Can the Eagles squeeze one more year out of Jason Peters?
Don't let the invitation to his eighth Pro Bowl fool you - that was based on reputation alone. 2015 was Jason Peters' worst season of the six he's spent with the Eagles. The left tackle battled injuries all year, his once-dominant performance suffering as a result, prompting questions as to whether his body is finally breaking down. Now at the age of 34, the Eagles are hoping to get at least one more campaign out of Peters.
Does he have it in him? It was the second straight season of decline for Peters, who has been a step slow at times in pass protection and increasingly drawn the wrath of officials. Rarely do players improve in these late stages of their career, so why are the Eagles pinning their playoff chances on a 13th-year veteran.
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Partly out of necessity. There were too many holes to fill along the offensive line this offseason without creating one more. However, the Eagles also expressed hope that Peters isn't finished yet.
While injuries may be a fact of life at this late stage of his career, one has to wonder how much better Peters would look if he could simply stay healthy - possibly a lot. Chip Kelly's uptempo offense, both its pace and high volume of snaps, probably wasn't doing him any favors, either. In a more traditional offense and with a little injury luck, Peters could still be very effective in this league. Regardless, even Peters in decline might be preferable to the alternative.
Who starts at left guard?
The Eagles made a big splash in free agency by signing 27-year-old Brandon Brooks from the Houston Texans, instantly solidifying the apparent hole at right guard in the process. Who will get the call at left guard, on the other hand, remains very much in the air, although there does not appear to be any shortage of competition.
The incumbent, journeyman Allen Barbre, has a fight on his hands after an underwhelming year. The Eagles were sure to add talent, first signing veteran interior lineman Stefan Wisniewski to a one-year deal, then spending a third-round pick on Isaac Seumalo out of Oregon State. Also returning from injury is Andrew Gardner, who folks tend to forget was a not-ineffective right guard for parts of the previous two seasons. Actually, there's a whole host of nondescript guard prospects holding down roster sports at the moment.
Judging from the moves that were made, it's safe to say this Eagles coaching staff is not comfortable with Barbre. The likeliest scenario is probably Wisniewski or Seumalo winning the job, with Wisniewski perhaps holding the upper hand.
Wisniewski has started exclusively at center for the Jaguars and Raiders over the past four seasons, so the former second-round pick is not exactly an inevitability. And were Seumalo or another to earn the job, it would be of little consequence to the Eagles financially whether Wisniewski stays or goes. That being said, he has to be considered the front-runner at this point.
What is the succession plan at tackle?
It's long been understood that Lane Johnson will leave his spot at right tackle for Peters' on the left whenever the future Hall of Famer's career does come to an end. Johnson has been groomed to take over ever since he was selected fourth overall in the 2013 draft.
But then the question immediately becomes who replaces Johnson on the right? Years of ignoring the offensive line in the draft has left the roster with precious little in terms of a developmental tackle.
The Eagles finally went O-line this year for the first time since selecting Johnson, and as far as the tackle position is concerned, came away with Halapoulivaati Vaitai out of TCU in the fifth round. Yet it's difficult to form high expectations for a player taken that late, much less project he could be ready to start as early as next season.
There are other options. Brooks was filling in at right tackle for the Texans downs the stretch last season and has the size and length to play on the edge - perhaps something the Eagles considered when agreeing to a long-term deal. In the short-term, veterans such as Gardner or the recently extended Dennis Kelly could help ease the transition. But as far as any succession plan is concerned, it's not exactly fully fleshed out.
Will Jason Kelce rebound?
2015 was a pretty miserable year for Jason Kelce, and he'd be the first person to tell you that. He became very frustrated with losing and his own disappointing performance, even going so far as to post the poop emoji on the nameplate at his locker.
All of which was uncharacteristic of Kelce, who up until last season was considered one of the top young centers in the NFL, even garnering a Pro Bowl selection in an injury-shortened 2014. Explaining why is the hard part. Maybe it was the lack of continuity due to new (not-so-great) guards on both sides. Perhaps - almost certainly in fact - he was playing hurt, though he never used it as an excuse. Honestly, the entire offense stank, so there's that too.
The answer to whether Kelce will rebound probably depends more on your viewpoint than anything else. Some feel he is undersized at 295 pounds and was finally exposed as the keystone on a weakened line.
No doubt, Kelce will benefit from having a massive force like Brooks to his right and a potential upgrade to his left. Getting healthy and putting last season out of his mind will help as well. The sixth-year veteran has proven himself not just a quality center, but among the best in the league in two separate offenses already, a body of work that provides little reason to think he won't acquit himself well in Doug Pederson's attack.
Is the offensive line any better?
Not to pick on one player, as they offensive line failed as a group in 2015, but subbing Brooks for Matt Tobin at right guard should go a long way toward upgrading the entire unit. Bringing in alternatives to Barbre at left guard was also wise, and the talent level should rise as a whole with the additions of Wisniewski, Seumalo and Vaitai.
Whether the O-line can resume its standing as one of the elite fronts in the league is another story, and may hinge on Peters and Kelce. Both Pro Bowlers have dealt with injuries and underwhelmed recently, with the former proving especially difficult to replace. If Peters' performance falls off a cliff entirely, it could be another rough year.
Otherwise, the improved talent, competition and depth should make the Eagles' offensive line better across the board. Don't discount how shifting from Kelly's innovative offense to Pederson's more traditional approach could be beneficial as well. Even if injuries strike, as they have decimated the unit in three of the last four seasons, the Eagles appear more equipped to handle most of those losses.
All signs seem to point to, yes, the Eagles' should be stronger up front.