Reenforcing the trenches needs to be a heavy offseason focus for Eagles

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It’s been less than a week since the Eagles suffered divisional round heartbreak, but all eyes are looking forward. A bumpy offseason lies ahead and it’s one that could significantly change the landscape of this team. While most of the headlines are focusing on Nick Foles, Carson Wentz and the excitement of the upcoming draft class, the Eagles, as we know, build their team differently…and this is very significant.

A source told me around this time two years ago that the Eagles ‘will build from the ball out’. Since then, we’ve seen names like Lane Johnson, Brandon Brooks, Fletcher Cox, and Timmy Jernigan all signed to long-term deals; Giving the Eagles a solid foundation to build on. However, those foundations are beginning to crack…and it’s down to Howie Roseman to find a way to patch the holes before they begin to leak.

 

Defensive tackle:

Fletcher Cox may be in the prime of his career, but the same can’t be said for the supporting cast. Even when Timmy Jernigan was fully healthy in 2017, rotational pieces Beau Allen and Destiny Vaeao combined to play in over 60% of defensive snaps. That luxury was lost this past offseason when Allen left to join the Bucs and an injury to Jernigan left the position light on depth.

The Eagles struggled to find the same production from their rotational tackles as they did in both 2016 and 2017 and it hurt them dramatically. If it wasn’t for a perfectly timed surge from Treyvon Hester that coincided with Jernigan’s return, it would have been a season-long weakness, making the dominance of Fletcher Cox that much more impressive.

There’s no guarantee that Jernigan will be back in 2018, especially after a restructure and the fact that the former Ravens defensive tackle is scheduled to make a whopping $11M next season. If he’s not fully healthy or there are is still a concern that such a damaging injury could linger, the Eagles would be forced to either move Michael Bennett inside permanently or begin searching for some replacements.

Howie Roseman said in his end-of-year presser that this year’s draft is ‘historic’ for defensive tackles and that bodes extremely well for a team deprived of the quality depth they had during their Super Bowl run and the potential security of a long-term running mate alongside Cox.

 

Defensive end:

Brandon Graham and Chris Long are both set to test the free agency waters this offseason. It’s likely that at least one of these names will return for one last shot in midnight green, but not definite. With that in mind, the Eagles defensive end group suddenly loses a lot of veteran leadership. Michael Bennett would be the sole veteran listed at the position, with Derek Barnett and Josh Sweat being the next two names expected to step up.

While the entire mentality in building through the trenches is to find ‘prove-it’ production from savvy vets while the next generation grows, it’s probably a bit too soon to expect Barnett to carry the load of a starter…which you can take one of a few ways. The former first-round pick will be in his third year and has flashed explosiveness on plenty of occasions during his first two years, but replacing Brandon Graham, an esteemed run-defender would be no easy climb.

Whichever way you look at it, at the very least, the Eagles will need to bring in a free agent veteran or two as well as potentially drafting some younger developmental talent.

 

Offensive tackle:

The future of Jason Peters remains uncertain, although, at this stage, it would hardly be surprising to see Peters play until he was 75. The issue here is one of money vs production. Peters has battled in-game injuries consistently this season and with the future Hall of Famer scheduled to make close to $8M next season, the Eagles have a decision to make.

If they do part ways with Peters, they’d be hanging their hat on Vaitai and Mailata…which in itself may raise a few subtle questions. The Birds would at least be looking for some extra depth to fill in behind Vaitai while Mailata continues to blossom, but they could be looking to trade for, or sign a veteran starter just for that extra breathing room.

 

Offensive guard

The heartbreaking way in which Brandon Brooks tore his Achilles hasn’t left the minds of fans just yet. It’s around a 6-8 month recovery time which means there is a chance the veteran who hasn’t allowed a sack since 2016, could miss the start of the 2019 season. Isaac Seumalo and Stefen Wisniewski are likely replacement candidates, but that does leave the interior guard position extremely light in terms of depth. Expect a ‘prove-it’ signing not named Chance Warmack, or some young talent to come in and compete during the offseason.

 

Center

With rumors swirling around Jason Kelce and the idea of retirement, the Eagles are in a very strange spot. Kelce is undoubtedly the most athletic center in the NFL. Very few linemen can do what he does, let alone to that level at his age. If the Eagles do lose Kelce, finding a replacement will immediately become one of the team’s greatest priorities.

 

Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

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