The end of an era is likely near.
Jason Peters and the Eagles have agreed that the left tackle will enter free agency when the new league year opens March 18.
The Eagles, in a statement, didn’t close the door on a possible return.
“We will remain in communication as each side continues to evaluate its options in free agency,” the team said Thursday.
Peters’ agent, Vince Taylor, said that both sides agreed to part for the time being. He, too, didn’t rule out a return. But Taylor said he expected there to be a market for the probable future Hall of Famer.
“He played well last season,” Taylor said. “But the Eagles drafted a tackle in the first round last year and they have their house to take care of first.”
The Eagles traded up for Andre Dillard and selected him with the 22nd pick overall. He started in three games at left tackle in place of the injured Peters and showed some promise.
Peters, 38, played in 13 games last year. He struggled some in the first half of the season but was strong down the stretch after arthroscopic knee surgery. Peters missed only six snaps in the Eagles’ final six games as they went on to claim the NFC East crown.
Peters had said at the start of each of the last several seasons that he was playing year-to-year. But after the Eagles lost to the Seahawks in the playoffs two months ago, he said that he wanted to play in 2020.
“I can still get it done,” Peters said then. “If I couldn’t get it done, I’d just walk away.”
It’s unclear how open Peters will be to playing in another uniform. Taylor said that he had yet to talk to his client about his options. Andrew Whitworth, a month older than Peters, is the only active offensive lineman in the NFL who is older. He is also set to become a free agent.
Peters’ legacy with the Eagles is secure. In 11 seasons in Philly, he went to seven Pro Bowls and was named All-Pro twice. He also earned two Pro Bowl nods with the Bills during his five seasons in Buffalo.
The Eagles acquired Peters in a trade just before the 2009 draft. They sent three draft picks to the Bills in a deal that many consider one of the franchise’s best.
An undrafted rookie who had played mostly tight end in college, Peters transformed himself into one of the most dominant tackles in NFL history. His rare blend of size, athleticism, and strength made him a formidable challenge for even elite edge rushers.
“We are appreciative of everything Jason has contributed to the organization over the last 11 seasons in Philadelphia, including a first-ballot Hall of Fame career and helping us win our first Super Bowl championship,” the Eagles said in a statement. “Jason has been an incredible leader and person both on and off the field.”
The Eagles appeared to be mulling a potential return just last week. General manager Howie Roseman said at the NFL combine that the team had yet to make a final decision. Coach Doug Pederson said that he wanted Peters back.
There was strong support in the NovaCare Complex for another go-around. Eagles coaches believed that Peters had played at a Pro Bowl level in the final month of the season. Owner Jeffrey Lurie has long been one of his strongest advocates.
But Roseman had also said when the season ended that the Eagles were committed to getting younger. The 24-year-old Dillard had seemingly shown enough to get the starter’s nod, although he was benched after being asked to start at right tackle in November.
There are also internal concerns about Dillard’s mental makeup, team sources said.
But Roseman has seemingly ripped off the Band-Aid and started the process of a Peters departure. He remains the Eagles’ longest-tenured player, but if he leaves, defensive end Brandon Graham, who was drafted in 2010, will assume that label.
Peters may not find what he’s looking for in free agency, but several playoff-contending teams might be willing to sign him for a year. While he earned a Super Bowl ring, and was entrusted with carrying the Lombardi Trophy from the locker room to the team bus following the Eagles’ upset victory over the Patriots two years ago, Peters didn’t play in that game or for most of that season.
The torn ACL that ended his 2017 appeared to affect him the following season. But he rebounded in 2019 when healthy.
Besides injury, Peters’ tenure with the Eagles was also marked by a penchant for false starts and the occasional unexplained early exit from a game.
But there would be a void should he sign elsewhere. Nicknamed “The Bodyguard,” Peters was among the most respected leaders in the locker room. He mostly led by example but would police the players when necessary.
He mentored many offensive linemen, some who could have supplanted him as left tackle, but he never stopped taking proteges under his sizable wing.
“The man took me in & turned me into what I am today when a lot of people would have threw in the towel,” Eagles right tackle Lane Johnson wrote on Twitter. "Nobody had a bigger impact on my career both as a friend & as a mentor.