Eagles O-Line is Facing Questions
PHILADELPHIA (973espn.com) - Forget the glass being half full, Howie Roseman kicked off the Eagles' season-ending press conference earlier this week pointing to a cup that runneth over.
"We've won 26 games the last two years [and] been in five playoff games," the Eagles' executive vice president of football operations said. "There is a lot of really good going on."
While Roseman is correct, success in the NFL can be fleeting and is always fluid.
When examining Philadelphia's triumphs over two consecutive playoff seasons, four postseason wins and a Super Bowl LII championship, two different NFL personnel minds pointed to one area first.
"There are a lot of good players in Philadelphia starting with Fletcher Cox but I always point to that offensive line first," an NFC scout told 973espn.com.
Even when you hop conferences, the sentiment remains the same.
"Anytime the Eagles are on the schedule you have to start with the guys up front and figure out how you are going to affect the quarterback whether it's [Carson] Wentz or [Nick] Foles," a former AFC assistant coach explained to 973espn.com.
According to ProFootballFocus.com, during what was perceived as a down year the Eagles still had three of the best 25 offensive linemen in the league, starting with All-Pro center Jason Kelce. Pro Bowl right guard Brandon Brooks and 2017 All-Pro right tackle Lane Johnson, despite fighting through knee and ankle injuries, were also in that lofty category.
The "lesser" players on the Eagles' line include future Hall of Famer Jason Peters at left tackle and emerging left guard Isaac Seumalo, a favorite of well-regarded line coach Jeff Stoutland due to an imposing combination of size, athleticism and smarts.
Add in accomplished interior backup Stefen Wisniewski and swing tackle Halapoulivaati Vaitai and Philadelphia arguably has the best game-day unit in football.
Whether that remains the case next September is up in the air, however, as the 31-year-old Kelce is at least mulling retirement, Brooks is on the shelf for six to eight months after tearing his Achilles against New Orleans last Sunday and Peters, who turns 37 next week, is nearing the end of a trip where the GPS is pointed toward Canton.
“Our offensive line was one of the top offensive lines I felt like in the National Football League,” coach Doug Pederson said at the Tuesday post-mortem. “It is unfortunate, Brandon's injury how it happened and when it happened; obviously last game of the season. But moving forward, very comfortable. Not going to get into a lot of specifics obviously with each guy. Howie has alluded to the fact that we would love to have them all back."
With Brooks, the only issue is healing and he's in Green Bay Thursday for surgery with Dr. Robert Anderson. The short end of Brooks' own understanding of the rehab timetable would put him back on the field for training camp but it's likely the Eagles will remain cautious and hope to have the veteran for Week 1. That will also enable Matt Pryor, a 2018 sixth-round pick who was essentially redshirted during his rookie season, an opportunity to work with the first team throughout the spring.
Kelce, meanwhile, is entering a new phase of his life and decisions will be made in the offseason. He is under contract through 2020 but the guaranteed money on Kelce's current deal signed in 2014 is now done with only salaries of $6.5 million in 2019 and $7 million in 2020 remaining.
More so, any NFL season is a grind and it's human nature for older players to contemplate whether they want to put in all the time and effort it takes to be an All-Pro level player at this time of the year. This season was particularly difficult on Kelce from a physical perspective due to the short turnaround after a Super Bowl LII championship and he has battled through knee and elbow issues.
Finally, Kelce was also married this past spring and now has different goals in life so if the Eagles show no interest in making him happy with a restructured deal, anything could happen.
Peters is also under contract for 2019 at a cap hit of $10.7 million but went through another injury-plagued year where he was unable to finish certain games due to quad, pec and back issues. Vaitai serves as his caddie much like the 2017 season when Peters was lost half-way through due to an ACL tear.
"The more guys obviously up front that you can keep together in the future is great for your quarterback, great for your running game, and just great for your offense in general," Pederson assessed. "I think, too, we got a lot of confidence in some of our young players. We got [tackle] Jordan Mailata and Pryor, and of course, Big V played a ton of snaps in his three years, and Isaac. A lot of confidence there, too. This will be a big off-season for those guys.
-John McMullen covers the Eagles and the NFL for 973espn.com. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JFMcMullen