Some thought that Jason Peters would be an Eagle forever. The ageless wonder refused to go down without a fight and still played at a strong level in 2019. But with his replacement waiting in the wings, Father Time began catching up to Peters, who was released by the Eagles at the beginning of Free Agency. The passing of the torch was as peaceful as one could imagine, but there may be another on the horizon.
13-months ago today, Jason Kelce agreed to a one-year extension that would see his contract run through 2021. This came on the back of reports that the two-time Pro Bowler had been contemplating retirement. At 32-years old, Kelce is a Super Bowl Champion and will leave a legacy as one of the best ever centers to wear midnight green. When you consider that one of the most athletic centers in the NFL still battles plantar fasciitis, it’s easy to see why he’d consider hanging up the cleats. But he wasn’t done yet.
The extension gave the Eagles a very team-friendly deal and Kelce a short window to shine. He allowed just one sack during his entire 2018 campaign and only two in 2019. With an 81 PFF grade last year, Kelce played in 1,163 snaps (99.9% for anyone counting). The veteran is still easily among the best offensive linemen in the NFL, but the Eagles also have to be wary that things don’t last forever.
Howie Roseman played a blinder last offseason. He saw an opportunity to leapfrog the Texans and snatch Andre Dillard from their clutches.
The first-round pick would see plenty of action in relief of Jason Peters last year and now looks primed to step into a four-year window as the blindside protector to Carson Wentz.
Taking a similar approach with finding Jason Kelce’s heir to the throne may seem premature until it doesn’t. Kelce has been as robust and durable as they come in his NFL career and hasn’t missed a game since 2015, but all it takes is one injury to leave the Eagles asking ‘whos’ the next man up?’, especially at this point in his career.
Isaac Seumalo shifted to Center behind Jason Kelce back in the offseason of 2018 and after a fairly impressive week 17 outing in relief of a resting Kelce, it seemed plausible that he could be Kelce’s eventual successor…until he wasn’t. Seumalo became the team’s starting Left Guard last year and was arguably one of the most under-appreciated Eagles on the roster. It would be tricky to envision the Eagles moving him back to center (let’s not forget him snapping balls into the stratosphere in preseason) after a strong 2019.
That would leave only a few viable options behind Kelce:
C Keegan Render
Signed as a UDFA in 2019, this 6’4, 307 lbs, center comes out of a pro-style offense which is an immediate plus for the Eagles. He’s got frantically fast hand movement and while his footwork can get away from him at times, he has the IQ and impressively maintains blocks consistently when in pass-protection. For now, Render should be seen as a project lineman who, if the Eagles aren’t going to invest any more capital at Center, could be looking to take over ruling the Kingdom in 2021. is the real ace up his sleeve, after playing at both guard spots as well as center during his time at Iowa.
G, Nate Herbig
Another 2019 UDFA. At 6’3, 336 lbs, Herbig has a dominant frame but like Matt Pryor, has a stunning amount of agility considering his size. He’s not the most consistent lineman and would often look a little ‘out of it’ in comparison to his more urgent teammates, but when he’s ‘on’, you can see why the Eagles like him. He has a stout base, plays with a lot of power and has a strong ability to anchor. Could he transition to Center? Maybe. But depth behind Brandon Brooks and Isaac Seumalo is non-existent after Matt Pryor…who is now the lead interior backup. I would include Pryor on this list, but I don’t think he’s likely to shift inside given his form at guard when dropped into hot water.
This NFL Draft class is beyond deep when it comes to wide receivers. The Eagles could very easily sneak back and acquire more assets to spend at the position, or even pick up tremendous fits in the second and third round. Either way, taking a center won’t impeach on that need. Whether it’s a name like Cesar Ruiz in round 2, or Tyler Biadasz a little later, we have to view the Draft with the same priorities as the Eagles and when you realize that they go as their offensive line goes, this decision is beyond logical.
It wouldn’t be sexy, but it would be smart to allow a rookie center to come in and learn under Kelce for a year or two before taking over and sustaining the level of play across the offensive front.
Carson Wentz is the most valuable piece of the puzzle. Protecting that investment makes way too much sense and the truth is that Jason Kelce won’t be around forever. He also just so happens to be another of the team’s most valuable assets. The Eagles have to start thinking about life after their beloved center…and this may be the perfect time to do so.
Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports