The legal tampering window opens one minute before noon Monday, which means other teams will be tampering with the Bodyguard. Foreign clubs will be flirting with Jason Peters.
This seems indecent. It also seems familiar.
- NFL players narrowly approve labor deal with 17-game season; Eagles’ Malcolm Jenkins was against it
- Ex-Eagles exec Joe Banner in favor of NFL’s decision not to postpone free agency because of coronavirus pandemic
- Only a global pandemic could stop the Eagles from going after free-agent cornerback Byron Jones
We saw this happen 11 years ago — with Brian Dawkins. The Eagles let Dawk walk.
He was 35. JP is 38. They both ran the locker room. They both advocated for their teammates to the coaching staff. They both held every teammate accountable. They both were, effectively, an extra assistant coach; sometimes, they coached the coaches.
They both, if serviceable, were irreplaceable. Dawkins was more than serviceable. He went to two more Pro Bowls. Jason Peters might never play in another Pro Bowl, but he, too, remains more than serviceable.
To be clear: I have little use for old football players. Neither should NFL general managers. I endorsed the Eagles’ decisions to replace Troy Vincent at 33, Hugh Douglas at 32 (the second time), Jeremiah Trotter at 29 (the second time), and Donovan McNabb at 33. NFL players seldom diminish. They usually collapse.
Peters, like Dawkins, is different. He’s not perfect: He commits too many penalties, he takes too few snaps, he makes obvious impact plays too infrequently. But, for just $6 million last year, the Eagles got 13 starts of top-level play from a 37-year-old beast with a genius-level football IQ and the leadership qualities of George S. Patton.
Peters wasn’t the best he’s ever been in 2019, but he was a bargain, and he’d be a bargain again. If the Eagles want to reach the playoffs, if they want to win their division, if they want to contend for a Super Bowl, Jason Peters is their best option at left tackle. That’s why coach Doug Pederson last month said he wanted Peters back. Pederson knows that another disappointing season likely will end his run as head coach, and he doesn’t want to bet on a kid to keep his quarterback healthy.
Peters will be replaced by Andre Dillard, the Eagles’ first-round pick from 2019. Dillard introduced himself to the Philadelphia by crying while talking to Pederson after a scuffle in training camp. Dillard’s most lasting rookie impression on the NFL: He compared switching from left tackle to right tackle with a right-hander writing left-handed as he complained about replacing Lane Johnson in Game 11 against the Seahawks. Dillard was atrocious, and was benched at halftime.
After that game, Peters offered to switch to right tackle. Peters. He hadn’t played right tackle in 12 years.
Jason Peters will be missed. Gravely, gravely missed.
As it turned out, Peters didn’t play right tackle in Johnson’s absence. Career backup Halapoulivaati Vaitai did, and did so well, and helped earn himself what will be a large payday as he experiences free agency this week for the first time. Vaitai’s imminent departure only underscores the need for experienced depth on the offensive line that protects Carson Wentz, who is the most important player in franchise history. He also is one of the more fragile players in franchise history. Carson Wentz adores Jason Peters.
Dillard played passably well after Peters injured a knee in Game 6, which required arthroscopic surgery and cost him the next three games. But Peters finished the season with eight strong outings in a row, including a playoff loss — a run that amplified the difference between not only between a Jason Peters and an Andre Dillard but between a Jason Peters and almost every other left tackle in the NFL.
Peters finished the season with an 83.4 overall rating from profootballfocus.com. That was actually better than his rankings from both 2018 and 2015, and was better than his four-year average in that span, 81.2.
In 2019, Peters ranked second among all left tackles, behind the Ravens’ Ronnie Stanley. Remarkably, despite his age and injury, Peters also ranked second among left tackles in run blocking; again, behind Stanley — who is 12 years younger.
When Peters is fit, he’s elite, and he knows it.
“Tell me somebody [available] that’s better than me, and I’ll walk away from the game,” Peters challenged reporters late last season. We couldn’t. "OK, then. I’m going to keep rolling.”
Keep on rollin', big fella.
This was the discussion when Dawkins left for Denver in 2009 via free agency; would the team be better with his protégé, Quintin Mikell? Dawkins would turn 36 in the middle of that season, which is ancient for a safety, but Dawkins wasn’t typical. He followed dynamic diet and training regimens long before Tom Brady made it fashionable. Yes, his coverage skills had eroded the previous two seasons, but he remained an elite run defender, tackler, and blitzer. The Eagles lowballed him. He was hurt, and angry, and he brusquely signed with the Broncos without even calling the Eagles back.
Mikell played well. Dawkins went to two more Pro Bowls in the next three years.
I, like most, at the time believed they should have kept Dawkins. (He declined to comment for this piece.) I liked Dawkins and his wife, Connie, but, as they will tell you, I’m as coldhearted as former general manager Joe Banner and current GM Howie Roseman about matters like these. My evaluation of Dawkins’ worth back then only concerned his ability, and that of his potential replacements.
Peters and I have no such personal relationship. This evaluation concerns only my admiration for Peters the player, whom I consider to be the best lineman in Eagles history, if not their best player, period. And much, much better than Andre Dillard. He waited one season to play. He can wait another.
It took the Eagles five years to replace Dawkins’ ability and leadership, when they signed ironman safety Malcolm Jenkins in 2014. Jenkins, 32, has a year remaining on his contract, but he’s asking for an extension for a second consecutive offseason. He’s the team spokesman, the franchise’s conscience, and he hasn’t missed a start since he arrived, and he hasn’t missed a snap in two seasons. This has the potential to get longer-term-holdout ugly.
The Eagles should just give Jenkins his money now. Given their current roster, he’s irreplaceable.