Quality offensive line is crucial to Eagles – Sports – Bucks County Courier Times
The Birds could have some holes to fill in 2020, depending what happens with Jason Kelce and Jason Peters
An ability to put together a strong offensive line that is backed by quality depth has carried the Philadelphia Eagles through some austere times for the rest of its offense throughout the coaching reign of Doug Pederson.
His team won the Super Bowl in the 2017 season with backup quarterback Nick Foles and made the playoffs in each of the last two seasons despite being forced to use everyone in an endless parade of running backs and wide receivers.
Now they face the challenge of being as strong up front in 2020 as they were over the previous three seasons.
It won’t be easy. Just the final locker-room scene in the minutes following their 17-9 playoff defeat revealed that much.
Left tackle Jason Peters, who is 38 and has an expiring contract, said he plans to play next season, whether the Eagles re-sign him or not.
Undersized but highly productive center Jason Kelce, an old 32 as the result of going against bigger opponents for nine seasons running, wouldn’t say anything before limping off to the trainer’s room. But his wife just gave birth and he already has earned more than $40 million in his career. Put that together with his remarks last year that he will look at retirement now at the end of every season and it’s fair to wonder how much more of this he wants, even with presumably many more millions of dollars to come.
Big V also has been a big part of their success. Halapoulivaati Vaitai — say that name 10 times real fast — has filled in at both tackle spots and this season added right guard to his duties. But his contract is up and it’s doubtful the Eagles can prevent him from seeking starter’s money in free agency.
The Eagles drafted Peters’ eventual replacement, Andre Dillard, last year. So do they simply move on without Peters? And if they do, does this mean their primary backup option at tackle becomes Jordan Mailata?
Mailata is a promising prospect who this year had his season cut short less than one month in because of a back injury that landed him on the injured reserve list. The injury wasn’t serious. He could have played three weeks later, he said. He only was subtracted from the active roster because so many injuries at other positions meant the Eagles couldn’t afford to keep him on it anymore.
But that could cost them down the road. The Australian is a former rugby player who never played football before the Eagles drafted him in 2018. And going on IR meant he could no longer practice with the team and get the valuable reps he needs for develop the footwork necessary to play on the outside.
“I look forward to 2020,” Mailata said, “because I see it as another year of opportunity. And obviously I’m a lot healthier going into the offseason than last year. Last year, I had to rehab for two or three months. So I’m really excited now because I’m healthy, and it’s going to be awesome.
“I’m actually going to have a chance to work out, work on my craft a little bit more and get together with a couple guys that want to work out together.”
What Mailata has going for him is that after drafting Dillard, the Eagles moved him from left tackle, where he had been getting all his practice repetitions, to the right side. Mailata embraced it.
“It was the best thing they could have done for me,” he said. “I understand the game now like the back of my hand, just because I had to learn it all again. But this time I wasn’t unfamiliar with all the terms and the techniques, so it was easier for me and faster to pick up on the right side.”
Dillard was widely considered to be the most polished offensive lineman in the draft, and he did nothing in his limited playing time as a rookie to disprove that. However, when the Eagles tried to plug him in on the right side after Lane Johnson was initially injured, he proved to be a disaster.
Dillard is just so much better on the left side that he likely has stuck his right hand in the ground for the last time.
And what happens if and when Kelce walks/limps away?
Does Isaac Seumalo move over from left guard to center, or do they think boyish Nate Herbig, who made the team but never played an offensive snap as an undrafted rookie in 2019, is the long-term answer?
If Seumalo does move over, is Matt Pryor ready?
And for that matter, is Dillard ready to become the fulltime left tackle?
He insists that he is.
“I’ve made my biggest turn, by far, as a player in my first year here,” Dillard said. “It’s been an incredible learning experience.”
The Eagles have 10 draft picks this year too, which means adding at least one more offensive lineman is a strong possibility.
But regardless of what they do to fortify their offensive skill positions, they won’t go very far if they don’t continue to field a good offensive line.
Nick Fierro covers the Eagles for The Morning Call