Four years ago next week, Jason Peters was first publicly questioned about the potential end of his tenure with the Eagles.
“Who are they going to put in there that’s better than me? Nobody,” the left tackle said then. “Who are they going to draft that’s better than me? Nobody. ... I’m the best they got.”
Peters had just been named to the seventh of his eventual nine Pro Bowls. He was still playing at an elite level. But he had just completed his 13th NFL season. And the Eagles were about to embark on a coaching search. There were no guarantees.
Peters was right about something that day in the visitors’ locker room of MetLife Stadium in North Jersey. The Eagles decided they couldn’t find anyone better to take his spot. And they came to that same conclusion the following three seasons.
But the team may have finally drafted someone good enough to replace Peters. Even if rookie Andre Dillard isn’t yet there, the Eagles’ first-round investment makes it all but certain that he will start on the left flank of offensive line next season.
Which means that Sunday’s season-finale at the New York Giants could be Peters’ last in midnight green. A victory would secure the NFC East title, however, and even if the Eagles were to lose, they would still qualify for the playoffs if the Cowboys were to fall to the Redskins.
But annual year-end questions about Peters’ future are popping up again, and with his 38th birthday less than a month away, and a succession plan already in place, the end in seemingly near.
He apparently doesn’t think so.
“You tell me somebody that’s better than me, and I’ll walk away from the game,” Peters said to reporters following last Sunday’s win over the Cowboys. “You got somebody?”
When a reporter failed to come up with an answer, Peters said, “OK, then. I’m going to keep rolling.”
Since returning in 2016, Peters has said at the start of every season, when asked about retirement, that he was playing year-to-year and wouldn’t make any verdict about his future until after the season. But his sentiment post-Cowboys game suggests that he’s become the NFL’s version of The Godfather Part II’s Hyman Roth: unwilling to retire despite the obvious.
If there’s anyone who can convince the Eagles that he has another year left, from ownership on down, it’s Peters. He’s still getting the job done and has missed only three snaps in the last five games since a three-game absence and arthroscopic knee surgery. He will start in his 13th game this season, which coach Doug Pederson said was “a win” for the Eagles.
“Where he is in his career and what he’s done, I think he’s had a very productive season,” Pederson said Friday. “And here lately coming back from the procedure he had, he feels good.”
Many would understand if the Eagles decided to move on this offseason, though. Peters isn’t the protective wall he once was. He still moves remarkably well, but his freakish days are behind him. And he’s committed a team-high nine penalties.
But his colleagues on the offensive line, from veterans to rookies, insist that he’s still got it. Their evaluations are surely slanted favorably, but they are indicative of the esteem in which Peters is held not only in the o-line room but throughout the NovaCare Complex.
Here are their reflections on Peters’ career, his legacy and his future:
Eagles center Jason Kelce: He’s got it all. You can’t be that dominant and only have one thing here, one thing there. I think there have been only two scheme-independent guys [on our roster] that would have been good no matter what team they played for, and the only guys I can think of are Jason Peters and [defensive tackle] Fletcher Cox. JP even more so, especially in his prime.
Kelce: I still remember the first pass I ever saw him take. The quickness he got out there on the d-end. His ability to redirect. His balance. I remember thinking, ‘I don’t know if I can play in this league.’ And then I saw the next couple guys go in, and I was like, ‘OK, not everybody is like that.’
Eagles guard Isaac Seumalo: He has maybe the best instincts I’ve ever seen out of a football player. He just knows football. The game just comes naturally to him.
Eagles tackle Jordan Mailata: His football I.Q. is off the charts. Sometimes he’ll be messing around with [Eagles tackle Halapoulivaati Vaitai] and [offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland] will try and get him off guard. If something doesn’t seem right to him from a technical standpoint, if like the safety is bombing the gap, he’ll be like, ‘Stout, why are we running this play? From where I’m standing, this is what I see, and this is how they’ll react.’ Stout goes, ‘Hmm, OK.’
Kelce: We’ll watch film three plays in, and he’ll talk about some guy you never heard of. And then you’ll get to the game and afterward you’ll say, ‘JP was right. That guy is the best.’ I don’t know if savant is the right word, but he just has a feel for the game that he just understands spacing and body movement. Whether that’s because he’s been doing it so long or that’s how his brain works, I think it certainly helps him play that position particularly.
Dillard: I ain’t seen anybody who has the get-off he has. There isn’t anybody who is as big as he is and can move like that. He moves like a cat.
Seumalo: He can thank his mom and dad for his genes. There aren’t too many humans that have been that big who can move like that. He’s quick as they come, as strong as an ox. He might weigh what he weighs, but it’s all muscle.
Kelce: He has this insane coordination where it seems like his body is always in the right position to redirect. It’s almost like he’s a dancer where he’s always in balance and in control. His physical attributes are off the charts. That’s a once-in-a-generation talent.
