The last time Brandon Brooks ruptured one of his Achilles tendons, it was the right one, during a playoff game in January 2019, and he was so determined to be healthy and ready for the beginning of the following season that he spent thousands of dollars on medical and training equipment so that he could carry out his physical-therapy routines every morning and afternoon. “I wanted to come back and ------------- be like, ‘What the ---- happened with this guy?’” he said. The doctors had told him to rehab four days a week, at the Eagles headquarters. Brooks rehabbed seven days a week, there and at home. He started at right guard in the Eagles’ first regular-season game, less than nine months later, and was arguably the best offensive lineman in the NFL until he suffered a shoulder injury in their final regular-season game.
Now Brooks has ruptured his left Achilles tendon, while running and working out at the NovaCare Complex on Monday, and there’s really no way to overstate the damage that this incident has done to him or to the Eagles. Brooks will turn 31 in August, which makes him a young man in the real world and an older man in the world of pro football, and he will be trying to return from his second torn Achilles in 18 months, having already fended off anxiety disorder more than once in his career.
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“Gosh, my heart sunk when I got the news about Brandon’s injury,” coach Doug Pederson said Tuesday. “This guy has worked extremely hard to get himself back and get himself back in playing shape to have a solid 2020 season. Obviously, we feel for him having to do this again, but we know that he’ll push through. He’s done a great job with all his rehab and getting himself back. So we’re very confident there.”
If you had to bet on an athlete coming back from these ordeals better and stronger than he was before, you could do worse than laying a chunk of change on Brooks. But there’s no getting around the hard reality of his and the Eagles’ situation in the here and now: They will not have Brooks this season – assuming there is a season – and their offensive line is and will be the lesser for his absence.
“At this point, we’re still looking at a lot of options, obviously, starting with our own roster and the guys we have competing for those backup spots, possibly those starting spots,” Pederson said. “We obviously haven’t made any decisions. We’re going to take a look at a lot of different scenarios, different possibilities. We have some time before training camp to try to sort these things out.”
None of those possible scenarios is all that satisfactory for the Eagles, though some have the potential to be more beneficial than others. Sure, the Eagles could re-sign Jason Peters and, instead of having him play left tackle, move him to right guard in Brooks’ stead. But there are a lot of presumptions and if-thens that would be attached to such a decision. It presumes Peters is open to returning here and playing right guard – and that, at age 38, he is physically capable of making the change. More, the Eagles allowed Peters to test free agency in the first place because they traded up in the 2019 draft to use a first-round pick on a left tackle, Andre Dillard. Their plan is to have Dillard start at left tackle. Bringing back Peters in any role, for any reason, undercuts the entire premise of that plan, especially since Peters has remained unflagging in his belief that he is and will still be a starting left tackle for at least another year.
The Eagles could survey the free-agent market and find a short-term replacement for Brooks – perhaps not as short-term as Peters would be, but a player who might sign a two-year contract structured in a manner that would be helpful to the team’s salary-cap ledger. In another year, that option would be more reasonable. But this is 2020, and in one of the myriad repercussions of the coronavirus pandemic, an NFL season that takes place without fans in the league’s stadia could mean a decline in the league’s revenue, which in turn could mean a lowering of the league’s salary-cap threshold. The Eagles gave Brooks a lucrative four-year contract extension last year, and given that they are already more than $50 million above the 2021 projected cap, according to the database OvertheCap.com, it’s difficult to imagine that they’d be eager to add or roll over more money into next season.
That leaves the Eagles with the option that, if it were to work, would be the best of all available to them: A less-experienced lineman already on their roster shows that he can suitably replace Brooks. Could be Matt Pryor, who has been with the team since it drafted him in 2018. Could be Jack Driscoll or Prince Tega Wanogho, both of whom the Eagles drafted this year. Could be Nate Herbig or Sua Opeta, both of whom were undrafted backups last season.