After several attempts to tactfully ask Todd Herremans about his future with the Eagles, a reporter finally blurted out the million-dollar question:

Do you think you'll be back?

"I think so. Nobody said anything to me otherwise," Herremans said Dec. 29, a day after the season finale. "I'm under contract for two more years."

That was nearly two months ago, however, and NFL contracts - Herremans knows as well as anyone on the Eagles roster - aren't worth much more than guaranteed dollars. Over 500 players have passed through the organization since the Eagles drafted Herremans in 2005, and he will become the next when his release is announced over the next few days.

There was speculation that he could survive one more season, but his days were numbered once Chip Kelly selected Lane Johnson fourth overall in the 2013 draft and Herremans was moved from right tackle to right guard.

A year later, the Eagles signed Allen Barbre to a three-year contract extension, suggesting they were procuring insurance at right guard. And then Herremans tore his left biceps in October - the second season-ending injury he had in the last three seasons - and the hourglass appeared closer to empty.

There were a confluence of factors in the decision to release - money, health, performance - but Herremans hit the proverbial nail on the head when he was asked in December if his age would propel the Eagles to make a change.

"If I'm not playing up to the caliber they want, then they won't keep me," said Herremans, who will turn 33 in October. "I don't think it has anything to do with me being 30-plus."

Left tackle Jason Peters and left guard Evan Mathis are a year older but neither appears in jeopardy of following Herremans out the door. But the Eagles do need to get younger on the offensive line and they now have an extra roster spot to do so.

They didn't get much younger on the starting line as it stands now. Barbre will turn 31 in June, but he has significantly less wear on the tires even if he missed more than 15 games last season with a broken ankle.

Kelly could pencil Barbre in as the starter or even 24-year-old Matt Tobin or Andrew Gardner for that matter, but Herremans' departure makes it more likely the Eagles will be players in free agency or more apt to select an offensive lineman in the early rounds of the draft.

Free agency opens March 10 and there are a handful of guards that could be potential targets. Mike Iupati of the 49ers, Orlando Franklin of the Broncos and Clint Boling of the Bengals are the most attractive, but could cost a pretty penny if their teams don't retain them. Raiders center Stefen Wisniewski hasn't played guard in three seasons but his versatility could intrigue Kelly.

The draft is a cheaper alternative and an opportunity for the Eagles to inject more youth provided Kelly doesn't, say, expend multiple picks on moving up for a certain quarterback. But there should be plug-in-and-play offensive linemen available when the Eagles pick 20th in the first round and developmental types in the next few rounds.

Herremans' release cleared $2.8 million from the salary cap, but the Eagles also had to eat $2.4 million in dead money. He signed a three-year extension worth $21 million overall and $11 million guaranteed in 2012, but it proved to be one of four contracts the Eagles doled out that offseason that may have been overreaches.

In former general manager Howie Roseman's first offseason fully in charge of the cap, he extended wide receiver DeSean Jackson, linebacker Trent Cole, running back LeSean McCoy and Herremans.

Jackson was released last March two years into his five-year contract and the Eagles took a $6 million cap hit. Cole is slated to earn $10 million this season, but the Eagles will either release him and burn $3.2 million in dead money or bring him back at a lesser rate if he agrees to a contract restructuring.

McCoy has already said that he would be willing to rework his deal, but he won't take a pay cut and a $12 million cap number will make it difficult to trade him if Kelly even entertains the idea.

Herremans was given a bump three years ago partly because of his move from left guard to right tackle, but he spent only one more season there. The Eagles were investing in a player they never had to worry about in terms of commitment and professionalism. But he had clearly lost a step after he broke a bone in his foot midway through the 2012 season.

Kelly still had the utmost respect for Herremans, one of the veterans that bought into his culture change. When Herremans tore his biceps near the end of the Cardinals game last season and was committed to starting the next game, Kelly stuck with his guard. He could only block with one arm, but it exemplified his toughness.

Herremans was as respected as any Eagle during his 10 years. He should have options elsewhere, but if he doesn't, Kelly could be no worse if he's looking for a veteran off the bench.

In recent seasons, Herremans had the NovaCare Complex locker stall farthest from the exit. Asked why last September, he joked, "Anything to keep them from getting rid of me."

Herremans did nearly everything he could to play his entire career in Philadelphia. But few that play as long as he has ever play their entire careers with one team.

@Jeff_McLane