The Philadelphia Eagles have turned building offensive line depth into an art form over the years. Jeff Stoutland paints with Picasso-like precision, using masterful brush strokes to turn big-bodied individuals with talent into modern-day masterpieces. He’s been doing it since 2013 and one of his first blank canvases is back in the nest.
Eagles bring back Dennis Kelly
The Eagles formally announced the signing of Dennis Kelly to a one-year contract on July 25. Originally a fifth-round pick in 2012 — in the same draft that saw Fletcher Cox go 12th overall — the 6-foot-8, 321-pounder started 13 games as a rookie as he split time at right guard and right tackle. Stoutland was hired the following year and Kelly was anointed the backup right tackle behind Lane Johnson before a back injury ended his sophomore year. In 2016, the Eagles sent him packing to Tennessee in exchange for Dorial Green-Beckham.
Ahhh, memories … memories that Kelly’s old linemates in Philly haven’t forgotten.
Johnson’s eyes lit up when reporters asked him about Kelly after the first practice of training camp. He joked that it felt like 2013 again, then reeled off all the reasons why this under-the-radar move could move mountains for the Eagles in 2023.
“Dennis is such a great dude. I remember when I came in, and obviously, some things changed, but he was always there helping me, guiding me, as a player and off the field, a great dude,” Johnson said. “But he’s had great success at Tennessee. He’s had success at Green Bay. And, you know, you don’t play this long or have this long of a career unless you have a lot of ability and what you can offer to a team, so glad to have him back. The only difference is I had a little bit of hair the last time he was here.”
Things changed because Kelly got hurt. He was already blocked on the tackle depth chart by Johnson and Jason Peters, with Jason Kelce locking down the center job. The Eagles didn’t view him as a guard, plus Todd Herremans and Evan Mathis were still holding it down. Kelly was long on talent but short on opportunity, although his impact on the locker room lingered even after the trade.
“He was a fan favorite in the locker room before he left,” Kelce said. “One of those guys that people still kept in touch with. He’s ended up having a very long career. I think he’s proven to be a very valuable player and I think he can play multiple positions. Really smart. He’s a great for the room type guy, everyone loves him, so we’re certainly excited to have Dennis back in the building.”
With all the talk this week of the Eagles’ so-called Core Four, Kelce said there’s a case to be made for Kelly to join the party. He was there from the beginning after all. “He was brought in the same year as Fletcher Cox, so I guess he’s part of the Core Five now. Maybe? No? Okay.”
Sneaky Good Move: Versatile Offensive Lineman
Dennis Kelly’s greatest claim to fame might be his versatility. The 33-year-old has played every position (except for center) on the offensive line, including more than 2,500 snaps at right tackle. He has started 54 total games over 11 incredibly productive NFL seasons. He’s been a solid starter, a willing backup, and an unlikely receiver after he caught a touchdown pass in a playoff game for the Titans in 2019.
Perhaps that is why Howie Roseman couldn’t stop smiling when telling reporters why the Eagles brought him back.
“We drafted Dennis here in Philadelphia,” Roseman said. “We know what kind of person he is. We know what kind of work ethic we have, and we know what kind of player he is, just by watching his tape. Obviously, we followed his career for a long time starting in college at Purdue. We’re always looking for offensive line depth. We’re always looking for guys that can come in and have versatility and play a bunch of positions. For us it just made a lot of sense to bring him back, and excited that he’s here.”
Maybe Kelly has a chance at snaking a starting spot for the Eagles in 2023. Stranger things have happened, plus the battle for the starting right guard spot is very much up for grabs between Cam Jurgens and Tyler Steen. Throw Kelly into the mix.
“Looking forward to him to add to our depth, and if he’s one of the best five, he’ll play,” Nick Sirianni said.
Photo by Andy Lewis/Icon Sportswire