The new, biggest question facing the Eagles is what they do at left tackle after losing Jason Peters, one of the best in the game, for at least months to come, if not the season. There is not a lot left on the free agent market, though Demetrius Bell, from the Bills, and Giant Kareem McKenzie are still out there.
The Eagles also have significant firepower in the draft, with the 15th, 46th and 51st picks, giving them the ability to move up and target a tackle if they choose and if they can find a trade partner. The problem is there are far fewer elite tackles in this year’s draft class than there were just a year ago.
The Eagles have said they don’t want to reach for need, but this situation seems serious enough that it might warrant a change in plans. As it happened, ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay was doing a conference call with reporters as the Peters news broke. We asked about the options at tackle. Here’s what he said:
-- Matt Kalil (USC) is considered the only elite tackle in the draft. Many have him going number three to Minnesota. It would take a lot of draft stock to move up that high, though it doesn't seem out of the question if the Eagles love him. If he falls, he’s worth trading up for, McShay said.
-- Next best is Riley Reiff (Iowa). But McShay isn’t high on him. He think Reiff “probably belongs at 15, I gave him a mid first round grade” but that because of the importance of tackles he may be picked in the top 10.
“Riley Reiff’s a good player, but he’s not at that level in terms of athleticism. He’s just kind of consistent and solid across the board. I just don’t know that he’s going to be an elite left tackle in the NFL,” McShay said. “I don’t think Reiff is worth moving up for.”
The other top tackles, he said, are probably worth picks in the 20s, but might go sooner.
-- McShay had Cordy Glenn (Georgia) as his third best option, but said he’d fit in best at right tackle. Maybe that works if Todd Herremans can flip to the left side – though that would put a rookie on Mike Vick’s blind side.
-- Jonathan Martin (Stanford) probably needs to get stronger and wouldn’t be ready to start right away, McShay said.
-- Mike Adams (Ohio State) sounded intriguing. McShay has him as one of the most talented linemen in the draft, but says his stock has fallen because of questions about effort and consistency. “If you feel great about your coaching staff and ability to motivate and get the most out of him, then you get a steal out of him, because I think he’s probably the second most talented offensive tackle in this draft,” McShay said.
The Eagles certainly have the coaching, as Howard Mudd showed in his first year on the job, but of course it’s not yet clear if the draft is how they plan to address this need. A young tackle, though, would provide an option for this year and insurance in case Peters remains hampered by his injury long term.
It's worth remembering that the Eagles got their starting center in the sixth round a year ago, but quality tackles tend to fly off the board a lot faster.
The Peters injury is stunning news for a team that had seemingly made moves to address all of its biggest offseason concerns: DeSean Jackson, middle linebacker, Evan Mathis. It just shows how much luck factors in to even the most meticulous planning. The Eagles were fortunate with injuries a year ago. While Mike Vick was banged up at times, no significant player missed more than three starts. Already 2012 is off to a devastating start on the injury front.