Jason Peters is the key to what the Eagles do on the offensive line | Offseason preview

EAGL24
Eagles offensive tackle Jason Peters getting carted off the field after injuring his knee against the Washington Redskins on Oct. 23.

This is one in a series of stories from Inquirer and Daily News beat reporters previewing the Eagles’ offseason. Free agency will begin on March 14, and the draft will be April 26-28.

Schedule of previews:

Tuesday, Feb. 20: Quarterbacks/specialists
Wednesday, Feb. 21: Offensive line
Thursday, Feb. 22: Running backs
Friday, Feb. 23: Wide receivers/tight ends
Monday, Feb. 26: Defensive line
Tuesday, Feb. 27: Linebackers
Wednesday, Feb. 28: Cornerbacks
Thursday, March 1: Safeties

Offensive linemen

Poll

Are you surprised that Alshon Jeffery played the entire season with a torn rotator cuff?

Under contract: Jason Peters, Halapoulivaati Vaitai, Stefen Wisniewski, Jason Kelce, Brandon Brooks, Lane Johnson, Chance Warmack, Isaac Seumalo, Taylor Hart, Darrell Greene.

The question here is whether the Eagles, currently with only one selection in the first three rounds, need to prioritize the drafting of an offensive tackle this spring. That question revolves around Jason Peters. (Given that they are about $10 million over the projected 2018 salary cap, there is no reason to expect that they will be able to add anything meaningful here in free agency.)

There is little reason to look to make a substantial draft investment in an interior lineman; the Eagles are in excellent shape there. You can usually add developmental guards and centers late in the draft (Jason Kelce, sixth round, 2011) or as undrafted free agents.

Roster decisions

Peters is 36, an unheard-of age for an elite offensive lineman in the current NFL. But he certainly was playing at an elite level in 2017, before suffering a season-ending knee injury Oct. 23 against Washington. Apparently, his rehab has gone very well, and that might help with the decision.

Team owner Jeffrey Lurie and head coach Doug Pederson have made plain their enduring affection for Peters; Pederson even said after the Super Bowl that as far as he is concerned, all-time greats such as Peters deserve the chance to go out on their own terms. The team almost certainly will approach Peters about some sort of contract extension/reworking that will lessen this year’s $10,666,666 cap hit. As long as he isn’t being asked to straight-up give back money, as he was last spring, it would seem likely that Peters would agree.

There was a report raising the possibility that Peters might be traded. Nothing is impossible, of course, but this seems unlikely. It would incur a substantial dead cap charge. It would almost certainly not be what Lurie, Pederson or Peters wants. And it’s unclear what a 36-year-old, injured, nine-time Pro Bowl left tackle is worth on the trade market.

The only way you would pursue trading Peters is if you think Vaitai was so good as his replacement that you can’t conceive of not starting Vaitai right off the bat in 2018. I haven’t heard anyone around NovaCare say that. Vaitai was OK but not great during the regular season, much better in the postseason. Much, much better. A big reason the Eagles and Nick Foles pulled off three successive upsets and won the Super Bowl. But Vaitai worships Peters, and it doesn’t seem likely that he’ll pout if he becomes the top o-line reserve again, at least until someone gets hurt. And Vaitai, as good as he was, didn’t do anything in the playoffs that a healthy Peters couldn’t have done.

If you envision having Peters back at a Pro Bowl level with Vaitai backing up at both tackle positions, you probably don’t need to prioritize OT in the draft. Of course, when you’re coming off a Super Bowl victory, you can pretty much do what you want; if a really good offensive tackle is sitting there at 32nd overall, there is no reason you can’t grab him for a rainy day.

If you’re not sure what’s going to happen with Peters, and/or if Vaitai’s postseason didn’t answer all your questions (I kinda think it did), then OT becomes a pretty big deal, in free agency and/or the draft.

Free-agent options

As was noted above, currently not a realistic line of inquiry. The Eagles are over the projected cap and need to free up money to sign linebacker Nigel Bradham, and maybe some other pending free agents, such as cornerback Patrick Robinson, defensive tackle Beau Allen, running back LeGarrette Blount, or tight end Trey Burton. If any of those players leaves – and at least a couple will – that will create a more pressing need than exists on the offensive line, where no departures seem likely.

This doesn’t preclude picking up somebody for depth on the cheap at some point this spring or summer. But you’re not likely to be bringing in a starter here in free agency.

Draft options

Penn Charter and Notre Dame star offensive tackle Mike McGlinchey, Matt Ryan’s cousin, is unlikely to be available at 32nd overall — right now, he’s projected to go in the teens. Ditto Oklahoma’s Orlando Brown, at this point, anyway – we’re still kind of early in the draft evaluation process. (We’re talking here about tackles, assuming that a first-round guard/center is really, really unlikely.)

Connor Williams of Texas seems like a solid player who might be on the board at 32, and gone by the middle of the second round or so. Ditto UCLA’s Kolton Miller, or Mississippi State’s versatile Martinas Rankin.