On Thursday morning, we found out that the Eagles are going to let longtime left tackle Jason Peters test the free agent market but he’s not the only offensive lineman who will probably be on the move.
Backup lineman Halapoulivaati Vaitai, 26, is set to become a free agent on March 18.
And, apparently, Big V is about to get a big payday.
While we’re on the subject of #Eagles OTs, Halapoulivaati Vaitai (“Big V” to his friends) is expected to do very well in free agency. Have heard estimates of anywhere from $8m to $12m per year on a new deal.— Mike Garafolo (@MikeGarafolo) March 5, 2020
While those figures might seem shocking, there’s an overall lack of solid offensive line play throughout the league so linemen often get overpaid. My guess would be that Vaitai comes in on the low end of that range but even $8 million seems like a lot for him.
But you have to remember that Vaitai has 55 regular season NFL games under his belt with 20 starts, was the starting left tackle during the 2017 Super Bowl run and is versatile enough to play guard and tackle. And some teams are desperate for solid offensive linemen.
The Eagles were interested in signing Vaitai to an extension last offseason and Vaitai wisely didn’t go along with it. But it tells you that the Eagles understood what having Big V meant for their offensive line depth.
All of a sudden, that depth is a serious question mark heading into 2020.
Here’s a look at the projected starting OL:
LT: Andre Dillard
LG: Isaac Seumalo
C: Jason Kelce
RG: Brandon Brooks
RT: Lane Johnson
Not bad, right?
We’re assuming Kelce returns for the 2020 season, but if he does, that’s a pretty solid lineup. The problem is after that, there’s not much. If Peters and Vaitai are gone, the Eagles will be left with four backup offensive linemen from last year’s team — and three of them have never played a single offensive snap in the NFL.
Their most experienced backup would be 2018 sixth-round pick Matt Pryor, who has played in 12 regular season games without a start. Pryor did start against the Seahawks in that playoff loss in January and was fine. But Pryor is 6-7 and has had more success in the NFL at guard.
After that, the Eagles have Jordan Mailata, Nate Herbig and Sua Opeta.
Mailata was a seventh-round pick in 2018 but just started playing football a few years ago as a rugby convert from Australia. He has promise but is he ready to play in real games? And Herbig and Opeta were two undrafted rookies in 2019.
This is also where I should mention that while Johnson is the best right tackle in football, he’s missed five games over the last two years with injuries. So if he were go to down in 2020, the Eagles might be left with Dillard on one side and Mailata on the other unless they want to shuffle two spots and move Seumalo out to right tackle.
Either way, drafting Vaitai with a fifth-round pick back in 2016 has given the Eagles solid depth on their OL for four seasons under Doug Pederson.
So how do they replace that depth?
Well, the Eagles have 10 draft picks so they can try to use one of them on an offensive lineman, which is never a bad bet.
And they will have well over $40 million in salary cap space for free agents. But as we already talked about, free agent linemen who are any good get paid. Which is exactly what’s going to happen with Vaitai to get the Eagles into this situation in the first place.
Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Flyers, Sixers and Phillies games easily on your device.