What many perceived to be the biggest battle of the offseason actually turned out to be the most disappointing. In many ways, it was over before it even started. The Philadelphia Eagles had two young LT prospects in Jordan Mailata and Andre Dillard going head-to-head for the starting role. With Mailata entrenched as the clear winner after doubling down from his brilliant 2020 campaign, it leaves the Eagles in a sticky situation.
Dillard is a former first-round pick now entering his third year. It shouldn’t be seen as a knock on him that he was unable to beat out Mailata, as much as it should be a huge sign of growth for the former seventh-round pick, but it is what it is. The Eagles now have the player they traded up to acquire, currently backing up Mailata. This isn’t optimal for many reasons. From the reflection on Howie Roseman, to the path Dillard’s career has taken leading to his long-term upside slowly diminishing, it’s something that will have to be addressed at some point. But what can the Eagles do with the Washington State product?
Retain him as a backup for as long as possible
The most logical answer here is that the Eagles try to keep Dillard under-the-radar for as long as they can. Jordan Mailata’s contract ends at the end of the year (we’ll get to that) while there’s two years and an option year remaining on Dillard’s. The smart move would be to pay Mailata early, projecting that he’s going to be a top-10 tackle within the next few years providing he follows the same development curve, keeping Dillard in the background as a very strong insurance policy.
The Eagles have always made an effort to keep a strong backup behind their left tackle. Halapoulivaati Vaitai saw plenty of playing time and went on to earn a $50M contract in Detroit. There’s no real depth behind Dillard right now, meaning that if the Eagles were to part ways with him, there’s a big drop in talent level between Mailata and the likes of Jack Driscoll and Brett Toth. Keeping him around could pay huge dividends in the long run given that the injury bug has been known to creep up on the position.
It also gives him time to develop away from the spotlight. Dillard wasn’t the most pro-ready talent coming out of college and a couple of big injuries along with a stupid move to RT in his rookie season have hurt his development. A chance to work under-the-radar for a year or two may end up being the best thing for a player who has struggled every summer.
Pull the trigger on an Andre Dillard trade
It’s hard to find good offensive tackles in the NFL and there is a chance that Dillard could still develop into that. It’s also very easy to see that a change of scenery would benefit him greatly. For all the good things that Howie Roseman has done, he’s still struggled in one area – getting value for players before it’s too late.
Zach Ertz might be the most prominent example of recent times, but you can make the same case for Derek Barnett as well as several former players who were allowed to walk into free agency after a year of regression that followed a big campaign beforehand.
Dillard has just turned 25, which isn’t ideal, but he has very limited game experience for someone who has been around the league for two full years. There is bound to be at least one team sniffing around to see what kind of price-tag the Eagles would place on him, and there could be a real decisive move to be made.
If the Eagles could trade Dillard and one of the aforementioned players who carry a heavier cap hit, not only could they cash in for valuable assets before his value plummets further, but they could also use that new found cap space to secure Mailata to a long-term deal before it’s too late and he plays himself above the Eagles’ pay grade. It makes sense on paper, but finding the right suitor is one thing, a GM waving the white flag on a former first-round pick is another.
The guard experiment
There’s always the idea of moving a struggling tackle inside, but this really wouldn’t be optimal for two main reasons.
1. Tackles who usually move inside traditionally have a ton of upper-body strength and poor footwork, meaning they’d get beaten by more agile edge rushers. Andre Dillard has the opposite problem, where his footwork is stunning, but he struggles with leaving his chest open off the snap and then using puppy paws to try and initiate a block, leading to some real problems against a bull-rush. Now imagine that against a 300 pound monster. Yeah, not great.
2. The Eagles drafted Landon Dickerson this offseason. We don’t yet know if he’s going to play guard or center, but if he does play at guard, then it means Isaac Seumalo could move inside, and providing Brandon Brooks stays on the team, there isn’t much wriggle room. Even if there was, you’re talking about an elite RG, a solid starter at LG, and an incredibly athletic rookie. The problems would only worsen for Dillard.
The heartbreaking long-term plan involving Andre Dillard
We know that cap space has not been kind to the Eagles over the past two years and there’s not going to be a drastic change any time soon. Jordan Mailata is going to command a big-time payday, but so will Dallas Goedert, and potentially Miles Sanders one year after that. There are long-term contract questions at cornerback, defensive tackle, linebacker, and Safety, as well.
It’s likely that the Eagles would Jordan Mailata ball out this year, letting him walk into free agency and ride Andre Dillard’s contract to its very end, drafting a potential heir in the meantime. It’s heartbreaking to think about, but football is a business and the Eagles have to think about how to re-allocate money after doing such an atrocious job over the past two years. Because of those bad decisions, they may end up feeling like this is one way to avoid another huge payday.
Ultimately, I don’t think they go down this path, but it’s something the team at least have to examine.
What do you think the Eagles should do with Andre Dillard? Let us know in the comments!
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