While the Eagles have many holes on their roster, their offensive line is the most pressing need thanks to the units collective age and Lane Johnson’s tenuous status in the league.
Patrick Causey, on Twitter @pcausey3
Andrew Luck was considered a can’t miss prospect — a once in a generation talent that was going to cement the Colts franchise as perennial contenders for the next 15 years. Luck has been a very good quarterback, but he’s been marred by inconsistency and the Colts are 14-15 over the last two seasons just as Luck should be entering his prime. What gives?
It wasn’t for a lack of skill position players. The Colts invested significant draft capital in the receiving position, using a 1st and two 3rd round picks on Phillip Dorsett, TY Hilton and Donte Moncrief, respectively. They signed the ageless Frank Gore in free agency. And they surrounded Luck with dependable(ish?) tight ends in Dwayne Allen and Luck’s favorite college target, Coby Fleener (who has since signed with the Saints).
Look instead at the big uglies — the often overlooked, but critically important offensive lineman. Colts General Manager Ryan Grigson committed managerial malpractice by neglecting that unit during the first four seasons of Luck’s career, and it showed. Luck was hit an absurd 375 times since he was drafted, most in the NFL by a considerable margin. The cumulative effect was Luck missing 9 games last season with a litany of injuries, including a lacerated lung.
Juxtapose this team building philosophy with the Oakland Raiders, who spent a league high $37.7 million on their offensive line — dubbed Carr Insurance by Oakland fans — to create one of the best lines in the NFL. Sure, the Raiders also have stud receivers Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree. But without that offensive line, which has only given up 13 sacks on the year, odds are Derek Carr would end up more like his brother, David Carr — who was sacked a comical 76 times during his rookie season — than his current MVP-contending self. Or compare it to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, a team flying under the radar as a legitimate playoff contender this season. Yes, the Bucs used the number 7 overall pick on Mike Evans to pair with their young franchise quarterback, Jameis Winston. But they also used a mix of free agency and the draft (including a high second round pick on Donovan Smith) to build one of the deepest offensive lines in football. Or the Tennessee Titans, who have assisted Marcus Mariota’s ascension to the ranks of one of the best young quarterbacks in the league by building a young and talented offensive line, thanks in part to using top 10 draft picks on Chance Warmack (now on injured reserve) and Jake Conklin, the latter of which is considered one of the best young tackles in all of football.
What the above examples show is that it doesn’t matter how much capital you invest in shiny new toys because they, and your franchise quarterback, won’t be nearly as effective if their offensive line is in shambles.
Which brings me to the Eagles. We have entered that point of the season where we don our armchair general manager caps and devise ways in which we can we can improve the Eagles roster. It is an annual tradition of sorts, providing therapeutic relief from the realization that the Eagles are, yet again, missing the playoffs. Most fans focus their attention on wide receiver, cornerback, and running back, given the obvious limitations of each position. And indeed, those positions must be upgraded if the Eagles want to have any realistic chance at competing for the playoffs. But, the offensive line is often overlooked, and it is a mistake.
To an extent, I get why. The offensive line has played pretty well this year according to most metrics. Football Outsiders has the Eagles ranked 8th in pass blocking and 15th in run blocking. PFF has handed out above average grades to every offensive lineman save for Jason Kelce:
- Peters: 84.7 (above average)
- Barbre: 82.8 (above average)
- Kelce: 60.2 (below average)
- Brooks: 84.8 (above average)
- Johnson: 87.2 (high quality)
Given that our receivers can’t catch, our corners can’t stop receivers from catching, and our best running back is a 34-year old scat back, the temptation likely exists to assume the offensive line is good enough for another year and invest our limited resources elsewhere. Maybe Isaac Seumalo challenges Kelce for the starting center job, Jason Peters defies Father Time one last time, and the Eagles get away with just injecting the line with youth vis-a-vis late round draft picks.
Truth be told, I’d love nothing more than to get Carson Wentz a true number one receiver and a stud running back. And while we still need to address those positions over the next two offseasons, it cannot come at the expense of the offensive line. According to Jimmy Kempski of Philly Voice, the Eagles entered this season with the oldest offensive line, in terms of average age of each lineman, in the entire league, with their average age of 29.2 years just beating out the Atlanta Falcons (29). This chart, again courtesy of Jimmy Kempski, underscores just how old the unit has become:
|J. Peters||2nd oldest LT|
|A. Barbre||2nd oldest LG|
|J. Kelce||11th oldest C|
|B. Brooks||10th oldest RG|
|L. Johnson||24th oldest RT|
If the Eagles do not make any changes to the above group next season, they will have an absurd average age of 30.6 years old, which is almost two-years older than the second oldest. Even if we substitute Isaac Seumalo for Allan Barbre at left guard, the units average age would be 28.8, which would rank tied for the 29th oldest unit in the league based on this year’s numbers (which shouldn’t be too far off from what we would expect next season).
That was a long way of saying the Eagles offensive line is old as dirt. This is the direct result of the Eagles failing draft a single lineman during the last two seasons of the Chip Kelly era, and the situation won’t get any better until the Eagles invest significant resources in this position in the very near future.
This investment is especially needed at the tackle position, where Peters age (he will be 35 next year) and Lane Johnson’s tenuous grasp on his NFL career paint a bleak outlook. While Peters has played better longer than anyone (including yours truly) expected, there isn’t a single starting lineman in the NFL that is 35 years old, which is how old Peters will be next year. While Johnson has been suspended twice for violating the NFL’s PED policy, meaning he is one mistake away from a 2-year suspension.
Can the Eagles risk heading into next season under those circumstances? Here are the three potential outcomes for next season:
- Best case (unrealistic?) scenario: Peters has another solid season left in the tank, Johnson keeps himself out of trouble, and the Eagles find a way to address the right tackle position in 2017.
- More realistic scenario: Peters regresses and/or gets hurt, forcing the Eagles to slide Johnson to left tackle and Big V to right tackle.
- Worst case scenario: Peters gets hurt and Johnson gets suspended, forcing the Birds into relying on Barbre and Big V as their starting tackles for the season. No offense to either of those two, but that is simply not a situation in which we want to place our young franchise quarterback.
And of course, I haven’t even addressed the fact that Jason Kelce has regressed in each of the last three seasons, and Brandon Brooks — the Eagles free agent signing this offseason — just announced today that he has missed the last two weeks of football because of a serious anxiety disorder.
Simply put, as important as receiver, running back and corner back are to this team — and indeed, they are critical — offensive line should be our top priority.