The Eagles didn’t change much about their offensive line from last season. In fact, they retained pretty much everybody, even handed out a few contract extensions, while also going out and signing Chance Warmack in free agency.
The question is whether that was good enough. There are plenty of question marks among a nucleus of Jason Peters, Jason Kelce, Brandon Brooks and Lane Johnson, and standing still didn’t necessarily provide many answers.
The Eagles haven’t been this deep up front in years. First and foremost, 2016 draft picks Isaac Seumalo and Halapoulivaati Vaitai both got significant, meaningful experience in their rookie seasons, and should only be better for it going forward. Vaitai gives the club a capable backup at right tackle, while Seumalo will compete to start at left guard, but can play pretty much anywhere in a pinch.
Chance Warmack bolsters a strong interior. Formerly the 10th-overall choice by the Titans in 2013, Warmack hasn’t really panned out in the NFL, plus missed all but two games last season with a hand injury. However, he has 48 career starts under his belt, only turns 26 in September, and is reunited with Eagles offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland from his college days at Alabama. It’s a great situation.
Veteran Stefen Wisniewski was retained after his one-year trial, and can fill in at guard or center, giving the Eagles quality backups at all three positions.
Trades could change the outlook here, as Allen Barbre and Jason Kelce have both been rumored on the block. Even if both were to go – which seems unlikely – the Eagles’ depth looks improved based on the increased experience alone.
Theoretically, Johnson could test positive for performance-enhancing drugs and wind up being suspended for the entire 2017 season. However, we’re going to assume he’s learned his lesson.
Johnson was slapped with a 10-game ban last season after his second positive test, and it turned out to be a crushing blow for the Eagles. Case in point: the team had a 5-1 record with Johnson, but went 1-9 without him. As long as he can put that stuff behind him once and for all, the arrow is still pointing up. Johnson is only 27, and there’s absolutely no debate about his importance to the offense now.
Between Johnson, Seumalo, Vaitai and Warmack, the Eagles have no shortage of young talent along the offensive line. Evan Wisniewski and Brandon Brooks are only 28 this year. That being said, two of the most vital members of the unit are going to be on the wrong side of 30 – and their performance has already shown some signs of decline.
Jason Peters rebounded after a dismal 2015 campaign that left doubts about his viability at left tackle, earning his ninth invitation to the Pro Bowl last season. He’s no longer the dominant force who was once considered the best O-lineman in the league, but was still one of the more dependable players blindside players out there. Nonetheless, Peters is 35, and despite being rewarded with a contract extension two weeks ago, there naturally is concern that the age- and injury-related decline could be sudden.
Meanwhile, Jason Kelce has already been drawing criticism for the past two seasons, and the fact that he turns 30 in November isn’t likely to help. Though still one of the NFL’s top centers in space, people still have hang-up about his size, and the fact that he doesn’t appear to be getting any stronger with age. Kelce is a better player than he is often credited for at the local level, but that 30th birthday is something to watch.
If the Eagles’ line takes a step back in 2017, it will likely be because one or both of these guys isn’t hacking it anymore.
Brooks was as advertised last season at right guard after signing as a free agent from the Texans. At 6-foot-5, 335 pounds, Brooks is capable of engulfing defenders in the ground attack, particularly at the second level, and he was perfectly solid in pass protection as well. He has the tools to go from good to great, and seeing as he only turns 28 in August, reason to think he may still have that leap in him.
Even if Brooks is what he is, that’s a plus-blocker in both phases. The only concern here really is he wound being a late scratch two times in three weeks with an illness in 2016, and was later diagnosed with anxiety as the apparent cause the symptoms. Brooks addressed the issue, so his unexpectedly winding up on the inactive list two hours before a game should be a thing of the past.
The unknown isn’t always a bad thing, and the Eagles’ competition at left guard is a perfect example. Allen Barbre and Isaac Seumalo are going head-to-head for the job, and whoever wins, the offensive line should be fine.
Barbre started 28 games at left guard over the past two seasons, and was surprisingly better than serviceable, even when everything around him was falling apart in 2015. A third-round pick out of Oregon State in 2016, Seumalo appeared in nine games for the Eagles as a rookie and started four, and did not look out of place.
For obvious reasons, it would be better for the Eagles’ long-term outlook if Seumalo wins the battle, as is sort of expected. Should that come to pass, it could allow the Eagles to move Barbre, in which case, Warmack is right there to back him up. Or, if Kelce is traded, and Seumalo moves to center, Warmack is there to push Barbre. Wisniewski can play left guard, too! In other words, we don’t know precisely how it will shake out, but the Eagles have plenty of options.
BETTER OR WORSE?
Barring a sudden drop-off from Peters, the Eagles appear to be in good shape up front. Even if something happens to Peters, Johnson can play left tackle, and Vaitai takes over on the right. There is no shortage of moves along the interior, so consider that group vastly improved before any trades are made. The only question is depth behind Vaitai at tackle, though Seumalo can play outside as well. Everything points to an already solid group staying that way, and in many cases, continuing to develop. Better