EAGLES POSITIONAL REVIEWS
During the next two weeks, The Inquirer will preview the Eagles' offseason. Free agency begins on March 10, and the draft is April 30-May 2.
Mon, Feb. 23: Quarterback; Tues, Feb. 24: Offensive line; Wed., Feb. 25: Running back; Thurs., Feb. 26: Wide Receiver; Fri., Feb. 27: Tight end/specalists
Mon, March 2: Defensive line; Tues., March 3: Outside linebacker; Wed., March 4: Inside linebacker; Thurs., March 5: Cornerback; Fri., March 6: Safeties
After having all five offensive linemen start every game in 2013, the Eagles were decimated by injuries in 2014. Left guard Evan Mathis missed more than seven games with a MCL sprain, center Jason Kelce was sidelined for more than four games because of a sports hernia, and right guard Todd Herremans spent the final seven games of the season on Injured Reserve with a torn bicep. Allen Barbre, who started the season at right tackle, sat out almost the entire year with a broken ankle. And Lane Johnson, whom Barbre initially replaced, was suspended for the first four games. Only left tackle Jason Peters started all 16 games.
Every one of the aforementioned six is under contract in 2015 (and 2016, for that matter). Each one is expected to return. Before his injury Herremans played solidly and after he left the level of play at right guard declined. He is one of three starters that are over 32 years of age. He will turn 33 in October. Mathis will be 34 in November, but he didn't appear to lose a step when he returned for the second half. Peters, 33 this past January, wasn't as dominant in 2014 as he was in previous seasons, but he's still one of the best left tackles in the game and there's no reason to think he'll take a dramatic step back. Barbre, the Eagles' top reserve, will turn 31 in June. The offensive line unit needs to get younger, but barring an unexpected free agent addition or high draft pick, the Eagles first six should remain the same.
Chip Kelly gave Kelce extra points for returning early from surgery, but the center clearly wasn't 100 percent. Kelce has missed 18 starts over the last three seasons. The Eagles need the fifth-year center to stay healthy. Johnson buoyed the line when he returned and improved as a pass blocker in his second season. He had some down moments, but not having Herremans by his side accounted for some of the inconsistencies. Johnson's third season will be a big one for the former top pick, especially if he's to be Peters' eventual replacement on the left side.
The remaining linemen under contract aren't guaranteed spots. Andrew Gardner showed versatility and was an effective run blocker, but he struggled in pass protection. Matt Tobin dropped behind Gardner on the depth chart, but is still young (24). David Molk was Kelce's primary backup and he survived a stint as the starter despite giving up significant size, but he can't play any other spot. Julian Vandervelde can swing from center to guard, but still doesn't have much experience. Dennis Kelly earned his way onto the roster last season even though he lacks ideal athleticism to zone block or block in space.
Kevin Graf and Josh Andrews, undrafted rookies last year, were signed off the practice squad in January. They showed some potential during the preseason, but it's difficult to say what kind of progress they made on the scout team.
There isn't a single free agent offensive lineman on the roster. Of the starters, Herremans is the least secure. If the Eagles were to make an unexpected splash on a guard in free agency or expend a high draft pick on a lineman, he could be jettisoned or asked to restructure his contract (his 2015 cap number is $5.2 million). But signs point to the longest-tenured Eagle returning for an 11th season.
Mathis wanted a new contract last year, didn't get one, but still showed up for training camp and performed at a high level. He likely still wants more money, but it's difficult to see the Eagles giving the soon-to-be 34-year-old more than his base salary ($5.5 million). He just doesn't have much leverage unless he plans on holding out. Could the Eagles try and deal Mathis in an attempt to get younger and cheaper inside? It is unlikely, but they will certainly look for long-term answers.
FREE AGENT OPTIONS
It would be a surprise if Kelly went after a high-priced lineman, but nothing can be ruled out. Mike Iupati of the 49ers is generally regarded as the best of the free agent guards. The former first round pick is 27 and an excellent run blocker. But he's an average pass protector and is expected to command top dollar if he hits the open market. Stefen Wisniewski would be an intriguing option because he can play both center and guard, but he will get paid as a starter and unless the Eagles do something about Herremans, I can't see him coming to Philly.
If you're looking for a bargain, Seattle's Stephen Schilling could be a free agent the Eagles may take a look at. He held his ground when thrust into the lineup in the middle of last season. He's young (26), athletic at 6-foot-5, 310 pounds and can play both tackle and guard.
The Eagles didn't draft a single offensive lineman last year and haven't selected one in the draft since Johnson went fourth overall in 2013. Aside from Iowa's Brandoff Scherff, there may not be an offensive lineman top ten-worthy in this class. Many of the mock drafts have the Eagles taking a defensive player with the 20th overall pick, but if there's a highly-rated o-lineman still on the board, what's to stop them from taking him?
There are five or so tackles that could go in the latter half of the first round. Pittsburgh's T.J. Clemmings (6-5, 309, 35-1/8-inch arms) began his collegiate career at defensive end. He's raw, but athletic – sort of like Johnson, but not as explosive. Stanford's Andrus Peat (6-7, 313, 34-3/8) is fairly polished and a high character prospect. LSU's La'el Collins (6-4, 305) is a chiseled, physical blocker. He played some left guard during Senior Bowl practices last month. Miami's Ereck Flowers (6-6, 329) had the best bench press (37 reps) of every player at the combine. Florida's D.J. Humphries (6-5, 307) saved some of his best games against the SEC's toughest competition. Each of those prospects could start their careers inside at guard before moving outside to tackle.
Texas A&M's Cedric Ogbuehi (6-5, 306, 35-7/8) could fall into the second round, but might not be around when the Eagles pick again. Florida State's Cameron Erving (6-5, 313, 34-1/8) could be a second-day option. He began his collegiate career on the defensive line and ended up at center as a senior. He's big and versatile enough to play at any spot across the line. Kelly's loves versatility. He also loves athletic lineman and Erving finished above average in nearly every drill at the combine. I would be remiss if I didn't mention Jake Fisher. Yes, he has the Oregon connection, but he was a consistent blocker in college and absolutely killed it in the running drills at the combine, finishing with the best 20-yard shuttle, best three-cone drill and second-best 40-yard dash among the o-lineman that participated.
As for some mid-round prospects, keep an eye out for Hobart's Ali Marpet (6-4, 307). Kelly has yet to draft a small school prospect, but Marpet is freakishly athletic (he ran the fastest o-lineman 40 (4.98) at the combine) and the Eagles expended one of their official combine interviews on him. Virginia Tech's Laurence Gibson (6-6, 305, 35-1/8) and West Virginia's Mark Glowinski (6-4, 307) are also second or third day options.