Even approaching 36 years old, left tackle Jason Peters might be the most irreplaceable player in the Eagles’ lineup — after Carson Wentz, of course. His season-ending injury is a massive, massive loss for the team, especially because the Eagles are 6-1 and look like they have a legitimate shot at the Super Bowl in a weak conference.
That being said, the answer is NOT going out and trading for another left tackle if you’re the Eagles, despite the proliferation of quality players on the block.
The hottest name on the market, especially with the 49ers coming to town on Sunday, is five-time Pro Bowl selection Joe Staley. 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan admitted they wouldn’t “just hang up the phone” if the Eagles called, but added Staley is a player they “definitely… wouldn’t want to lose.” Bills left tackle Cordy Glenn could be trade bait as well, with coach Sean McDermott noting, “Those conversations take place every day.”
Yet it would behoove the Eagles to not get too caught up in those discussions. While a trade might upgrade the offensive line in theory, there’s also a possibility it would do more harm than good in the long run — if such a deal is even possible in the first place.
The problem the Eagles run into before they even pick up a phone is fitting either Staley or Glenn under the salary cap, both in 2017 and beyond.
According to the NFLPA, the Eagles have just $5.2 million in cap space right now. It would take just about all of that to take on either Staley or Glenn for the rest of this season. Halve their ‘17 base salaries, and the Eagles would owe roughly $4.125 million to Staley, and $4.5 million to Glenn. There goes the rest of the rainy day fund.
That means the Eagles won’t be rolling any remaining cap space into 2018, too, which is when the real troubles begin. As of now, Over The Cap estimates the Eagles will have $6.1 million to work with this coming offseason, with plenty of key players scheduled to become free agents. Staley is due $4.8 million in ’18, while Glenn is owed a whopping $9.25 million.
Simply put, the Eagles cannot easily afford either player. That’s especially troublesome given both players are signed through at least the next two seasons.
What to do with Peters?
Usually, trading for a player with multiple years remaining on their contract is viewed as beneficial. In the Eagles’ case, it only raises more questions.
There’s a line of thinking that Peters may have played his final NFL game after suffering a torn ACL and MCL at his age. That’s a bold assumption to make, however, seeing as he just signed a contract extension in August. Whether he’s the same player or not is to be determined, but it’s difficult to imagine Peters just leaving $7.75 million in base salary and whatever remaining prorated bonus money on the table in ’18.
So suppose the Eagles made a deal for Staley or Glenn — what’s the plan for next season? Even assuming somebody moves to guard and the entire offensive line is shuffled to an extent, the presence of another high-profile player creates a huge logjam. Peters, Lane Johnson, Brandon Brooks, Jason Kelce and Stefen Wisniewski are all under contract. It would be a mess.
The Eagles could maybe a swing a trade then and recoup some draft choices, but would be operating from a position with little leverage. And given their current stash of picks, that’s a whole other issue.
Running low on draft capital
It won’t be easy to afford Staley or Glenn, and we’re not just talking about money here. The Eagles don’t really have the draft picks to easily pull off a trade, either.
Their second- and third-round choices in ’18 are already gone — the second in the deal for Wentz, and the third in the swap for cornerback Ronald Darby. And while the Eagles are on track to hold three fourth-round selections, these may not be a very strong starting point for a trade.
Even if the Eagles would entertain sending one or multiple fourth-round picks, it would further limit the front office’s ability to make moves on draft day. Throwing in future picks is obviously an option as well, but now we’re just kicking the can further down the road, creating additional long-term strain on long-term roster-building efforts.
Notice how we haven’t even entertained the notion of giving up the Eagles’ first, which is likely the 49ers’ or Bills’ beginning asking price. It seems unreasonable to think there’s a way to swing this without essentially punting on the draft in ’18, which is pretty obviously a bad idea.
Don’t count out Big V
The truth of the matter is the Eagles are never going to truly replace Peters, with or without Staley or Glenn. Furthermore, they may or may not be upgrades over the depth the club already has.
We’ve had a chance to see Halapoulivaati Vaitai quite a bit the past two seasons, granted, mostly at right tackle. But, regardless of where he’s lined up, Vaitai has done a solid-to-good job. The second-year player had a rough NFL debut, then looked rusty his first few snaps on the field in Carolina this season. Otherwise, most people would never know when a backup was in the game.
Staley or Glenn might be better. We’re also not going to find out what Vaitai’s ceiling is if the Eagles trade for somebody at the first sign of trouble.
As long as Vaitai is solid, a trade may not even be necessary. Teams have lost great left tackles before and soldiered on. In 2015, the Broncos lost four-time Pro Bowler Ryan Clady in OTAs, plugged in journeyman Ryan Harris, and went on to win the Super Bowl. It can be done.
In other words, losing Peters sucks, but it’s not reason to panic. Vaitai has earned the shot to get the job done, and besides, a trade just doesn’t seem realistic, anyway.