No one with the Eagles knows how much Jason Peters actually weighs. While other players must weigh-in countless times during the year, often before and after practice, Peters has managed to avoid the scale at the NovaCare Complex.
“It’s the big mystery,” defensive end Brandon Graham said. “As long as I’ve been here, they don’t know. For every era, don’t matter the coach, he don’t weigh-in.”
Peters has gotten away with more than his share over the years. When you’ve been to nine Pro Bowls and are a likely Hall of Famer, the powers-that-be are more willing to look the other way. But the metaphorical weight that the veteran left tackle carries in the building has as much to do with his general Jason Peters-ness than anything.
“Just by the way he walks around you can feel his presence, kind of like he owns the place,” rookie tackle Andre Dillard said. “He’s seen the beginning and end of a lot of people’s careers. He’s just that big man on campus. He’s not a man of too many words, but when he needs to, he’ll speak up.”
And the Eagles listen, from the top of the organization on down. It wasn’t until Peters had lost faith in Chip Kelly, for instance, that Jeffery Lurie started to seriously consider firing the then-Eagles coach.
As tackle Lane Johnson put it, only Peters could miss all of spring workouts and still get a contract extension. He’s the only player who “coaches the coaches,” according to Dillard. Peters can cut corners others can’t.
“Sometimes in meetings, he’ll take a bathroom break and won’t show up for 35 minutes,” Johnson said. “It is what it is. But it’s not like he didn’t earn it.”
Peters has long had the authority to pull himself from games. His nickname is “The Bodyguard,” but Graham, Johnson, and guard Brandon Brooks refer to him as the Eagles’ “Godfather.” Dillard, who eagerly waited to meet Peters after the Eagles drafted him in the first round, calls him the “Mythical Creature.”
When the subject of his organizational power was recently broached, Peters let out a knowing laugh.
“I don’t know about all that. I don’t ask for much,” he said. “I come out here and work hard and try to pull a couple of the guys with me, the ones that don’t have the juice for that day. I try to give them the juice to get through practice, and not just to survive, but to have a good practice.”
The Eagles didn’t anticipate Peters’ leadership abilities when they boldly traded for him more than 10 years ago. They thought they were getting a Pro Bowl player who had yet to tap into his full potential when they sent three draft picks to the Bills. He would exceed expectations on the field.
But Peters developed into one of the locker room leaders over time and increasingly would tutor young linemen, even on the defensive side. The list is long, with Dillard his latest and most important project, as the rookie is slated to replace the 37-year-old.
The transition should happen soon. The Eagles brought Peters back for a 16th season, but it’s the final year of his contract and the Dillard selection has only intensified that the end is near. His obituary has been written before. He struggled last season, but he said coming off ACL surgery and its consequential injuries were the primary reasons.
While there still may be a question of his future beyond this season – which opens Sunday against the Redskins -- his place in franchise and NFL history is undisputed.
“There’s probably no other tackle that’s done what he’s done,” Johnson said. “You could say some guys have more Pro Bowls, more this, more that, but those guys can’t ... do what Jason Peters can do. I’m talking about Anthony Munoz, Walter Jones. I don’t think those could do what he did back in his prime.
“In today’s passing league it’s unbelievable what he did. And he’s ... 37 now. I think he’s made of dinosaur bones.”
Peters may know how to circumvent some of the more mundane parts of playing in the NFL, but he hasn’t lasted this long by taking shortcuts off the field in his preparation. His offseason workouts in Texas, of which some former teammates have attended, are legendary. He has a full gym with a sauna in his home up here.
“They know J.P. works hard,” Graham said. “When you trust a guy like that who’s been here a long time, you tend to get away with some stuff that others can’t. He’s got all the power, but he don’t abuse it.”
Peters’ sway in football extends beyond the walls of the NovaCare, and it may have something to do with his intimidating dimensions. A former teammate once recalled how an NFL official reversed a call after the 6-foot-4, 300-and-something-pound tackle pleaded his case.
Reporters tread softly when approaching his locker stall. Players are required by the league to answer questions once during the week before a game and once immediately after, but it’s understood among the media that Peters generally doesn’t talk before games during the season.
But when he speaks after games, which is often, he’s a must-attend. Peters isn’t afraid to call it as it is, and when the Eagles started getting blown out late in Kelly’s tenure, his comments made it increasingly clear that the coach had lost his support. They were only a snippet of what he was really saying behind the scenes.
“When he gets pissed off the whole building knows. You can kind of sense it,” Johnson said. “The stuff with Chip and before games and whether he was going to play or not. Well, I guess that was that. When the big man gets angry, a lot of people pay attention.”
