Is replenishing the offensive line really a key need for the Eagles?

2018 wasn’t the most dominant for the Eagles offensive front. The opening few games were plagued by errors, inefficiencies and play that just wasn’t the norm for a unit that was named the league’s most impressive during their Super Bowl winning campaign. Things eventually settled and the line started tearing through defensive fronts at a never-before seen rate. Aaron Donald and Khalil Mack were just two of those stifled come seasons end…but now, there’s more questions than ever.

To start with, for what seems like the 4th year in a row, nobody really knows if Jason Peters will return in 2019. The future Hall of Famer played a very high level when he was on the field, but the carousel at left tackle that saw Peters hop in-and-out of games may finally be a sign of Father time catching up. Carrying a $10.6M cap hit really doesn’t help matters, either.

If that wasn’t enough to worry about, Jason Kelce has reportedly contemplated retirement and Brandon Brooks’ Achilles tear may be an injury that lingers into the beginning of next season. Elsewhere, Lane Johnson battled injury last year and that definitely hampered his play until he was fully recovered.

So going into the offseason, the Eagles need to at least have an insurance policy at tackle and add some depth at guard…or do they?

Let’s start at tackle. The name that immediately springs to mind is Halapoulivaati Vaitai. The TCU product was a fifth round pick in 2016 and during his first three years in the league, has been forced to start on both the left side and the right in big-time spots. There was arguably none greater than when he lined up against Everson Griffen in the NFC Championship game and completely shut him down, with the help of some teammates.

2018 was set to be a big year for Vaitai, but preseason was a struggle. Playing in 2013 pass blocking snaps, he allowed 10 pressures and 2 sacks. In the regular season, he allowed 4 hits, 4 sacks and 9 hurries playing in both tackle spots. His form was less than ideal and it can’t be the most comforting prospect to know that Vaitai is the designated starting Left Tackle for 2019 after seeing how impressive Peters was when healthy.

However, now going into his fourth season, it all comes down to how he’s viewed within the organization…and he’s well-liked. Vaitai has, whether you see it or not, come a long way since entering the league, especially when it comes to using his 6’6, 320 lbs, frame to run block. Is he ready to be a full-time starter? I’m not sure…but you can make the case that with help from the likes of Dallas Goedert as an in-line blocker, it’s not the end of the world that many are making it out to be.

Further down the depth chart lies Jordan Mailata. The Australian won the hearts of Eagles fans across the globe last year with his phenomenal size and athleticism, but he had the whole world on the edge of their seats after a stunning preseason debut left everyone bewildered. How could someone who had never taken a snap of Football in his life, be playing so well?

Is Jordan Mailata going to start in 2019? Probably not…but to come as far as he has in such a small amount of time, it does make you wonder what the jump from last year to 2019 will look like. There’s every chance he at least competes for a backup spot.

If we move inside, things get interesting. Isaac Seumalo and Stefen Wisniewski shared duties at LG before Wis was benched in favor of the former Oregon State product and it seems as though they’ll both be among the front-runners once more heading into Training Camp.

Seumalo was regarded as a potential bust not too long ago and was even moved inside to play a backup center role due to his struggles at guard. Surprisingly though, he started nine games last season at left guard and actually performed very well.

Allowing 21 pressures in 345 pass-blocking snaps (and just one sack), Seumalo clearly showed signs of improvement and will likely take the reins at left guard, while Wisniewski would be the emergency fill-in on the right. After three years of working together, I think it’s safe to say both players would be ready to start in a heartbeat after a plethora of both regular and postseason experience, much of which contained plenty of positives.

The wildcard here is Matt Pryor. Drafted last year, Vaitai’s former TCU running-mate has the versatility to play both inside and outside and looked very promising during the preseason. Not only could the 6’7, 332 lbs, lineman be competing for a future starting role at guard, but he brings some underrated value at tackle with his size and athleticism. The Eagles are used to ‘redshirting’ rookie linemen so to speak and Pryor was no exception…but don’t be surprised if he’s more than just ‘in the picture’ come training camp.

In a very worst case scenario, the Eagles offensive line *could* look something like this:

  • LT: Halapoulivaati Vaitai
  • LG: Matt Pryor
  • C: Isaac Seumalo
  • RG: Stefen Wisniewski (until Brooks is fully cleared)
  • RT: Lane Johnson

Is that really so bad?

Do the Eagles need to add offensive line depth? Absolutely. Is this the biggest need on the team’s roster? Absolutely not. I think the development of Vaitai and Seumalo has been pivotal for this team and this will be the year in which they have to make it all count, the final exam at School, if you will.

There’s a strong chance that Kelce returns too, meaning Seumalo and Wis would be the guards…and if Brooks is able to go in week one, well then you’re only really replacing Jason Peters with a young tackle who now has 17 starts under his belt.

The Eagles should absolutely invest in the offensive line through free agency/trading or the draft, but is there a real need to spend valuable assets on cornerstones when you’re already developing the future? Probably not.

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