Are Eagles’ recent offensive line rumors much ado about nothing?

Andre Dillard
Philadelphia Eagles offensive tackle Andre Dillard (77) looks on from the sidelines prior to an NFL football game against the New York Giants, Monday, Dec. 9, 2019, in Philadelphia. The Eagles defeated the Giants in overtime, 23-17. (Ryan Kang via AP)

The curtains are closing on the NFL Combine but the encore is about to begin. All of the rumors, speculation, and reports from the last seven days are beginning to trickle out of Indianapolis and there’s one in particular that has set conversation ablaze among Eagles fans.

Me personally, one of my weaknesses is getting attached to our players

That was the quote from Howie Roseman at the Eagles’ final press conference of the 2019 season. it was a presser entrenched with quotes of a self-aware GM stating that he simply has to infuse youth into an aging team. It’s a little surprising then that after Doug Pederson stated that he wanted veteran LT Jason Peters back in 2020, the rumor mill started spinning.

Reports of the Eagles ‘not believing Dillard is good enough’ soon surfaced and it’s caused some legitimate concern.

Another year with Peters would allow Dillard to watch and learn and likely play enough to continue his development. He hasn’t made as much progress as the Eagles had hoped when they moved up to draft him in the first round last year. Dillard needs to get stronger, both physically and mentally.

Eagles coaches still believe in Dillard. He has the necessary athleticism. But bringing Peters back, despite the message it would send about Dillard’s future, would give the 24-year-old some additional time in an NFL culture he struggled to adapt to as a rookie.

Jeff McLane

It’s a little counter-intuitive to talk about a youth infusion one minute and then re-sign a 38-year old tackle who has missed action in 23 games since 2017. Peters didn’t play badly in 2019, in fact, he played very well. But it doesn’t take away from the fact that his pay-cut took the world by storm because he’d been so against it in year’s past. His opinion carries a lot of weight, and he’s an obvious leader in the locker room. But that shouldn’t override basic logic…or if it does, highlight a much bigger issue.

Ten months ago, the Eagles traded up three spots in the NFL Draft to select the Washington State product. The idea would be that he would sit behind Jason Peters as a technically raw tackle before taking over the Throne when ready.

His progress was accelerated when he was asked to start on three different counts in place of Peters, and he held his own. Khalil Mack was silenced and despite some teething problems against Anthony Barr, he seemed to play serviceably well then too. But all of the stats say otherwise.

According to PFF, he blew 7.8% of his assignments, the worst record of tackles who had played in 300+ snaps. He also allowed a whopping pressure-rate of 14.7%. But we seem to be forgetting one game.

With Lane Johnson sidelined during the Eagles’ first encounter with the Seahawks, Pederson shifted Dillard to RT in a move that puzzled everyone…including Dillard. The rookie even told reporters how daunting this prospect was.

“Think about it like this,” Dillard said. “You probably write with your right hand, right? So all of a sudden, say you had to write a big essay with your left hand. Right now. That’s basically it. Write with your left hand. Think about how that would feel.”

It didn’t take long for Pederson to bench Dillard after a predictably woeful performance that likely played a massive role in the horrible stats mentioned in this piece. Jason Peters played hero saying that he would start at RT if needed…after the game. A little late for that, don’t you think?

Compare that with Dillard’s debut against the Dallas Cowboys and you can see plenty of reasons to be encouraged.

There were talks of Dillard getting into a scrap with DE Derek Barnett at one stage, resulting in the two needing to be separated and Dillard looking noticeably upset. Some span this as ‘a lack mental toughness’, others (Brandon Brooks included) were quick to mention his intensity.

If the Eagles do bring back Jason Peters, it’s absolutely a knock on Dillard and goes back on everything Roseman had said about wanting to be more cerebral with his moves. But what’s the worst-case scenario? The nearly 25-year old prospect (who is still a little raw) learns behind a future Hall of Famer for another year on a cheap contract? Oh no, what a shame. Terrible. Horrifying.

There is naturally pressure for first-round picks to see the field, I get that. But Dillard was always going to be a project. What’s unnerving is that Dillard, Arcega-Whiteside, and Shareef Miller are all in similar positions…and that’s 3/5ths of your 2019 Draft Class. There shouldn’t be a debate as to whether or not Peters comes back and what that means for Dillard. He’ll progress regardless. The debate needs to be that if there is any weight to this, the Eagles need to take a strong look at how they’re evaluating talent, what happened last year that caused this class to be such an up-front misfire, and how they’re going to repair a relationship with fans and media that is dangling by a thread of trust. The rest of it has been totally shattered by miscommunication and a case of saying one thing and doing another.

Mandatory photo Credit: Ryan Kang via AP