He doesn’t lose his temper that often. Most don’t want to poke the bear. A few teammates have tried to step into that ring.
“A lot of guys, really, just let J.P. be J.P.,” Brooks said. “You don’t really want to get him pissed off because it didn’t end well for a couple guys.”
Johnson almost saw his end when, during a flight home from Arizona in his rookie year, he hit a sleeping Peters with a grape.
“He had a blanket on and I ended up hitting him in the head,” Johnson said. “He yanked that son of a [gun] off and looked at me, and I was laughing, and I didn’t know if he was going to jump up and whip my ass.”
Peters met his match, though, in 2011, when the Eagles hired Howard Mudd as offensive line coach. They didn’t formally meet until training camp because of the NFL lockout and got off to a rocky start. Mudd was as gruff as they come, and when Peters didn’t do something he liked, he didn’t mince words.
Peters wasn’t used to being talked to that way and they had words. But they eventually came to an understanding and Mudd would push the former college tight end to greater heights with his technical alterations.
Once Peters bought in, most of the other offensive linemen followed. He had gotten so proficient that he no longer cared about helping those vying for his job. Johnson was drafted fourth overall, and was pegged to be the future left tackle, but that didn’t stop Peters from taking him under his wing.
The list of beneficiaries to Peters’ teaching is long. The most notable example was the guidance he gave to his replacement Halapoulivaati Vaitai in 2017 after he tore his ACL. Whether it’s in practice or a game, if Peters sees something that needs improvement, he’ll address it.
“I think he would be a great coach. He’s like a coach now,” Eagles offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland said. “When he’s done doing his reps, I’ll say, ‘Coach, get in there and start …,’ and he’ll smile at me.
“But Jason is not obnoxious about it. When he speaks, people listen because he doesn’t go around yapping all the time. And when he goes out of his way to help you, he sees something to try and de-bug it before it gets you in a game.”
He’s sharing more of his secrets to his eventual replacement. Dillard’s first step at the snap has looked uncannily like Peters'.
“He doesn’t want just anybody to come in and fill his shoes for him, some Joe Schmo off the street,” Dillard said. “He wants to make sure it’s a smooth transition.”
He doesn’t endear himself to everyone in the locker room, Graham said, but when he does, he’s as loyal as they come. Graham and defensive end Vinny Curry are his closest friends on the team. They often dine together, although Peters has to make the reservation.
He’s particular about most things -- the clothes he wears, the way he styles his hair and beard, the music he plays as the team D.J.
“The D-backs once tried to play their own stuff before games and he was like, ‘Go cut that [stuff] off. I ain’t listening to this [stuff],’” Johnson said. “And he goes and plugs his [music] in. He’ll play rock, he’ll play country, he’ll play some soul. He’ll play a little of everything.”
Teammates marvel at Peters’ proficiency in other sports. He played basketball briefly in college at Arkansas but gave it up to focus on football.
“I would have played in the NBA,” Peters once said. “I would have been like Charles Barkley.”
He’s sandbagged a few in other sports. Former Eagles offensive lineman Matt Tobin thought he finally found something he was better at when he took Peters golfing, but he lost in convincing fashion. Curry remembered the first time he asked Peters to bowl.
“I love to bowl and he was like, ‘I’m an OK bowler,’ ” Curry said. “Well, that dude was probably one of the best bowlers I’ve ever seen. He was a beast, talking so much trash. He’s laughing at me. I’ll never forget that. So now when we bowl, I make sure he’s on my team.”
Mudd was once asked why he thought Peters was still playing football into his mid-30s. He said it was more than just a drive to be great, but a competitive thirst to know that you are great at something and that everybody also knows.
When Dillard and undrafted rookie center Nate Herbig showed up for OTAs in May, they kept hearing about Peters.
“Like he was some ghost,” Herbig said.
But it didn’t take long before they realized why he was held in such high regard. He came in shape and stayed that way. Only Peters gets his own personal trainer – Mark Lewis – to stretch him out before practice. When defensive tackle Fletcher Cox saw his sauna, he bought one, too.
Peters came back, in part, he said, to win another Super Bowl. He got a ring in 2017, of course, and even was entrusted to carry the Lombardi Trophy out of the locker room at U.S. Bank Stadium and into the waiting team bus even though he didn’t play.
But he wants to experience the victory from the trenches. Peters never forgot where he came from and the road he took to future Hall of Fame status. It is why, Brooks said, he has the respect of everyone with the Eagles, and why he may get special treatment.