The day Andy Reid was introduced as the Eagles’ new head coach — Jan. 11, 1999 — he made it clear that building a strong offensive line was going to be one of his biggest priorities.
Maybe the biggest.
Who’s going to play quarterback? He answered by saying the important thing is that he'd be protected.
That’s how Andy Reid thinks. He played offensive line at BYU, coached offensive line in college and the NFL, always had an affinity for offensive linemen. Still does.
“The offensive linemen are the smartest guys on any football team,” Big Red said the day he was hired here, more than 20 years ago. “I’ve got to look out for my guys.”
The Eagles had allowed 56 sacks in 1998, 4th-most in the NFL, and over the previous five years they had allowed the second-most in the NFL – 253.
From 1982, when sacks became an official stat, until 1998, the year before Reid arrived, the Eagles allowed a staggering 935 sacks — 93 more than any other NFL team.
When Reid arrived, the Eagles had gone 20 years without a decent offensive line and hadn’t had a lineman make a Pro Bowl since Jerry Sisemore in 1981.
Names like Antone Davis, Ron Solt, Reggie Singletary, Mike Zandofsky, Bruce Collie, Ben Tamburello and Matt Darwin became punchlines around here.
And — not coincidentally — the Eagles hadn't been very good, either. They won just two wild-card games in the 20 years before Reid took over.
When did the Eagles start winning? When they finally had decent offensive lines.
When we look back at Reid’s legacy in Philadelphia, the most important thing he did was introduce a new emphasis on building around the two lines, an emphasis that continues more than two decades after he first arrived here.
The Eagles have always had great defensive lines, but developing a quality o-line was critical for Reid and Joe Banner, who built those early playoff teams under Reid.
Howie Roseman and Doug Pederson both learned under Big Red and share his philosophy and have continued to make the O-line a priority.
The last 20 years, the Eagles have the No. 5 offense in the NFL and they’ve had an incredible 10 offensive linemen go to a total of 26 Pro Bowls, most in the NFL.
In the last 20 years, Eagles offensive linemen have been picked to more Pro Bowl teams than in the previous 54 years combined in which there was a Pro Bowl or NFL all-star game.
Who’s the left tackle on the all-time Eagles team? Jason Peters.
Who’s the center? Jason Kelce.
Lane Johnson and Brandon Brooks are on their way there.
There are seven offensive linemen in franchise history who've made at least three Pro Bowls and all but Hall of Famers Jim Ringo and Bob Brown played for either Andy Reid or Doug Pederson. Roseman had his hand in acquiring four of them.
The Eagles have the 5th-best record in the NFL since 2000. Only the Colts and Packers have reached the playoffs more.
They’ve been one of the most successful franchise in the league for two decades, and they’ve won football games a lot of different ways, but the hallmark of this franchise since the day Reid first set foot in Philadelphia has been strong offensive lines.
A lot of this has to do with Juan Castillo and Jeff Stoutland, who've coached the Eagles' offensive line for all but two of the last 23 years. They’re two of the best in the business.
But ultimately it’s come down to talent.
And a franchise that’s been hit or miss at a lot of other positions has been able to consistently build elite offensive lines during this entire stretch, despite a couple notable misfires.
If you’re looking for one thing that ties together all the good Eagles teams of the last generation it’s gifted offensive linemen.
Thomas. Peters. Kelce. Brooks. Johnson. Runyan.
Now, Peters is gone, Kelce is 32, Johnson and Brooks are 30.
Isaac Seumalo looks solid and we’ll see about Andre Dillard.
It’s up to Roseman to keep the pipeline going, a pipeline that’s helped guide the Eagles to two decades of success and a Super Bowl championship. A pipeline started 20 years ago by Andy Reid.
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