The Eagles took away Stefen Wisniewski’s starting job at left guard before the Week 5 game against Minnesota last season.
Wisniewski got it back in Week 15, when replacement Isaac Seumalo suffered a pectoral tendon injury.
Wisniewski sat down again for the playoff opener, when Seumalo returned.
Then he jumped into the first quarter of the season-ending playoff loss at New Orleans, when starting right guard Brandon Brooks went down with a torn Achilles tendon.
So, after all that, an in-and-out offseason just continued a pattern with Wisniewski, who has been an Eagle the past three years and was a starter in Super Bowl LII. The Eagles don’t seem to really want him out there, until they do.
When the team declined his $3 million contract option in March, Wisniewski tweeted to fans how sorry he was to have to leave. He took a free-agent visit up the New Jersey Turnpike to talk to the Jets, but returned without a contract.
Then the May 7 deadline passed for free-agent signings counting against the formula for future compensatory picks, and guess what happened? The Eagles brought back Stefen Wisniewski, on a one-year deal with a $1.5 million base and a chance to earn another $500,000 in incentives.
Who could have seen this coming? Or, given that Brooks has a long way to go to be cleared to play, and that the Eagles didn’t draft any guards this year, who couldn’t have seen this coming?
“Not exactly,” Wisniewski said last week, asked if he ever really thought he was gone for good. “I knew when they declined my option, they told me they wanted me back, just for less money. So I looked around, saw what my options were, but felt like this was the best place for me.”
Wisniewski, listed at 6-foot-3 and 305 pounds, turned 30 in March. He was a Raider for four seasons and a Jaguar for one before landing here in 2016. The Eagles drafted Seumalo that year in the third round, with the first pick they had after securing Carson Wentz, and they projected Seumalo as a starter, but thought he might need seasoning. Wisniewski, a starter at both left guard and center during his career, was to be a stopgap.
Seumalo showed promise as a rookie but regressed in 2017, and Wisniewski stop-gapped his way to the Super Bowl, then rode that wave through the start of last season. But the o-line struggled with injuries early, and the coaching staff decided to try to help hobbled left tackle Jason Peters by replacing Wiz with Seumalo, a more athletic guard. Wisniewski made no secret of his displeasure; he insinuated that Seumalo was getting the starting job only because he was a high draft pick.
Pro Football Focus’s blocking grades aren’t always absolutely accurate, but PFF gave Wisniewski an overall 55.5 in 2018, the lowest mark of his career, with one sack allowed and 15 hurries. Seumalo registered a 62.1, also with one sack, and 17 hurries.
As much as he likes playing for the Eagles, Wisniewski absolutely would have left this offseason if someone had offered him a chance to start. No one did, so here he is.
Wisniewski said last week that he knows he’s returning as a backup. (Though who can say when Brooks will be ready? The season will open eight months after he suffered the injury, and that’s an extremely tight timetable for an Achilles repair.)
“I knew when I signed here that they have their starting three inside. I’ve been a starter here, but I’ve also been a backup, as well. I’m OK with that role,” Wisniewski said. “I’ll just work my butt off, and I’ll be ready whenever they need me.”
The only big offseason addition to the group was first-round pick Andre Dillard, who has never played anywhere but left tackle. He is unlikely to affect Wisniewski’s role, unless it’s by trickle-down effect. Before Dillard arrived, the top tackle sub was Halapoulivaati Vaitai; last week, Vaitai, 6-6 and 320, was taking snaps at right guard.
“It’s mostly the same group we’ve had for years, and it’s a really, really good group, really talented, really hard-working, really smart veteran group,” Wisniewski said. “I expect us to be one of the better o-lines in the league.