The Eagles invested their first-round draft pick into the offensive line, but injuries were more widespread than one position last season. Will the unit be better or worse in 2019?
Key additions: Andre Dillard (draft, first round)
Key departures: None
Why they could be better: Healthy bodies
Noticing a trend in this series? The Eagles’ bad injury luck in 2018 hit the offensive line hard, even though the affected players somehow missed a grand total of one game. Jason Peters was coming off a torn ACL to begin with, then went on to exit somewhere around half the games early with various dings. Jason Kelce battled injuries all year, yet hardly missed a snap, and Lane Johnson only failed to suit up once when it turns out he wasn’t practicing pretty much the entire season.
All three were already playing better down the stretch, a sign the unit was getting healthy. Kelce hasn’t missed a game since 2014, Johnson is traditionally very durable (suspensions notwithstanding) and Peters is another year removed from major knee surgery. Obviously, injuries can strike at any time, but 2019 is setting up as a clean slate for 60 percent of the Eagles’ front, which is a good sign.
Why they could be worse: Brandon Brooks’ injury
The injury gods giveth, but primarily they taketh. Brooks has designs on being ready to return potentially as early as Week 1 — it’s just hard to fathom that timetable is based in reality. He ruptured his Achilles tendon in January. That’s less than eight months turnaround from an injury that could take upwards of a year to fully recover from, if it doesn’t derail an athlete’s career entirely.
It’s plausible, if not likely the Eagles won’t have Brooks in uniform until November or December, and then what kind of player will they be inserting at right guard? A two-time Pro Bowler, or a guy working his way back from a major injury? And whoever is replacing Brooks until then — from the looks of things at OTAs, Halapoulivaati Vaitai, who’s never played guard before — has massive shoes to fill, as this is one of the most dominant interior linemen in the NFL the past two seasons.
The X-factor: Left tackle
There’s an old saying around here: 80 percent of Jason Peters is better than 80 percent of the left tackles in the league. So when the 37-year-old legend occasionally gets beat because he simply doesn’t get around like he used to, it’s accepted because he’s probably taking care of business the rest of the time.
Except the trouble with Peters isn’t necessarily his performance. It’s the matter of availability, which has been an issue the past few seasons. He tapped out of games with injuries in 2015. He was shelved by an ACL in 2017. Then last year, it not only took a while for Peters to return to anything remotely resembling form, but actually finish whole games. It will be interesting to see how much work the nine-time Pro Bowler can actually handle, and if wear and tear accumulate, whether either first-round draft pick Andre Dillard or rugby star-turned-football prospect Jordan Mailata can plug the hole. Recent history suggests one of them may need to.
Is the Eagles’ offensive line better or worse?
It’s hard to get around the strong likelihood Brooks will miss time. It’s also hard to project a 16-plus-game season where Peters doesn’t exit an important game early. Dillard may help ease the loss of a Hall of Fame talent at left tackle, but it’s a lot to ask of a rookie. And while the Eagles have some nice depth pieces in Vaitai and Stefan Wisniewski, the appearance they are needed and not just luxuries is worrisome.
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