It’s been 12 years.
Twelve whole years since Jason Peters, now 37, put his left foot in front of his right to stop onrushing defensive ends and linebackers and those annoying, blitzing defensive backs.
He’s willing to risk humiliation, not to mention injury, if that’s what needs to be done to keep the faintest of hopes alive for an Eagles team on life support. Right tackle Lane Johnson missed Sunday’s 17-9 loss to the Seahawks with a concussion. He might miss next week’s trip to Miami. The Eagles have scored nine points in the six quarters since Johnson left their game against the Patriots. The right side of the offense has been abysmal. Peters is willing to be the savior.
“That’s where I started at. It wouldn’t be super-foreign, but it’s a possibility, with Lane being out,” Peters said Sunday evening. “I might just have to do it. For the team.”
For the team.
This is the definition of leadership. Of sacrifice. Of professionalism.
It might not matter at all. Johnson might clear the concussion protocol this week and be ready to play in Florida. But, as Peters noted, concussions are, like defensive ends, scary and tricky and unpredictable. So, if need be, he’s ready to add to his legend.
Peters made his reputation and most of his money at left tackle, protecting the blindsides of the Eagles’ franchise quarterbacks — Donovan McNabb, Michael Vick, Nick Foles, Sam Bradford, and now Carson Wentz. He earned the nickname “The Bodyguard” by doing this well enough to reach nine Pro Bowls and earn more than $111 million.
The last time Peters protected a quarterback’s front side it belonged to J.P. Losman, the first-round disappointment the Bills drafted 15 years ago, in 2004, as Drew Bledsoe’s eventual replacement. Peters? Well, he’d entered the NFL with Losman, but Peters was undrafted and wholly anonymous, just a huge tight end who needed two full years to convert to the tackle position. The J.P.’s got their chances in 2006.
Losman was sacked 47 times, the third-most sacks taken in the league and the second-highest sack rate.
But Peters gave up just two of those sacks. Astonishingly, he committed no holding penalties. He was playing a new position, learned at the highest level, and he was immediately, impossibly good.
The Bills asked Peters to move to left tackle in the middle of 2007. He’s been there ever since: arguably, the best at the position for the last dozen years; inarguably, one of the best to ever do it. They’re probably already working on his bust and tailoring his jacket in Canton, Ohio.
Still, at the end of what very likely is his last season’s last gasp, he’s willing to move back to the right side.
It’s come to that.
Rookie tackle Andre Dillard, a left tackle by trade and DNA, played so badly Sunday that he was benched at halftime. Halapoulivaati Vaitai played so badly last week after Johnson was injured that Dillard got a chance to start Sunday despite having never played the position. The Eagles ran to their left all day. Vaitai missed a block that led to a crucial fumble in the 17-9 loss.
That cannot happen again. Peters will not let it.
“It’s going to be a point of emphasis, if Lane isn’t back,” Peters said. "Whatever I can do to help out. I might have to do it."
This is not entirely a development born of Dillard’s failure.
“We discussed it some this [past] week, but we didn’t pull the trigger on it,” Peters said. “Just had to see what we had.”
They didn’t have much.
Then, when Pro Bowl guard Brandon Brooks left in the first half with an undisclosed illness, they had even less. Vaitai played right tackle. Matt Pryor, a second-year player drafted in the sixth round last season, played right guard, the first offensive snaps of his career.
It didn’t go well.
There’s no guarantee that things will go better if Peters plays on the right side. After all, it’s been 12 years. Tiger Woods and the San Antonio Spurs and Barack Obama were still on their way up.
So was Jason Peters. Lane Johnson was a high school quarterback in Texas. Wentz was an awkward, 5-foot-8 high school freshman in Bismarck, N.D.
Peters was just as professional then as he is today, willing to do whatever it takes.
Willing to risk his fragile health. He keeps an open tub of red-hot joint ointment in his locker because knee and leg injuries have cost him about half of the Eagles’ offensive snaps since the beginning of the 2017 season. He almost had to leave the game Sunday when he took a shot in the side of his bad knee that left him on the ground for a few painful seconds.
Willing to risk his gleaming reputation. Dillard said switching from left tackle to right was like learning to write with your opposite hand.
Ambidextrous blocking? Sure, it’s tough.