Jeff Stoutland’s offensive line finally received the credit it deserves last season, emerging as the NFL’s most intimidating front. Lethal in both pass protection and run blocking, this incredibly athletic group were feared by every defensive line they faced, no matter who lined up opposite them. But even now, in the midst of the grandest of achievements, one spot remains completely up in the air.
When Doug Pederson joined the Eagles in 2016, veteran Allen Barbre still held the reins at Left Guard. Rookie Isaac Seumalo never really found his groove during the limited snaps he was given during that season, with a topsy-turvy campaign being unaided by the suspension to Lane Johnson. Despite depth being tested to its core, there was still a name lost in the mix, Stefen Wisniewski. After signing with the Eagles, Wis expected to earn himself that starting role but while he appeared in all 16 games that year, he started only six. Those opportunities came any the expense of other players’ injuries, somewhat dampening a ‘prove-it’ year. Wis had gone from being an NFL starter to a veteran chomping at scraps in a matter of months, casting some serious uncertainty over the left guard position.
During the following offseason, after Barbre was flipped to the Broncos, the Eagles brought in Chance Warmack. The consensus was that after an encouraging rookie season, former Oregon guard, Isaac Seumalo would be ready to make the leap into a full-time starting role. Behind him, Stoutland’s former Alabama standout and first-round pick would provide some much needed security if Seumalo struggled. WIsniewski signed a longer term deal with the Eagles, giving him his own sense of security as he sought to compete for a much bigger role. This was deserved. After all, Wis had bailed the Eagles out on numerous occasions, capitalizing on every opportunity handed to him during 2016.
But as Training Camp came and went and preseason flew past in the blink of an eye, the Eagles still didn’t have a solution. Neither Seumalo, nor Warmack had overly impressed and asserted their authority as the starting left guard for the season ahead. In fact, it took the Eagles three regular season games for a victor to emerge…and that man ended up being the ever-reliable Wisniewski. The rest, as they say, was history. Wisniewski went on to play a vital role in the Eagles Super Bowl winning season, acting as a key cog in the team’s physically dominant running machine. Even after reaching the peak of the Mountain however, there are still some questions to be answered.
Isaac Seumalo has transitioned to the center position, a move that several people had anticipated due to his versatile nature and the sudden overcrowding at guard. Seumalo really hasn’t lived up to the expectation placed on the third-round pick’s shoulders and a season backing up Jason Kelce may be exactly what he needs to take that athletic skill set and let it mature until such a time as the Eagles and Kelce are ready to part ways (which luckily for all parties, is certainly not on the cards anytime soon.)
This now leaves Wisniewski as the starting left guard, much to his delight. The 29-year old has two years remaining on his contract with the Eagles, but the team do have a potential ‘out’ after 2019. The question isn’t really who should be the starter, (because Wisniewski has earned that right in every sense of the word), but moreover who will be the ‘next man up’ that the Eagles will need to find.
Will the Eagles take a ‘Chance’ on Warmack once again after a disappointing first season in Philadelphia? Only time will tell, but the wildcard here is rookie lineman and former TCU teammate of Halapoulivaati Vaitai, Matt Pryor.
At 6’7, 338 lbs, Pryor can play just about every spot if asked but listed as a guard, he will either be competing for the starting role or backing up Brandon Brooks on the opposite side of Jason Kelce. Behind Wisniewski at LG, there remains little in the way of depth. With Seumalo now removed from the equation, Warmack faces yet more young blood if he is to retain his spot on the roster…and it won’t be easy.
Let the left guard games begin for a third consecutive season. The depth is lighter, the challengers to Wisniewski’s throne are hungrier than ever but the stakes are just as high.
Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports