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Eagles ready to finally address offensive line

It's been seven years since the Eagles were active participants in the high-priced, free-agent offensive line market. They initially signed Stacy Andrews in the 2009 offseason, and while Jason Peters wasn't technically a free agent, the veteran tackle came in a trade.

It's been seven years since the Eagles were active participants in the high-priced, free-agent offensive line market. They initially signed Stacy Andrews in the 2009 offseason, and while Jason Peters wasn't technically a free agent, the veteran tackle came in a trade.

The Eagles were attempting to replace tackle cornerstones Tra Thomas and Jon Runyan on the fly, and while Peters ultimately became one of the team's better acquisitions over the last decade, Andrews, like his brother Shawn, flamed out.

Now, the Eagles face a similar, though not as drastic, predicament on the line. They have their tackles - Peters, likely for one last hurrah, and Lane Johnson - and center Jason Kelce, but they need immediate help at guard. They need depth, as well, after years of neglect.

"The O-line is a priority, period," Howie Roseman said on Thursday. "It's a priority today. It's a priority tomorrow. It's a priority next week. It's a priority in April. It's going to be a priority. Every day we're looking for offensive linemen."

It wasn't much of a priority after the Eagles selected Johnson with the fourth overall pick in the 2013 draft. They haven't drafted an offensive lineman since, and most of their free-agent additions have been of the journeyman variety (see: Allen Barbre, Andrew Gardner).

Chip Kelly, who wrested personnel control from Roseman for one year, so neglected the position that he didn't add one new face in 2015, even after he released guards Todd Herremans and Evan Mathis.

Predictably, the offense suffered. Peters and Johnson weren't great by any estimation, but the interior of the line was a disaster. The three guards - Barbre, Gardner, and Matt Tobin - were woefully inconsistent, and Kelce struggled with two new bodies at his side.

It's a virtual slam dunk that the Eagles will invest free-agency dollars and draft picks on offensive linemen. Roseman and new coach Doug Pederson haven't been shy about their plans. Pederson said it's possible to reload with multiple starters in one offseason, but he also noted his Chiefs were able to withstand injuries last season because of a deep bench.

"In Kansas City, we found five guys that wanted to play, and that's the bottom line," Pederson said. "You find five guys that are going to be tough, they're going to be brothers in arms when they walk out there, and they're going to be nitty-gritty, they're going to be dirty. That's what you want."

One of those Chiefs is slated to hit the open market on Wednesday. Jeff Allen fits the profile of a Roseman free-agent signee. It doesn't hurt that Pederson has firsthand knowledge of the 26-year-old guard.

Allen is on the Eagles' radar, according to sources familiar with the Eagles' plans, but other teams want him, too, including the Chiefs, who could make a push to keep the left guard. They'll likely let him walk.

The Chiefs, who used their franchise tag on safety Eric Berry last week, have several prominent free agents they may have to sign, and they have let starting offensive linemen walk since Andy Reid became head coach three years ago.

Allen isn't expected to break the bank like Ravens guard Kelechi Osemele, but he should get a deal somewhere in the $5 million-per-year range, and that should be doable for an Eagles team that has less salary-cap room (around $17 million) heading into free agency than it typically does.

Allen may ultimately take the best offer, but he said in January that he was looking to play for a Super Bowl contender, with a group of linemen he is comfortable with, and at "one position where I know I'm going to be playing going into the offseason."

Allen has played the majority of his career at guard, but he does have experience at tackle and center. Versatility is attractive, but the Eagles could plug him in at left guard and it would be instant upgrade over Barbre. Allen, over the last 12 games of last season, including the playoffs, had the best stretch of his career.

"He underperformed his first two seasons in K.C. and missed most of [2014] with a [biceps] injury, but he was vastly improved last year," a senior NFL scout said. "He has explosiveness and doesn't get bullied around much. He can be nasty if he wants. He's a little top-heavy and can tip over.

"I'd be a little concerned that his best came in a contract year, but it could also suggest he's only starting to peak."

When asked to describe what kind of linemen he prefers, Pederson said he looks at athleticism first. Allen moves well for 6-foot-4, 306 pounds. The Chiefs liked to zone block, so Allen was often on the move. He can pull on linemen and get to the second level on linebackers.

"His initial quickness and suddenness is good," an NFC personnel director said, "but his change of direction is OK. I think he's a fair starter at both guard and tackle. Ideally, you would love to have him as your top backup OL, but he can get you by as a starter."

Particularly at guard, where there is more combo blocking. Allen would occasionally struggle in man blocking against bigger-bodied defensive linemen, according to the NFC personnel director.

"He doesn't play with the length that he should," the scout said. "That allows defenders to get into his chest and knock him back."

If Allen isn't available or the Eagles pass, there are other options. The Texans' Brandon Brooks (6-5, 335) is reliable and seemingly ascending, which is why Houston is reportedly making a push to keep the 26-year-old.

The Vikings' Mike Harris (6-5, 338) and the Panthers' Amini Silatolu (6-4, 320) are two under-the-radar, 27-year-old guards who could pay dividends. Harris benefitted from a move inside after years at tackle. Silatolu has talent, but he suffered his second torn anterior cruciate ligament in three years in November.

Alex Boone of the 49ers and Ramon Foster of the Steelers are more established veteran guards, but they're older (28 and 30) and possibly out of the Eagles' price range. Richie Incognito had maybe the best season of the free-agent guards, but he's 32 and has obvious baggage.

Jahri Evans (32) and Mathis (34) are aging former Pro Bowlers who are unlikely future (or second-time) Eagles. And there are alternatives at tackle, whether the Eagles want to convert one into a guard or have in case of emergency.

But their immediate needs and financial situation strongly suggest the Eagles will narrow their sights on Allen or one of the aforementioned guards. Finally.