EAGLES POSITIONAL REVIEWS
This week, The Inquirer is looking at the Eagles’ roster position by position. Free agency begins on March 9, and the draft is April 28-29.
Mon. Feb. 29: Quarterback/Running back
Tues. March 1: Wide receiver/Tight end
Wed. March 2: Offensive line
Thur. March 3: Defensive line
Fri. March 4: Linebacker
March 5: Defensive back.
Most of the Eagles’ 13 offensive linemen remain under contract. Jason Peters is the highest paid ($8 million) and will count the most against the salary cap ($9.7 million), but his number isn’t ridiculously significant for a starting left tackle. He is 34 and declining. But the Eagles seem intent on retaining Peters and I would agree with that decision. He’s still better than any of the other options on the roster – as he proudly stated after the season when I asked him if it was time to move to guard – and could benefit from playing in a system that isn’t almost entirely up-tempo.
Lane Johnson struggled in the three or so games in which he filled in for injured Peters, but to be fair, he often had to switch sides in-game or was told of the move not long before kickoff. At right tackle, though, Johnson was solid. He wasn’t great by any stretch, but he, too, played through various injuries and never missed a snap. The Eagles rewarded Johnson with a long-term contract extension that pays him $11.25 million per year – the most by far for a right tackle. The deal is obviously designed to forecast his eventual move to left tackle. If Johnson can’t make a successful leap or he flat lines, then the Eagles overpaid. But if he develops into a Pro Bowl-caliber left tackle in a year or so, it will be a good deal.
The only other mainstay assured of his job in 2016 is Jason Kelce. The center didn’t perform well last season, but he wasn’t as poor as some believed. For one, he had to adjust to new guards on both sides and neither was consistent. And two, he settled down in the second half of the season. A lot of his problems seemed to result from miscommunication. That’s on Kelce, but also on Chip Kelly’s run scheme, which became predictable as the season wore on. Kelce has obvious experience playing in a West Coast-based scheme and should be able to transition back.
Ideally, Allen Barbre is your sixth man. Kelly initially had him penciled in to replace Todd Herremans at right guard last season, but when Kelly released Evan Mathis, Barbre moved to left guard. He was nowhere near as reliable. Like Kelce, Barbre wasn’t that bad. But his pass protection was subpar. He’s under contract for two more seasons with a $1.95 cap hit, so it’s not as if the Eagles would be overpaying if he returned to the sixth-man role. Andrew Gardner opened the season at right guard, but was lost for the year when he suffered a Lisfranc foot fracture in Week 4. He’s a decent run blocker, and a not-so-decent pass protector. Gardner and Dennis Kelly signed cheapie contract extensions last season and should once again battle for roster spots. Kelly was pressed into action at various times and had his struggles. He was partly responsible for the hit that knocked Sam Bradford out of the Dolphins game. The quarterback missed the next two games – both losses – as a result.
Josh Andrews spent most of the season as the backup center. He has yet to take meaningful snaps in an NFL game. Barrett Jones and Tanner Hawkinson were added to the roster late in the year. The 6-foot-4, 308-pound Jones is more of an interior lineman, while the 6-5, 300-pound Hawkinson looks like more of a tackle. They’ll be tossed into the shuffle in the offseason.
Malcolm Bunche and Brett Boyko spent all of their rookie seasons on the practice squad. The Eagles projected the 6-6, 320-pound Bunch as a guard. The new coaching staff could have a different evaluation – although offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland returns -- but Bunche could be a sleeper to watch.
Matt Tobin and David Molk are restricted free agents. The Eagles have until March 9 to tender them contract offers. If they offer anything to either, it will probably be at the bare minimum, but I would allow both to walk. They’re undersized linemen whom Kelly preferred for his zone blocking schemes, but when asked to block a defender, both were often bowled over.
Tobin was by far, in my opinion, the worst of the Eagles’ starting linemen. He could hang with also-rans, but anytime he faced a defensive tackle with more ability, he routinely was manhandled. Molk is listed at 6-1 and 290 pounds, but he’s probably more like 5-11 and 250. He suffered a season-ending biceps tear in the opener during an Eagles field-goal attempt.
With about $18 million in cap space after the Bradford contract, the Eagles have some room to sign a few free agents. I think it’s almost certain that they target an offensive lineman, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they went after an interior lineman for obvious reasons. Alex Boone (6-8, 300) might be the most attractive guard who will be out there in a week. He plays with an edge, but will turn 29 in May. Jeff Allen (6-4, 306) has obvious ties to Doug Pederson. The Chiefs guard has played a significant part in Jamal Charles’ success on the ground over the last four years, but Kansas City has interior depth and could let him walk. Allen, 26, is versatile, but injuries have kept him off the field for significant chunks of the last two seasons.
I could see the Eagles taking a swing at Texans guard Brandon Brooks (6-5, 335). He’s only 26 and has been a steady presence on Houston’s o-line, particularly in pass protection, over the last three years. Fletcher Cox tossed Richie Incognito (6-3, 319) around like a ragdoll in last season’s game against the Bills, but the Buffalo guard otherwise had a strong season. He’s 32, however, and comes with baggage. The Steelers’ Ramon Foster (6-5, 328) is another lunchpail-type interior lineman. The 30-year-old has made 87 starts, including all 16 last season. The Seahawks’ J.R. Sweezy (6-5, 295) has had glimpses of greatness, particularly on the ground, but he’s susceptible in pass protection.
It’s doubtful the Eagles would be interested in aging Pro Bowl guards such as Jahri Evans (32) and Evan Mathis (34).
(Addendum: A loyal reader admonished me for failing to include Ravens guard Kelechi Osemele (6-5, 330) and he was right to do so. I guess I figured in my head that Baltimore would whatever it took to retain the 27-year old, but it appears right now as if he should reach the market. He'll cost the Eagles. He obviously can play guard, but showed versatility when he filled in for Eugene Monroe at left tackle last season.)
In the unlikely event the Eagles move on from Peters, they would likely have to sign a tackle in free agency. It could be either side with Johnson poised to move to the left side, but the options aren’t more appealing than Peters in my estimation. Russell Okung (6-5, 310) is coming off shoulder surgery and hasn’t played a full season in his entire six-year career. He’s representing himself in free agency, so there won’t be a middle man to contend with. Kelvin Beachum (6-3, 308) is more than serviceable, but the left tackle is coming off a torn ACL. The Raiders’ Donald Penn (6-4, 315) rebounded last season, but he, too, is an aging (32) left tackle.
There are some appealing options among free agents who have spent most of their careers at right tackle. The Browns’ Mitchell Schwartz (6-5, 320) is an ascending young talent at 26. The Chargers’ Joe Barksdale (6-5, 326) could be had for less than his competition.