Seven years ago, the Eagles drafted Lane Johnson to replace Jason Peters as their left tackle. At least that was the plan.
Peters was 31, had torn his right Achilles twice in the spring of 2012 and didn’t play that year, and the popular thinking in the organization back then was that it might be put-the-horse-out-to-pasture time.
Peters, of course, ended up showing the Eagles what they could do with their horse-and-pasture plan. He started 98 more games at left tackle over the next seven years, earned All-Pro honors in 2013 and 2014, and added four more Pro Bowl invitations to the five he already had. Canton is waiting to start the clock for him.
Johnson, meanwhile, ended up making a nice little home for himself on the other side of the line, where he’s earned three Pro Bowl nods and was a first-team All-Pro selection in 2017.
This season – assuming there is a season – Johnson and the man he was supposed to replace are going to get a chance to play alongside each other for the first time in their careers.
The Eagles signed Peters earlier this week to a one-year, $3 million deal, not to play left tackle again, but to line up at right guard, where he’ll replace three-time Pro Bowler Brandon Brooks, who is out for the season with an Achilles injury.
Peters has never played guard, but no one in the Eagles organization doubts he can do it. That includes Johnson and offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland.
NFL Network analyst Brian Baldinger, who played both guard and tackle during his 11 seasons in the league, was with Johnson over the weekend at the Offensive Line Masterminds Summit in Frisco, Texas, and said Johnson is pumped about the prospect of playing next to Peters.
“JP has been Lane’s idol and mentor,‘' Baldinger said. “I know he’s excited about playing with him. Knowing the shape Lane is in right now, it has a chance to be a really, really good right side. And Jason really wants to do this. He’s fully on board with this.”
Peters had another good season at left tackle last season. Pro Football Focus graded him as the league’s fourth-best tackle. He allowed just three sacks and 21 total quarterback pressures.
But he missed a quarter of the Eagles’ offensive snaps with an assortment of injuries, which is a fact of life at his age, no matter how much the team might try to manage his practice work during the week.
The Eagles wanted to move on at left tackle this season and turn the starting job over to 2019 first-round pick Andre Dillard. They didn’t close the door to bringing the future Hall of Famer back as Dillard’s backup. But they told him they probably wouldn’t be in a position to pay him what he’s worth.
Two things happened to change the situation. The first was Brooks’ Achilles injury in mid-June. The second was Peters’ market value ended up being much less than he and his agent and even the Eagles expected it to be.
The Los Angeles Rams gave their left tackle, Andrew Whitworth, who is a month older than Peters but considerably more durable – Whitworth has missed just three games in the last 11 years – a three-year, $30 million deal with $12.5 million in guarantees.
George Fant, a three-year veteran with just 24 career starts, also got $30 million over three years in a free-agent contract from the New York Jets and their general manager, former Eagles personnel boss Joe Douglas.
The Eagles could have gone out and overpaid for the top free-agent guard on the market, 29-year-old Larry Warford, a three-time Pro Bowler for the Saints. But with Brooks eventually expected to make a full recovery, they were looking for a cheaper, short-term solution that would get them through 2020.
Stoutland has frequently praised 2018 sixth-rounder Matt Pryor. But he’s played just 79 regular-season snaps, and the organizational consensus was that he’s not ready to be a 16-game starter.
The Eagles are bullish on fourth-round rookie Jack Driscoll. But the cancellation of all offseason work on the field this spring was going to make it tough for the Auburn product to get up to speed by September.
Given the circumstances, re-signing Peters to a modest one-year deal and moving him to guard ended up being the best alternative. While only time will tell whether he can stay healthy, the future Hall of Famer isn’t expected to have much trouble making the transition to right guard, where he’ll be lining up between two longtime colleagues, Johnson and All-Pro center Jason Kelce.
“You lose some of your ability on the edge as you get older against really elite rushers,‘' Baldinger said. “You saw that a little bit with Jason in Week 16 last year against [the Cowboys'] Robert Quinn.
“Outside at his age, your feet don’t move as well as they did when you’re 28, and you’re not able to stay on your feet as much. But inside, you can kind of hide that.
“I think he has a chance to play really well inside. His strength right now is he’s a big, powerful guy. He’s big and he’s a good run blocker. Inside, those things can be accented.”
Baldinger doesn’t think the switch from the left side to the right side will be any problem for Peters.
“He’s played on the right side in unbalanced lines, and gotten into a right-handed stance,‘' he said. “It will be a little bit of an adjustment. But he’s played in a two-point stance most of his career. When you’re in shotgun now, you’re primarily in a two-point stance. It’s not as big a deal in today’s game as it once was.‘'
The key is Peters wants to do this and he’s excited about it, Baldinger said.
“He’s playing between Lane and Kelce,” Baldinger said. “So that [right guard] position is protected by two great players that play at a very high level.