Eagles guard Matt Pryor: His confidence level is out of the roof. His mentality during pregame is different. You know how everybody gets the jitters? He’s laid back. You can tell who’s stressing. To him, it’s just a normal day. [Eagles guard Brandon Brooks] asked him, ‘How do you not get nervous?’ And he said, ‘I’m the best out there. That’s how.’
Brooks: If you don’t have confidence as an offensive lineman, you’re probably not going to be a good one. The reason being is that no one gives a [bleep] about you until some bad [stuff] happens. Then your name’s out there. You need to weather that [stuff] consistently.
Brooks: He should have that confidence. He’s a first ballot Hall-of-Famer to me. You don’t think Walter Jones felt that way? Or Orlando Pace? Or Anthony Munoz? Every Sunday they went out there they probably thought they were the best until they were told they couldn’t play anymore.
Seumalo: Being undrafted, he’s always had a chip on his shoulder and worked his tail off. He’s done stuff [at the NovaCare]. He’s done stuff at his house. He works out a lot. In the offseason it’s even more impressive. He could be doing his own thing twice a day.
Pryor: He’s real detailed in his work. He sticks to a routine.
Brooks: He’s the heart of the team. He’s the soul of the team.
Mailata: He helps everyone, not just o-linemen. He’s constantly talking. Like to corners, teaching them how to not show their blitz.
Brooks: He holds everybody accountable. He’s old school as a player compared to the league now. I hate to be the old guy, like, ‘Get off my grass,' but the league is a lot different, even from when I came in. To see dudes, say, they had a bad play. Dudes aren’t thinking about making a bad play. They’re like, '[Fudge], I got to see JP on the sidelines. He’s going to say something to me.’ When he speaks, dudes listen, coaches listen, general managers listen, owners listen.
Dillard: At first, I was pretty star struck because I’ve been watching him for years on TV and on [game] film. I just thought he was legendary. I never thought in a million years I’d be his teammate. So once I got here he immediately took me under his wing. Every day he’s shown me something different. It’s just really good to learn from arguably the best ever.
Eagles center Nate Herbig: We’re doing a walkthrough and obviously, I’m not a starter, so I’m playing defensive end [on scout team]. There’s a run play, and he comes off the ball half-speed, and he puts his hands on me, and I’m like, ‘Ouch. JP, how much you bench in your prime?’ He’s like, ‘I don’t know, but during the bye week I hit 525 [pounds] on the bench.’
Dillard: He’s always says, ‘Man, before I leave here I’m going to make sure you’re right so there’s no drop off.’ He’s always reminding me of that. He’s like, ‘I ain’t going to sell it short. I’m going to give you everything I know.’
Mailata: He’s helped me with my posture and how I carry my hands. He’s a big, heavy core guy. So whenever I work out with him we’re always doing upper body, core to maintain that strength. How I carry my hands. So we do drills in the gym with the resistance band. He’ll have me use my arms to keep back and carry them so it’s easier to strike. He tells us to roll our hands instead of punching straight. Roll your hands because defenders will try to swipe your hands away.
Vaitai: He has his one rule: Get to your spot. No matter who you’re going against, cut the line in the half. You’ve already beat him 80 percent. It’s just that the other 20 percent is on you.
Dillard: He’s helped me understand where to have my eyes in my technique and my get off. He’s given me all the tips to see in a defender or a defense to get an edge.
Dillard: When you idolize someone, they always seem like more than just a person until you meet them and get to know them, and then you realize they’re a person, too. He’s a really good guy, real funny guy. He makes everyone in the room laugh because he’s got that big booming voice. He’s got little comments here and there where he teases people.
Mailata: He doesn’t say much. He’s not a loud character. He’s a poised character.
Brooks: Although he’s a Hall-of-Famer with all the accolades he’s had, he’s a chill dude. You can talk to him about anything. He doesn’t big-time guys because of who he is or his status.
Seumalo: I think he’ll go down as arguably the best left tackle of all time. Just turn on the tape.
Kelce: He’s the best tackle to play, in my opinion, over the last decade, decade-plus, almost two decades.
Eagles guard Sua Opeta: He’ll be 38? Damn. He’s still got it.
Dillard: It’s not awkward. It’s just facts. Everybody knows.
Herbig: Everybody knows there’s really nothing you can say to JP. He doesn’t care, either, about Andre. He’s seen it all. He helps Andre, embraces Andre. But JP’s going to keep rocking. He’s going to help him until he gets better than JP. And then that’s when it’s time for JP to hang them up, I guess.
Mailata: I think he wants to keep playing. He loves the game.
Seumalo: I wouldn’t put anything past him in terms of him vs. Father Time.
Kelce: The way he’s playing now, I’m not putting anything past him. He’s really been one of the best left tackles in the NFL this year. He missed some time early on, but for the most part, especially down the stretch here, he’s been out there pretty consistently.