THE FUTURE of the Eagles' offensive line changed Wednesday.
That might seem like a strange thing to say about a one-year contract extension given to a 35-year-old left tackle, but bear with me.
We all knew Jason Peters was going to anchor the left side for the Birds this season, with Peters coming off his ninth Pro Bowl, even though the team was tight against the cap and Peters was scheduled to take up $11.7 million's worth of room. What we weren't clear on was what would happen after that.
Given Peters' age and Lane Johnson's contract, which pays Johnson like a left tackle for the next several years, the smart money was on the Eagles parting with Peters following the 2017 season and creating $9.25 million in 2018 cap savings.
We still don't know the exact structure of Peters' $32.5 million deal through 2019, which replaces the current pact that was to end after 2018. We've been told that $15.5 million is guaranteed and that there is an $8 million signing bonus, which the team can amortize over the three years. Apparently, that can help cut a little more than $5 million off the 2017 cap number. But it isn't clear that Peters will be any less expensive in 2018 than before, and he's now on the books for 2019 at a hefty price, as well.
Maybe you're thinking that the extension is just window-dressing and that the Eagles can still bid Peters farewell after this season. If they do, they've created more dead money and less savings than they would have realized previously. But all that aside, Eagles coach Doug Pederson and de facto general manager Howie Roseman echoed and endorsed what Peters said Tuesday about wanting to retire an Eagle. Pederson also allowed that "guard could be a potential spot down the road," as Peters alluded to on Tuesday, when he worked out with the team for the first time this spring.
"We're excited that he's going to be an Eagle for the next several years," Pederson said as the team began the second installment of a three-day minicamp. "His desire and mine, as well, is that he retires an Eagle."
Roseman released a statement that said: "Jason is a future Hall of Famer, a great player and leader. He has been an anchor for our offensive line for many years and now we are thrilled about being able to work something out that will allow him to finish his career here in Philadelphia."
These aren't things you say if you seriously think you still might cut ties after this season. Peters is taking it year-to-year, he reiterated Wednesday, but he would not have asked for the extension if he thought he wouldn't want to play past 2017.
"I still can play. Still feel good. Not banged up," Peters said. "It's different when you're banged up."
"I feel good. I feel like I've got more than three years, but it's just a three-year deal. I'm gonna keep going, trying to chase a ring," something he said he thinks is within reach as quarterback Carson Wentz develops.
Also, it seems there is someone else who wants Peters to stick around, and to retire as an Eagle, someone who outranks both Pederson and Roseman.
Peters made a point of thanking Eagles chairman Jeffery Lurie.
"We're best friends. We talk all the time. He texts me, and we talk before every game. That's my guy," Peters said. "He brought me here, and he stayed loyal to me."
Peters said Lurie is "away in Europe somewhere" but after agent Vincent Taylor initiated talks recently, Lurie "stood up for me and got the deal done."
At the March NFL meetings in Arizona, Lurie talked of his friendship with Peters, how close they were. On the surface, a 65-year-old billionaire from Boston and a 35-year-old tackle from Texas wouldn't seem to have all that much in common, but Lurie clearly treasures Peters as one of his franchise's all-time greats. And Peters has made something like $80 million from Lurie since arriving in a 2009 trade.
What do they talk about?
"Football, life in general, you know," Peters said.
If the Eagles aren't going to save more than $9 million in 2018 cap room by releasing Peters, where else will they save it? They are projected to be something like $16 million over the cap next year, a figure that, of course, includes players who have no shot at being here. But everyone who leaves will have to be replaced.
"I don't get into all that," Peters said, when asked about his cap hits. "You want to win a Super Bowl or you want to save money? It's their decision. I give us a good chance on the line, to help out other guys, to get where we're trying to go."
One path to savings seems obvious, given the talk of Peters moving to guard. For 2018, you could play Peters at left guard, move Isaac Seumalo from guard to center, and trade or release Jason Kelce, freeing up $4.8 million in cap room.
Kelce acknowledged Wednesday that this thought has occurred to him, but said he doesn't allow himself to ponder the future.
"I'm focused on playing center this season for the Eagles," he said.
"Outstanding," Kelce said, when asked his reaction to the Peters news. "Obviously, JP is a premier left tackle, in my opinion the best in the league, a future Hall of Famer. So I think it's wise that they just locked him up for even more time."
Asked about the Peters-to-guard scenario, Kelce said: "I would love to play next to JP. I love the two (guards, Seumalo and Brandon Brooks) I've got. But obviously, JP's a tremendous athlete, phenomenal player, has one of the best feels for the game I've been around. And I think he has plenty of gas left in the tank. Played one of his best seasons since I've been here last year."
In that last thought, Kelce echoed the words of offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland earlier this week. Stoutland also said: "I love coaching Jason Peters."
Peters was asked what makes him so intent on retiring as an Eagle. He didn't start out here, isn't from here, spends his offseasons in Texas.
"The fans, the organization," Peters said. "The fans deserve a Super Bowl . . . The city of Philly deserves it."
And then, the money's pretty good, too.