Replacing All-Pro left tackle Jason Peters won’t be an easy task, but there are a handful of options the Philadelphia Eagles could do in an attempt to fill the void left when Peters ruptured his Achilles tendon.
Peters—who signed a six-year deal with the team before the 2009 season—has done an exceptional job of replacing the mammoth Tra Thomas. Peters is actually a better player than Thomas ever was; he’s made three straight Pro Bowls and last year ranked nearly twice as good as any other offensive tackle in the game (per Pro Football Focus).
Peters has three seasons remaining on his contract, although he is likely to miss all of 2012. When he does return from his injury, Peters may not be the same player. Former Cincinnati Bengals defensive end Antwan Odom suffered a similar injury after being an elite pass-rusher for the first half of the 2009 season. He returned in 2010, played four games without a sack, and is now out of football.
Hopefully Peters is able to regain his form as the league’s top tackle, but either way, the Eagles desperately need a fill-in for the 2012 season. The team finished 8-8 last season, although the tools are there for the Eagles to make another run at an NFC East title, and filling the left tackle void is vital to their success.
Marcus McNeill spent the last six seasons as the blindside protector for Philip Rivers, and he was good at it—making two Pro Bowls and finishing second in the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year voting back in 2006.
McNeill has struggled with injuries recently, and the San Diego Chargers released him earlier this offseason. McNeill suited up for just 20 of the previous 32 games, missing seven contests last season due to spinal and neck concerns—certainly a serious matter, and if it weren’t for this, McNeill would almost definitely have been signed somewhere by now.
He played in 552 snaps last season, grading as a -9.7 per PFF. McNeill struggled as a run-blocker, gave up three sacks and 18 pressures in just about half a season (those are about similar to Jason Peters’ season totals) and committed a whopping nine penalties. The Chargers signed Jared Gaither in midseason to replace McNeill, and Gaither played well enough down the stretch that the Chargers viewed the 28-year-old McNeill expendable.
McNeill was a great player back in the day, but I don’t trust a guy with neck and spinal problems. Those are serious issues, and I have no reason to think McNeill can stay healthy for all of 2012 after missing significant action in each of the last two seasons. As a one-year stopgap, he’s not a bad option, but there are better choices out there.
This would have been my ideal option for the Philadelphia Eagles, but Demetrius Bell already visited Philly and reportedly left without a deal.
Bell has had a solid career in Buffalo after being a seventh-round pick of the team back in 2008. He worked his way into the starting lineup by ’09 and has been a regular since then, although he has struggled to stay healthy, missing a total of 17 games due to injury in the past three seasons.
In fact, the only season Bell didn’t get hurt was 2010. He missed nine games in 2011—even more than Marcus McNeill—due to a shoulder injury, the same problem that caused him to miss seven games in 2009.
In Bell’s lone full season—2010—Pro Football Focus rated him 51st among qualifying offensive tackles. Last year, he was faring much better, grading as a +6.8, and the 17th best tackle, although that was in limited action. He isn’t exceptional as either a run- or a pass-blocker, but he’s not bad. He’s just a league-average left tackle that has struggled to stay healthy in his NFL career.
The fact that Bell has now visited with a slew of teams and still remains unsigned likely suggests his asking price is too high. Bell left Philly without a contract, and he could always get a deal worked out with the team. Although at this point, it should be looked at as the Eagles missed out on Bell, or—considering he’s really not that good of a player—maybe Bell missed out on the Eagles.
Three years ago, if you told me the Philadelphia Eagles were looking at King Dunlap as a potential starter at left tackle, I would have laughed. Dunlap was a seventh-round pick from the 2008 NFL draft—like Demetrius Bell—but unlike Bell, Dunlap has very little starting experience.
He stands 6’9”, making him one of the tallest football players to ever play the game, although he could stand to add some bulk on his 310-pound frame. Dunlap may almost be too big, as he struggles to get down low against smaller speed rushers.
In 80 snaps between left and right tackle in 2011, Dunlap didn’t give up any sacks, allowed just one quarterback pressure, and graded as a +2.0 on Pro Football Focus’s scale. That’s certainly productive in his limited snaps, although it is such a small sample size that it doesn’t give a clear picture.
In 2010, Dunlap was slightly below average in over 400 snaps, giving up four sacks and committing four penalties, although rating well in the run-blocking game.
Dunlap’s four-year rookie contract expired after this past season, although the team re-signed him the same day Jason Peters was lost to injury. Dunlap’s one-year deal means the team doesn’t value him too highly, and rightfully so—he is probably a mediocre to fringe starter who also struggled with back spasms last season and missed his entire rookie campaign with an injury.
He knows the system, so the Eagles may feel he is the best replacement. But offensive line coach Howard Mudd prefers smaller and quicker offensive linemen, and Dunlap certainly doesn’t fit the mold of smaller.
However, Dunlap has filled in when both Jason Peters and Winston Justice missed time in recent seasons, and he is definitely one of the league’s better backups on the line.
The right tackle of the New York Giants is a two-time Super Bowl champion, although his age (32) and the vast drop-off in his production for the 2011 season has to be seen as a serious concern.
McKenzie rated as one of the best right tackles in the game from 2008 through 2010, and in fact, Pro Football Focus rated just nine linemen in all of the NFL (and no right tackles) ahead of McKenzie’s +58.8 for overall performance. In 2011, however, McKenzie was frequently over-matched and exposed, rating as a -22.8, which would put him as the 129th best offensive tackle out of 140 qualifiers.
