Friday, July 11, 2014
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Offseason outlook: Offensive line

Note: This is the fourth part of a 10-part series looking at the Eagles' roster entering free agency and the draft. The first part was quarterbacks, the second part was running backs, and the third part was wide receivers. Look for tight ends and specalists on Friday. You can read about the defense on Birds' Eye View next week.

Offseason outlook: Offensive line

(Yong Kim/Staff Photographer)
(Yong Kim/Staff Photographer)

Note: This is the fourth part of a 10-part series looking at the Eagles' roster entering free agency and the draft. The first part was quarterbacks, the second part was running backs, and the third part was wide receivers. Look for tight ends and specalists on Friday. You can read about the defense on Birds' Eye View next week.

OFFENSIVE LINE

ON THE ROSTER

Under contract: Jason Peters, Lane Johnson, Todd Herremans, Evan Mathis, Jason Kelce, Allen Barbre, Julian Vandervelde, Dennis Kelly, Matt Tobin, Michael Bamiro, David Molk

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Free agents: None

Outlook: One of the biggest reasons for the offense's success in 2013 was the health of the offensive line. They started every game together and combined to take 98.3 percent of the offensive snaps. It was a major difference from 2012, when only one starting lineman lasted the season. The stability helped LeSean McCoy lead the league in rushing and Nick Foles find time in the pocket. Both Jason Peters and Evan Mathis were Pro Bowlers.

Expect all five back this season. The Eagles can only hope they remain healthy. Peters is among of the NFL’s elite left tackles. He is due $9.65 million this season, which is the final year of his deal. The Eagles could be in line to give him an extension. Peters is 32 and twice ruptured his Achilles tendon in 2012, but he thinks he has “five good years” ahead of him.

Lane Johnson impressed as a rookie in just his third year as an offensive lineman. It appears the Eagles hit on that pick. He is big, athletic, and a willing learner. Of the three rookie tackles taken in the Top 4 last season, Johnson was the only one to play 16 games. His athleticism for his size draws praise from coaches, and his teammates appreciated his eagnerness to improve.

Jason Kelce recovered from major knee injury to have a strong year in the middle of the line. Kelce is a leader on the offensive line and in the locker room, even though he’s only in his third season. He struggled at times against bigger tackles, but overall, he was productive and brings rare athleticism to the center spot. Kelce is eligible for a contract extension, and it would not be a surprise if the Eagles can work something out. Both sides seem happy with each other.

Both Mathis and Todd Herremans are on the wrong side of 30, although Mathis has proven to be a late bloomer and has thrived later in his career. Mathis, 32, is finally receiving credit as one of the NFL’s top guards. Herremans moved from tackle to guard this season, and was solid, albeit unspectacular. He is 31 and a franchise stalwart, having played all over the offensive line and recovering from a major foot injury.

Herremans has three years remaining on his contract with a $4.2 million cap hit this year that rises to $5.2 million in 2015 and 2016. Expect him to be back this season, although his performance and the team’s depth will determine what happens beyond 2014. There’s only so much money the team can allocate to the offensive line, and the team will have decisions on Peters and Kelce coming soon.

Because of the team’s health this season, their reserves were not seen as frequently. Allen Barbre played well when he relieved Peters, and the journeyman is valued by the Eagles’ coaching staff. Expect him back in 2014. Matt Tobin was an undrafted rookie last year who also impressed the staff, making the roster out of camp and staying on the roster throughout the season. He was active over Dennis Kelly, who had a back injury during the summer and seemed to be supplanted by Tobin. This will be an important summer for Kelly, as it will be for Julian Vandervelde, who was the backup center last season.

The Eagles are intrigued by the potential of Michael Bamiro, who spent 2013 on the practice squad. At 6-foot-8 and 340 pounds, Bamiro has size that is hard to find. He was extremely raw and should have been in college last season, so it was almost like a redshirt year. He could push Kelly for a roster spot as a backup tackle.

David Molk was signed after the season. He played 12 games with the Chargers in 2012 after a standout career at Michigan, and he will challenge Vandervelde for the backup center spot.

 OFFSEASON PLANS

Because of the stability of the line and some promising young players, I would not expect the Eagles to be especially active on the free agent market. They can try to find players such as Barbre who don’t fit in elsewhere and come as roster hopefuls looking to impress in Philadelphia, but the Eagles will not be players for big-ticket offensive linemen such as Eugene Monroe, Branden Albert, Jared Valdheer, Alex Mack, or Anthony Collins.

In the draft, the Eagles are always looking for developmental players. Considering the age of the offensive line, it would be prudent to continue adding youth. That is especially the case on the interior offensive line. The top interior offensive linemen in the draft are Stanford’s David Yankey and UCLA’s Xavier Su’a-Filo. Alabama’s Anthony Steen suffered a late-season injury, but he started for Eagles offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland at Alabama. That familiarity could be a benefit. Penn State’s John Urschel is a potential late-round pick. It would help if the Eagles can find someone who can player center or guard, so the center prospects are also worth monitoring.

The top tackles are Texas A&M’s Jake Matthews, Auburn’s Greg Robinson, Michigan’s Taylor Lewan, Notre Dame’s Zack Martin, and Alabama’s Cyrus Kouandjio. Most of them won’t even be available at No. 22, and as much as the Eagles insist they go with the best value, I would not anticipate an early tackle unless there’s a situation like there was in 2012 when a starter gets hurt before the draft.

One player to watch is Miami’s Seantral Henderson, who is 6-foot-7 and 331 pounds. The former top recruit was inconsistent in his college career and had off-field issues, but the Eagles like talented players with size who they could potentially mold. Stoutland coached at Miami early in Henderson’s career, so that familiarity can help with some of the makeup questions that could come up with Henderson during the scouting process.

zberman@phillynews.com

@ZBerm

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Birds' Eye View is the Inquirer's blog covering all things Philadelphia Eagles and the NFL.

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