The Eagles and tackle Demetress Bell agreed to a five-year contract, the team announced Wednesday.
Just a little over a week after Jason Peters ruptured his right Achilles tendon the Eagles were able to land his replacement at left tackle. Bell, a free agent, visited with the Eagles over the weekend, but had also drawn interest from the Steelers, Packers, Cardinals and Redskins.
"Demetress was one of the top free agent offensive linemen available this year and we are happy to be able to add him to our squad," Eagles coach Andy Reid said in a statement. "We had a chance to meet him over the weekend and study him extensively on tape and we came away quite impressed with what we saw and heard. He’s a great athlete."
(Note: Bell's first name has been incorrectly spelled "Demetrius." He and the Eagles took this opportunity to correct the mistake.)
While the 27-year-old Bell got the long-term deal he sought, it's not exactly all guaranteed. In fact, only the first year is, according to an NFL source. The Eagles will have a decision to make next off-season, but they can move on from Bell without taking a salary cap hit. Peters' return, of course, will play an instrumental part in whether the Eagles decide to keep Bell beyond this season. Peters, considered one of the top left tackles in the game, is signed through 2014.
The Eagles, in desperation mode, likely had to up the ante to get Bell. With the free agent market diluted, the draft not deep at that position and the backup options on the roster not enticing, the Eagles probably had to sweeten their offer for a veteran that has only 30 career starts.
Bell has been injury prone since becoming the Bills' starting left tackle in 2009. Coincidentally, he replaced Peters after the Eagles traded for him. But in Bell's first season he played in only eight games. He bounced back in 2010 and started the entire season. But last season a shoulder injury limited Bell to only six starts.
In those six games and over 410 snaps Bell only allowed one sack, according to ProFootballFocus.com. In 2010 he gave up four sacks over 978 snaps. Last season as an All Pro Peters was credited with surrendering three sacks over 953 snaps.
Peters is also considered one of the best run blockers in the NFL. LeSean McCoy had some of his best carries last season running to his left. In 2010 when Bills running backs ran behind the left tackle or around the left end they gained 5.1 yards per carry.
"Demetress is a guy we’ve followed since he joined the league," Eagles general manager Howie Roseman said. "He’s a big, athletic left tackle and he has quite a few games of experience under his belt with Buffalo. He’ll excel with our style of play on the offensive line."
A seventh round draft choice of Buffalo in 2008, the 6-foot-5, 311-pound Bell originally attended Northwestern State on a basketball scholarship. Bell, a Summerfield, La. native, is the son of NBA great Karl Malone. They do not have a relationship, according to various reports. Jemele Hill of ESPN wrote a story about their enstrangement in May, 2008, after Bell was drafted).
After redshirtting as a college freshman, Bell decided to join the football team as a defensive end. He switched to offensive tackle a year later and went on to record 22 consecutive starts in his final two seasons.
While Bell will likely start spring practices as the starter, he could face competition from King Dunlap, who the Eagles re-signed to a one-year contract last week.
When Demetress Bell left Philadelphia without a contract after visiting with the Eagles over the weekend the chances that the tackle would land here appeared slim.
Bell, a free agent, had already visited with the Steelers and was reportedly drawing interest from the Packers, Cardinals and Redskins. It was also reported that he was scheduled to travel to Green Bay sometime this week.
Not true, Bell said on his Twitter account.
"No, I'm done visiting," he said. "Where is this coming from?"
And now there's speculation that the Eagles are the front-runners to sign Bell, according to Aaron Wilson of the Carroll County Times, who tweeted that he was "hearing" the Eagles were the favorites.
Because there were several suitors and Bell had yet to strike a deal, it was believed that the 27-year old was holding out for a long-term deal. With Jason Peters likely out for the season after rupturing his Achilles tendon last week, the Eagles need to find a starting-caliber tackle. But they may not be interested in committing to Bell beyond the coming season.
Still, they have may surveyed the free agent landscape and realized that the pickings are slim. Marcus McNeill is a possibility, but he's been plagued by injuries. Kareem McKenzie is still available, but he's 32 and plays right tackle.
Bell doesn't exactly have a clean slate. He's had injuries shorten seasons in two of the three years. But when he did play for the Bills, he was effective.
A message left with Bell's agent, Ted Marchibroda was not immediately returned, but a source close to the situation characterized his meeting with the Eagles as a positive one.
If Wilson's report is accurate, the Eagles may be getting some positive news within days.