Every well-run company does a yearly inventory check. In this eight-part series, I will break down, position-by-position, where the Eagles stand, how long-term their current situation is and the likelihood of a draft pick being spent on that position.
Next up: The O-Line.
The Starters: Jason Peters bounced back from a major injury to once again be one of the best LTs in football. For his efforts, Peters was awarded with a (somewhat surprising) 5-year,$ 51-million contract. But you simply don’t see 6’4, 328-lb people move like he does. The hope is that he’ll see a minimal dropoff as he get older. And great O-Lineman often stay elite players well into their late 30s. Still, even the great Tra Thomas got old. Stay tuned.
Evan Mathis is arguably the best LG in football and it sounds like he’s finally looking to get paid like one. He is a possible holdout, but I say pay the man. It’s crazy to think what a journeyman Mathis was before coming to the Eagles. In fact, he’d only started 22 games in 6 seasons for Miami, Carolina and Cincinnati before signing with the Eagles. While his signing was relatively unheralded in the Eagles’ big 2011 spending spree, he’s clearly become the best signing of the bunch.
Speaking of surprise success stories, C Jason Kelce has gone from undersized 6th rounder to borderline Pro Bowler. Kelce responded well from a season-ending injury and proved to be more than just a Howard Mudd system player. Additionally, in just his fourth year, he appears to be a leader on the team. The Eagles should have Kelce for a long time.
The right side of the line is a little shakier, and that starts with RG Todd Herremans. Todd is another mid-to-late success story. After being an unheralded 4th rounder in 2005, Herremans has been a stronghold on the Eagles O-Line ever since. His quick feet, long reach and versatility have been extremely valuable for the organization, as he has now started at every position on the line, other than Center. However, Herremans will be 32 in the fall, did not look himself in 2013 after an injury-riddled 2012, and has been quietly decling for a few years now. Herremans could be on his way out with another below average season in 2014.
At RT, the Eagles appear set with Lane Johnson. The 6’6 310-lb beast with a 4.65-40 time struggled in his first six games as a rookie. But last year’s #4 overall pick figured things out by midseason and turned in a solid year to close out 2013. The sky is the limit for Johnson, who is still fairly raw as a Lineman. He looks like a keeper. Grade: A-
The Backups: The Eagles’ top backup is Allen Barbre. Barbre was a nice surprise for the Eagles after being out of football in 2012. Barbre’s background is similar to that of Evan Mathis – a career journeyman who appears to have fit in in Philadelphia. Barbre was asked to play LT at times last year and played well. At 29, he could very well push Herremans for the RG job.
Beyond that, the experience is fairly limited, although that comes with having continuity in the starting group. Dennis Kelly was drafted in the 5th round in 2012, played okay as a rookie and would seem to be a decent backup at either Tackle spot if asked to do so.
Julian Vandervelde is the backup Center, is a former 5th-round pick from 2011 and played more in 2013 than in years prior. However, Vandervelde has never really stood out and will have to fight for his job.
The other backups are unproven. Matt Tobin was an undrafted rookie from Iowa last year who started in Week 17. Michael Bamiro is a massive 6-8 feel-good story who spent last year on the Practice Squad. David Molk is a former 7th-rounder from the Chargers who will compete for a spot and Andrew Gardner has bounced around as a backup since 2009, most recently playing for the Houston Texans.
To me, it looks like 3, maybe 4 backup positions are up for grabs. Grade: C+
Long-term viability: Here’s where the problems start. The starting-five is strong, but 60% of it is on the wrong side of 30. True, O-Lineman generally age more slowly than other football players, but the declines of Peters, Mathis, and especially Herremans are worth monitoring. Frankly, I think the Eagles should look into finding Herremans’ replacement now. I am not really concerned about the Mathis contract situation, although it is worth noting here. The good news: Kelce and Johnson could easily be on this team 7-8 years from now. Grade: C
Draft Likelihood: I’d be surprised if the Eagles didn’t draft a lineman. Whether it be a mid-round pick to compete with Herremans, or a late-rounder or two to compete for backup spots. I think there will definitely be 3-4 rookies in the mix for roster spots along the line. In this case, it may be as simple as the right guy being available at the right place in the draft. My guess: the 4th and 7th rounders get used on lineman. Grade: B+