McKenzie was particularly ineffective in the passing game, where he allowed six sacks, 47 quarterback pressures and graded as the worst pass-blocking offensive tackle in the NFL for the 2011 season. His contract with the Giants expired, and they obviously saw his deficiencies during the season because they have not re-signed their long-time tackle.
After letting Rich Seubert and Shaun O’Hara go the year before—and now McKenzie—the Giants are obviously intent on getting younger on their offensive line.
What McKenzie does bring to the table is a wealth of experience and impressive durability; he played all 16 games in 2011, and other than missing four games in 2009, has played 16 games for four of the last five seasons.
Given his age, he may not want much more than a one-year deal as a stopgap, but considering his recent performance, the Eagles may not want McKenzie. If the team does sign him, they will probably keep him as a right tackle and move the highly versatile Todd Herremans to left tackle.
But the Eagles haven’t had any contract with McKenzie yet, and I don’t see this as one of the likely possibilities.
Danny Watkins was the team’s first-round pick in the 2011 NFL draft, and the 26-year-old rookie started 12 of 16 games at right guard.
He struggled in training camp, initially losing his job to waiver wire acquisition Kyle DeVan, who was eventually released. When Watkins did take over, he still showed growing pains, but there were some positives—he stayed healthy for the full season and didn’t allow a sack in pass protection.
Watkins was actually a left tackle back in his collegiate days, and he had the unfortunate task of replacing legendary tackle Jason Smith, the No. 2 overall pick from the 2009 draft. He did a fine job holding down the fort for two seasons, earning first-team All-Big 12 honors as a senior in ’10 while leading all Baylor offensive linemen with 134 knockdowns.
Watkins moved to guard in the NFL simply because the Philadelphia Eagles already had a standout player at left tackle in Jason Peters. Watkins lacks the initial quickness off the line, running just a 5.36 in the 40-yard dash, but he has exceptional size and he’s a terrific natural blocker. When he was drafted, Watkins was already 26 years old, but scouts say he is extremely mature and has a tremendous work ethic.
If the Eagles feel Watkins is ready to step in and fill the void at left tackle, replacing a right guard may be easier than replacing a left tackle.
The problem would then be finding an adequate replacement at right guard for Watkins, and the team may wish to address that through the mid rounds of the NFL draft or the free agency market with potential suitors such as Eric Steinbach, Kyle Kosier, Bobbie Williams or Jake Scott for a one-year deal.
It’s not even out of the realm that the Eagles could bring back Jamaal Jackson on a one-year contract, as he does have the ability to play right guard as well as his natural position of center.
If the Philadelphia Eagles can find an adequate replacement to play Todd Herremans’ position at right tackle, this might be the best bet. Herremans can play both tackle and both guard spots on the line, and his versatility led the Eagles to give him a three-year contract extension that will keep him in Philly through the 2016 season.
Last year, Herremans suited up for all 16 games—15 of them at right tackle—but his best game of the season (according to Pro Football Focus) came when Herremans filled in for Jason Peters at left tackle.
In that contest, which was a 20-13 win over the Washington Redskins in Week 6, Herremans graded as a +5.1, rating well as both a pass- and a run-blocker. He helped LeSean McCoy pick up 126 ground yards and a touchdown on 28 carries, and he also didn’t give up a sack, quarterback hit or even a pressure in the passing game.
If the Eagles feel moving Herremans to left tackle is their best option, a one-year stopgap at right tackle like Kareem McKenzie or Max Starks would make sense.
There are four offensive tackles in this upcoming year’s draft that could go in the first round—Matt Kalil, Riley Reiff, Jonathan Martin and Mike Adams. Kalil is likely to go to the Minnesota Vikings at the third overall pick, and the Philadelphia Eagles won’t get him unless they trade up for him.
Reiff, Martin and Adams could all be available with the 15th overall pick, especially the latter two.
Reiff is seen as a borderline Top-10 to Top-12 pick in the draft, and he may not be around when the Eagles make their pick. He is strong with good arm extension, and he was a three-year starter at Iowa University.
Jonathan Martin has been frequently mocked to the Arizona Cardinals at the 13th pick, and he is a functional blocker with three years of starting experience at Stanford University for Andrew Luck.
Adams is a talented enough offensive tackle who dealt with numerous injuries and a five-game suspension while at Ohio State University.
All three of those players would likely start for the Eagles from day one, but the problem with picking an offensive tackle in the first round is that when Jason Peters returns in 2013, there is no available place for the ’12 first-round pick.
The Eagles could always target a player like Zebrie Sanders or Bobby Massie in the second round, but the problem with one of those two is that they probably won’t be ready to start and produce from day one, and that’s what the Eagles need.
The Eagles have their line intact through 2014, and there just isn’t a spot for a 2012 pick in the starting lineup. The Eagles could pick a player like Sanders, start him in year one, and then use him as a backup for two seasons. Or maybe Peters won’t recover from his Achilles tendon, and the Eagles will push Sanders into the starting lineup in 2013.
I like the Demetrius Bell option the best, but Bell left Philadelphia without a contract. Marcus McNeill’s health problems scare me off too much. I don’t think Kareem McKenzie is good enough, although as a one-year stopgap, that’s not a terrible option. King Dunlap is a mediocre starter in my opinion.
I would prefer the Eagles move Todd Herremans to left tackle and try to sign a one-year stopgap at right tackle like Max Starks. There are bigger concerns for the Eagles in the upcoming NFL draft than offensive line, and I would like to see them address the safety, linebacker and defensive tackle positions rather than offensive line.
Ignoring the left tackle position for 2012 could easily be the downfall of the Eagles just like the team never recovered in 2010 from losing Jamaal Jackson at center. That’s why a one-year stopgap like Starks while moving Herremans to left tackle might work best.