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By Paul Bowman, Sports Talk Philly Editor
On Tuesday, Eagles head coach Doug Pederson gave a vote of confidence for Andre Dillard to be the starting left tackle, saying he has “a ton of confidence” in the second-year man.
In fact, All-Pro center Jason Kelce gave the former first-round pick some support of his own, saying that Dillard’s only slight weakness in 2019 was power and he will improve on that for 2020.
Still, despite Dillard’s massive potential and his solid showing at left tackle in 2019, Pederson also told reporters that the team has remained in contact with 16-year veteran Jason Peters.
Passing the reigns over to Dillard as the left tackle of the future is the right move. The team would benefit greatly if Dillard could hold down the fort and play at a high level for the next 10 or more seasons.
That shouldn’t – and hasn’t – prevented the team from remaining in contact with Peters, however.
Reports are that the future Hall of Fame left tackle who spent the last 11 seasons in Philadelphia has turned down offers from multiple teams with the hopes of returning to Philly.
How far would Peters be willing to go to stay in the city that has been his home for the last decade?
The Eagles have starters and a ton of potential behind them, but not much true depth. Jordan Mailata, Prince Tega Wanogho, Jack Driscoll and Nate Herbig represent players with the potential to be starters, but none has played snaps in the NFL and two are from foreign countries and have had comparatively little exposure to the game of football overall.
The only backup linemen with experience at the NFL level is Matt Pryor. While Pryor technically appeared in 12 games during his second season in 2019, eight of those appearances were purely special teams and and two of the remaining four appearances featured him only as an additional blocker for a single play. He played about half of the remaining two games (the first against Seattle and the second against the Giants) on the line filling in for injuries to Lane Johnson and Brandon Brooks.
Pryor also played the entirety of the Wild Card game against the Seahawks, where he made his first and only start in the NFL.
While Pryor showed great potential, a player with the equivalent of two games played being the most experienced backup is not ideal. The team will almost certainly look to add someone else to the unit.
That’s where Peters could come in, in some form.
Peters is still playing at a high level, despite what some may think, and he has been a good mentor for youth on the line. Adding him as the backup tackle would make the Eagles depth much more impressive. There might be some concern with the backup suffering an injury, too, many of his recent injuries have been ones that sideline him for only a few plays. There are worse things than getting the developmental Wanogho or Mailata a couple reps here and there.
While that may be nice, Peters is unlikely to sign a deal just to be a backup. He probably wants to start and even returning to Philly likely wouldn’t be enough to make him sign such a deal.
To get the top offensive lineman left on the market on the team, there needs to be some playing time and the Eagles may be able to do that by offering Peters a competition at left guard.
The Eagles have a player in Isaac Seumalo who is at least as good as the average starter, but isn’t considered a top-tier player at his position. The thing that adds value to Seumalo, however, is his versatility and ability to play any position on the line.
Offering Peters a chance to compete for that job would put the Birds in great position heading into this season. If Seumalo wins the job, you have an elite backup tackle. If Peters wins, the depth issue is solved and there is a starting caliber player available to play any position needed, though the team would certainly have the option to kick Peters to tackle and put Seumalo back where he is most comfortable should a tackle go down.
One benefit of Peters playing at guard is that he would not need to cover as much ground or lunge back as far in pass protection. Peters has become known for his false start penalties in recent years despite having just 12 in his last 29 regular season starts. Part of the reason he has developed this habit is that he has lost a bit of quickness in his older age and looks to compensate for that and part of it is that he is nearly always off the line “right at the snap” but is rarely called for it due to his status in the league. There is a chance that problem alleviates a bit with Peters not needing to back up so far in pass protection and without the need to cover everything coming from his left. Maybe that doesn’t happen, but it is a possibility.
The concerns with this plan would be how much Peters would impact the cap that the team would like to carry over into 2021 to allow Howie Roseman room to operate, how Seumalo feels about the plan and making sure he understands that it is his incredible versatility that makes him so valuable to address this issue and not some poor performance on the field and the loss of a roster spot. Without even looking at UDFAs, the Eagles have five players that they will likely not look to expose to waivers, but won’t start: Pryor, Mailata, Wanogho, Driscoll and Herbig. With Peters in the fold and the team unlikely to carry 11 offensive linemen on the 53-man, one of those players is liable to be taken by another team before they make it to Philly’s practice squad.
Is the upgrade Peters would provide worth the risk of bad blood or lack of development with a player like Seumalo or Dillard? Is the risk of losing out on a prospect that the team would otherwise keep around too much? Will Peters carry a cap hit high enough that it will damage the team’s ability to compete in 2021? These are the questions that that the team is weighing each time they are in contact with Peters and consider bringing him back.
So far, it seems the Eagles and Peters are not on the same page with these issues, but a reunion could certainly still happen.