At 12:40 Friday afternoon, the Eagles' offensive line, which was poised to be a major strength in 2012, officially turned into a question mark.
The team released a statement, announcing that left tackle Jason Peters had suffered a ruptured Achilles tendon on Tuesday while training in Texas and would need surgery next week.
Peters, who turned 30 in January, was by far the Eagles' best offensive lineman last season - both in pass protection and in the run game. He consistently pushed defensive ends upfield and then trucked over linebackers at the second level, clearing space for LeSean McCoy.
Now, the Birds are left to figure out how to replace him.
If the Eagles choose to go with an internal candidate, the only real option is Todd Herremans, who played one game at left tackle last season. He lined up there against the Redskins and was outstanding. Here is my my writeup from Man Up:
Before this season, he was suddenly called on to fill in at right tackle after the Eagles' other options proved to be disastrous. And with Peters and King Dunlap banged-up, he filled in at left tackle Sunday. Not only has Herremans been versatile, but he's played well. Herremans passed off the linebacker and then crushed Atogwe on McCoy’s 11-yard run in the red zone in the first. He made the key block on Celek’s 7-yard touchdown. His block opened up room for Lewis on the 8-yard run. He and the whole left side of the line did a good job on McCoy’s touchdown run. Herremans picked up Fletcher, who was blitzing on Vick’s 26-yard completion to Maclin. And his blocks helped open up room for McCoy’s 11-yard run and his 7-yard run on the final drive. The only hiccups: Herremans was called for holding on the play where Vick scrambled and had to leave the game. And he was called for a false start on the second offensive play. But overall, Herremans was tremendous.
The point? It was a small sample size, but Herremans looked comfortable on the left side.
But a common question I've been asked on Twitter is: Why move Herremans to the left side if the right tackle is protecting Michael Vick's blind side.
It's a fair and valid question. But you have to remember who the left tackle most often lines up against: pass rushers like Jason Pierre-Paul, DeMarcus Ware, Julius Peppers and Brian Orakpo. It makes sense to put your best tackle on the left side because that's where the best pass rushers are generally coming from (even though many of them move around throughout the course of a game).
There is a flip side to the argument for sure. Not only is the right side Vick's blind side, but it's also the position next to Danny Watkins. That's significant because Watkins was the Eagles' worst lineman in pass protection last season. Granted, he should improve with a full offseason of work with Howard Mudd, but it's dangerous to team an unknown commodity next to Watkins on the right side.
Some have asked about King Dunlap. In my opinion, he's a backup. Regular MTC readers know I've been critical of Dunlap in the past, but he played well at left tackle last year against the Bills, filling in for Peters. And he even did a pretty good job at left guard against the Cardinals (click here and here for game reviews). At this point, though, I don't think you can trust him to be an every week starter.
So, where do the Eagles go from here? They give Howard Mudd a call and take a look at which free agents are out there. The Inquirer's Jeff McLane reports that they'll host Demetrius Bell this weekend. Bell (6-5, 311) dealt with shoulder and knee injuries last year, appearing in only seven games. He started all 16 games for the Bills in 2010. And according to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, Bell was visiting the Steelers on Friday.
The draft is also an option. Again, Mudd's input is crucial. While the Eagles spent their first-round pick on Danny Watkins last year, they also got Jason Kelce in the sixth round. And they took a flier on Evan Mathis, who turned out to be a quality starter at left guard. As I described earlier today, the Eagles have the chips to trade up in the first round if they target a player. Jonathan Tamari of the Inquirer wrote about some of the draft options earlier.
The tricky part here is determining a timetable for Peters. Based on reports, it seems possible that he could return at some point next season, but my guess is the Eagles are operating under the assumption that Peters won't contribute in 2012. If the Eagles invest a high pick in a tackle, and Peters looks like he can play at a high level in 2013, then what do you do? It's better to have too many options than to go into 2012 with a hole on the offensive line, but still, those are things to consider.
The good news is that the Eagles have some time. They can sign a free agent and address the offensive line in the draft. They have a versatile piece in Herremans and don't have to decide exactly how everyone is going to fit just yet. Who knows? If they target a top interior lineman in the draft, maybe Evan Mathis gets a shot at right tackle. He saw some reps there last summer, and I remember Mathis saying he was comfortable playing outside.
But the bottom line is this unit had a chance to be a major strength, anchored by Peters, who is an elite left tackle. Now, the Eagles have five months to piece together a plan for protecting Vick and opening holes for McCoy without him.