While the NFL’s work stoppage may have had you take a blowtorch to your favorite Swoop doll, we here at Bird’s Eye View, in an attempt to cure the blues, will proceed as if the lockout never occurred with an off-season look at the Eagles this week.
We’ll go position-by-position, or something like that, with a look back and a cautious peek ahead. We won’t likely know for weeks if the league will be able to conduct free agency or allow any other player movement, but the draft will take place unimpeded.
Yesterday we took a look at defensive back, need 1 or 1A for the offseason, depending on your point of view. Today we look at the other top question mark, offensive line.
What then: The line looked like it was in trouble in training camp, and it never really righted itself. The frustrating thing was that while there aren’t any superstars on the line, the talent level certainly seems good enough that they should have been better than they showed. Yet there they were, 49 sacks allowed, fourth most, even with the most elusive quarterback in the game throwing the passes.
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I’ve written this several times: except for right guard, where Max Jean-Gilles and Nick Cole formed a rotation of ineffectiveness, the Eagles’ linemen individually aren't as bad as their atrocious numbers, but together they ended up as less than the sum of their parts. Todd Herremans was quite good and consistent. Jason Peters showed at season’s end he has the ability to be excellent, but on a given drive you never knew if you would get lockdown blocking or a false start. Mike McGlynn was a work in progress and Winston Justice is athletic but seems almost too nice for offensive line play and regressed, especially after hurting his knee late in the year. His benching in the playoffs spoke volumes. The biggest problem may have been the fact that out of five linemen, there was no sure thing: there was no one you could count on to be airtight play-in and play-out, which meant there were five potential leaks on a given snap, and it only takes one to result in a sack.
You have to give the line credit for the running game, where LeSean McCoy averaged 5.2 yards-per-carry and went over 1,000 yards total. But the Eagles are a passing team first and foremost, and they struggled there.
What now: The left side is set, with Herremans and Peters, despite the tackle’s inconsistency. The bet here is that if Jamaal Jackson can come back healthy his experience can help eliminate some of the apparent mix ups that often let defenders race in free on Michael Vick. The question is will Jackson's body let that happen, and how will he look after barely playing since late 2009? If the lockout wipes out offseason work, his return becomes that much more challenging.
If Jackson can play center, McGlynn maybe moves to right guard. But neither of those moves is a slam dunk, so expect the Eagles to invest in some fresh blood. In a way that started with line coach Howard Mudd, who led one of the best units in the business in Indianapolis. If he can get Peters to play consistently and maximize McGlynn’s development, those could be two upgrades right there. Or so the team would hope. The Eagles need to bring in some competition at right tackle.
The draft is loaded with mid-to-late first round options at tackle, much more so than at defensive back. Of the five tackles expected to go in the first round, Gabe Carimi (Wisconsin), Anthony Castonzo (Boston College), Derek Sherrod (Mississippi St.), Tyron Smith (USC) and Nate Solder (Colorado), at least one should be available at 23, when the Eagles pick. Each is expected to be a solid rookie, but there’s also a reason why none of them are considered top 10 picks. A guy like Carimi might also play guard, if needed there.
Another first round option could be Mike Pouncey (brother of stand-out Steelers rookie center Maurkice), who could play guard or center – and we know how the Eagles love versatility.
In the second or third rounds some names to watch are tackle Ben Ijalana (Villanova), guard/center Stefen Wisniewski (Penn State) and guards Clint Boling (Georgia) and Jah Reid (Central Florida).
The free agent class doesn’t have much sizzle at offensive line. The Falcons’ Tyson Clabo might be the best tackle available. He has started every game for Atlanta for the past three seasons and made the 2011 Pro Bowl as an injury replacement for Peters. After Clabo the next big name is Ravens’ tackle Jared Gaither, but he missed all of 2010-2011 with a back injury and some question his desire. He may be restricted, depending on the rules of free agency, though reports out of Baltimore say it’s a long shot that the Ravens retain him.
Another intriguing, but risky, name is Robert Gallery, who is out of Oakland after never living up to his billing as the number two overall pick in 2004. Could Mudd get something more out of him?
There isn’t a ton of tackle talent expected to hit the open market. Several known names could be free agents, but they could end up as restricted and carry steep price tags. Steelers tackle Willie Colon got a first-round tender, so signing him would be costly, if the free agency rules are the same as in 2010. (That’s reportedly what the owners are considering, assuming free agency is forced by the courts even without a new CBA). The Cowboys’ Doug Free would cost a first and third round pick – probably too prohibitive for anyone to make a real bid on him.
Patriots guard Logan Mankins has been franchised, as was Panthers center Ryan Kalil, effectively taking two talented players off the open market.