Eagles left tackle Jason Peters goes down with Achilles injury

So much for offensive line continuity.

A little more than two weeks after the Eagles finished locking up their starting offensive line, at least through the next three seasons, the strongest link in the group, Jason Peters, ruptured his Achilles tendon.

The Pro Bowl left tackle injured his right tendon Tuesday in a football drill. But the Eagles didn't announce Peters' injury until Friday. He will undergo surgery next Tuesday at the Rothman Institute.

"We don't know when he will return to the field and we will not speculate on a timeline," Eagles coach Andy Reid said in a statement. "We are just going to let the surgical process and the rehabilitation process play itself out."

In the best-case scenario, it takes six months to recover from a ruptured Achilles, said Phillip Kwong, foot and ankle surgeon at Kerlan-Jobe Orthopedic Clinic in Los Angeles, adding "and that would be overly optimistic."

On average, a professional athlete needs about eight to nine months before he or she can return to competition, Kwong said. Linebacker DeMeco Ryans, whom the Eagles recently acquired in a trade, suffered an Achilles injury in October 2010.

Ryans made it back in time for the 2011 opener, but clearly was not playing at full capacity for most of the season. Ryans plays linebacker, a position that requires much more stopping and starting than a tackle.

"[Peters] wouldn't have to adjust as much to changes in direction," Kwong said. "Playing on the offensive line, he generally knows where he's going."

Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard tore his Achilles last October. He has said that he hopes to return by May, but he only recently had a protective boot removed that he had to wear after he suffered an infection in February.

"It's a serious injury that you can't push too fast," said Kwong, who has never examined Peters. "If you're too aggressive the incision could get infected and that could be a disaster."

It's probably safe to say Peters won't be back any time before November. The Eagles could place the 30-year-old on the physically unable to perform list to start the season, which would give them up to nine weeks to decide on Peters' availability for 2012.

If the Eagles were to place Peters on injured reserve his season would be over, although the NFL is currently reviewing a proposal to ease IR restrictions.

Whichever course the Eagles choose, they need a left tackle for an extended period of time. They re-signed King Dunlap on Friday, a move that was likely sped up by the Peters injury, but his primary purpose will be as a backup.

"We are glad to have King back as a part of our offensive line," Reid said in his statement, "and we will continue to scan the free-agent market, also knowing the draft is less than a month away."

The Eagles have scheduled free agent Demetrius Bell for a visit over the weekend. Bell was in Pittsburgh on Friday and the Cardinals, Packers and Redskins are also reportedly interested. So the Eagles will have competition if they are going after the guy who replaced Peters in Buffalo after the Bills traded him to the Eagles in 2009.

Bell, 27, has logged 30 starts over the last three seasons, missing time for various injuries. Last year it was a shoulder injury.

After Bell, the next best left tackle on the market is Marcus McNeill. The Chargers released the two-time Pro Bowler (2006-07) two weeks ago. McNeill has suffered a series of neck injuries in recent seasons.

Kareem McKenzie, formerly of the New York Giants, also remains unsigned. He's 32 and has played primarily at right tackle over his career. If the Eagles were to take a flier on McKenzie, they would likely have to move Todd Herremans over from right tackle.

But as Herremans pointed out on Twitter today when fielding questions about a potential move: "Does everyone forget . . . our [quarterback] is a lefty," he said.

Michael Vick's blind side needs to be protected, of course, but most teams line their best pass rusher up opposite the left tackle. Right guard Danny Watkins played left tackle in college and left guard Evan Mathis played some right tackle at training camp last year, but the Eagles probably want to avoid the shuffling that plagued the unit early last season.

The Eagles also have a potential trade chip in cornerback Asante Samuel, and there is always the draft. Only Southern Cal's Matt Kalil is considered talented enough to start right away without missing a beat, though.

The draft is always a crap shoot, though, a there could be some unknown that offensive line coach Howard Mudd believes he can mold into a starter. Eagles center Jason Kelce, a sixth-round pick, started last season as a rookie.

Kelce ran into Peters at the NovaCare Complex Friday and said the five-time Pro Bowler, considered by some to be the best left tackle in the game, was in surprisingly good spirits.

"Do I think our season is over and the O-line is ruined? No," Kelce said. "But it's upsetting to know that we're losing one of the best left tackles in the game for a large chunk of the season and possibly the entire season."

 


Contact Jeff McLane at 215-854-4745, jmclane@phillynews.com or follow on Twitter @Jeff_McLane.