisniewski and the acquiring of Chance Warmack, the Eagles have seventeen on their 90-man roster.
It’s a sentiment that was echoed by Howie Roseman just yesterday:
“The first thing we talked about this morning was the outstanding depth we have on the offensive line.” Roseman told the media. “When you look at it, you can say you’re committed to the lines..but then the actions have to back that. As we look at our offensive line and the depth that we have, we played five right tackles this year. We know we’re going to need all of those guys. It’s a position around the league that people are looking for.”
The man responsible for the change in direction after the Chip Kelly made his intentions very clear when it came to the offensive line. Telling reporters “We’re really excited and our plan is to keep all of those guys.”.
As much as the Eagles focus has been surrounding Carson Wentz with talent, the team have gradually built their offense from the center outward. Huge extensions to Lane Johnson and tight ends Brent Celek & Zach Ertz cemented some long-term continuity at key positions in Pederson’s hybrid west-coast offense.
The Eagles then went on to draft two offensive linemen in the middle rounds of the 2016 NFL Draft, both of whom would go onto play significant roles in the season to come. When the suspension of Lane Johnson was announced, many predicted that the Eagles would see the return of a recurring problem, a severe lack of starting depth on the offensive front. That weakness emerged as a strength for the Eagles, who despite enduring an early Bye-week, were able to keep Carson Wentz upright against some of the toughest pass rushes in the league.
Once comfortable with the depth in the trenches, the Eagles began to venture outside. The additions of Smith and Jeffery no doubt act as an instant upgrade to the Eagles Offense, but without fortifying the castle for a young signal caller to rule, they would have been meaningless. The perfect example of this? The Indianapolis Colts.
Andrew Luck may be one of, if not the most gifted quarterback to enter the NFL in the last ten years. His numbers back that up each and every season after his outstanding rookie year in which he carried the Colts from a 2-14 record, to an 11-5..but the Colts cannot seem to get the offensive line right, constantly opening Luck up to ridiculous amounts of pressure.
Luck was sacked 41 times in 2016, matching the total of times he was speared to the ground during his rookie year. Combine this with an injury last year and being sacked 32 times in 2013..and it’s safe to say that even despite the addition of T.Y Hilton, the Colts struggle to keep their quarterback upright. Putting even more pressure on a pocket-passer to withstand a brutal pass rush and make logical decisions to often carry his team to victory.
Wentz was hit 33 times during his rookie season..a year in which he broke the NFL record for most pass attempts in a rookie season. Drafted as a quarterback with the intent of learning behind Sam Bradford, being expected to swim in the deep end straight away was no easy task..but like Andrew Luck before him, the NDSU star held his own.
In comparison, the likes of Derek Carr benefitted massively from an incredibly tough offensive line in 2016. Carr was sacked just 18 times all season, en route to a 28 touchdown, 6 interception season in which he threw for 3,937 yards before picking up a heartbreaking injury.
It’s safe to say that the Eagles are looking to drive down the same road..especially considering that the Ravens endured years of a porous offensive line that was however beyond efficient in the run game. In 2014, not only did the team amass over 2,000 rushing yards, but they allowed Flacco to be sacked just 19 times. That was the last season Joe Douglas would spend in Baltimore, a year in which the trenches were well and truly ready for war.
Building from the ball out isn’t a phrase that’s passed around lightly. It implies a very clear direction. Football is won and lost in the trenches and by ensuring that they’re solidified on both sides of the ball before looking for outside weapons, it shows a willingness to develop, build and sustain continuity. It can also be reflected on the defensive side of the ball, where once again, the Eagles biggest needs were on the outside.
The signing of Chance Warmack and re-signing of Stefen Wisniewski may not carry the glitz and glamour of an Alshon Jeffery or a Torrey Smith, but they’re just as valuable to a team who struggled to balance their offense during the rookie season of Carson Wentz. For a team to put all their chips on a young quarterback, sure, surrounding him with weapons is important..but in a passing league where mobile quarterbacks are all the rage..protection is everything..and that’s something that the Eagles are well aware of.
Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports