INDIANAPOLIS – Jason Peters turned 37 last month.
The Eagles’ nine-time Pro Bowl left tackle and future Hall of Famer is coming off a tough season in which he fought through a laundry list of injuries to his knee, quadriceps, biceps, back, head, and probably several other body parts that he kept to himself.
To his everlasting credit, he somehow managed to make it to the starting gate for every one of the Eagles’ 18 games, though he played start-to-finish in just seven of them.
Three years ago, at the NFL scouting combine shortly after he was hired as the Eagles’ head coach, Doug Pederson was asked whether Peters, then 34, had anything left in his tank.
He raised a few eyebrows when he responded, “I think he’s still got four good years left in him."
Three down, one to go. Maybe.
Both Pederson and Eagles executive vice president of football operations Howie Roseman were asked Wednesday whether they want to bring Peters back for yet another season.
The answer is complicated.
“Those are things we’ll discuss as the offseason goes," Pederson said. “Jason Peters is a valuable part of our offense and our offensive line. It’s a lot like [soon-to-be-36-year-old running back] Darren Sproles. If these guys want an opportunity [to keep playing], you give them an opportunity.
“Jason, I feel, still has some opportunity [to play] for us. We’ll see how it goes. We’ll see where it ends up."
Said Roseman: “Jason is not a normal human being. He’s freaky. He’s a first-ballot Hall of Famer as a player and as a person. So normal rules don’t apply when it comes to him."
Peters’ 2019 salary cap number is $13.2 million. Normal rules may not apply to him, but there’s absolutely no way the Eagles will bring him back at that number, which means he would have to agree to accept a restructured deal that would rely heavily on playing-time incentives.
The only man who knows whether he would be amenable to that is down in Queen City, Texas, and he ain’t talking right now.
“In Jason’s mind right now, and I don’t want to put words in his mouth, but I think he feels being healthy and being a hundred percent going into the offseason and going into training camp [is very important]," Pederson said.
“Last year, he was coming off that [ACL] injury, obviously, and then had to deal with some other [injuries]. To play like he did, to battle through that injury every single week and the soreness and different things, is a credit to him. Moving forward, those are conversations we’ll continue to have."
Peters is just one of the offseason question marks involving the Eagles’ offensive line. Pro Bowl right guard Brandon Brooks ruptured his Achilles tendon in the Eagles’ divisional-round playoff loss to the New Orleans Saints. Brooks has vowed to be back for the 2019 season opener, but he’ll miss all of the spring OTAs and possibly much of training camp and the preseason.
And then there’s Jason Kelce, the 31-year-old All-Pro linchpin of the line who is mulling retirement.
Asked Wednesday whether he is proceeding under the assumption that Kelce will be back next season, Roseman said, “All of our conversations with players, it’s important that we keep those between us. Jason Kelce is a great player and a great person and has had phenomenal success in Philadelphia."’
Translation: I’m as much in the dark about his plans right now as you are. But we’ve got our fingers crossed.
Peters played OK last season, but certainly not at the All-Pro level he played at for much of his career. The injuries were a big reason for that. The problem is, the older an athlete gets the more prone he is to those injuries.
Offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland has done an excellent job of managing Peters the last few years and restricting his practice reps. But he still got hurt. He played almost the entire season last year with a torn biceps after returning from the ACL tear that limited him to seven games in 2017.
Since the Brian Dawkins fiasco in 2009 when they let the Hall of Famer and one of the most beloved players in team history sign with the Denver Broncos, the Eagles have been sensitive to how they treat franchise icons.
“The hardest thing we have to do [with roster decisions] is separate the emotion from it," Roseman said. “Quite frankly, we’re an organization, led by our owner [Jeff Lurie] and led by our head coach, where emotion plays a part in some of the decisions we make.
“We get attached to our players because they do so much for us. I don’t know that that ever is going to go away as long as this leadership is in place.
“We try to balance those things, but it’s hard."
If Peters doesn’t return, the three replacement candidates at left tackle right now are Halapoulivaati Vaitai and 2018 draft picks Jordan Mailata and Matt Pryor. They also could move Pro Bowl right tackle Lane Johnson to the left side and plug one of those three in Johnson’s old spot.
If Kelce retires, they likely would replace him with either veteran Stefen Wisniewski or left guard Isaac Seumalo. It’s also possible the Eagles will draft one or more offensive linemen or sign one or more in free agency, depending on how things shake out with Peters and Kelce.
“Those guys need opportunities," Roseman said of Mailata, Vaitai, and Pryor. “They need to continue to grow. It’s important for us and our coaching staff to develop players that we draft.
“They all have talent. But it’s also important that we continue to add players at that position because it’s such an important position."