As NFL draft nears, Philadelphia Eagles face decisions along deep offensive line
Like many NFL executives, Philadelphia Eagles personnel czar Howie Roseman leans on consistent talking points during offseason news conferences and interviews.
He spewed one of his more notable phrases back in March.
“We believe in the lines and building along the lines,” Roseman said at a news conference that introduced the team’s first three free-agent acquisitions, including offensive guard Chance Warmack. “It would be a disservice for us to not also talk about our offensive line, because it starts up front.”
Sound familiar? Roseman’s aimed to hammer home a similar message at various points since he reassumed power over Eagles personnel in late 2015, when the team fired Chip Kelly and entrusted Roseman to patch the holes on a leaky roster.
The intention of shoring up the offensive line is noble and well-received in Philadelphia, where fans take pride in toughness and adore 24-year-old quarterback Carson Wentz. Roseman’s backed up his words, too, by investing in depth, youth and starpower along the offensive line over the past two years.
Regardless of the attention paid to the blockers up front, though, Philadelphia’s line is approaching a formative stretch as the team prepares to open offseason workouts next week and readies for the draft at the end of the month.
Warmack’s arrival, which came in the same week the Eagles re-signed guard Stefen Wisniewski to a three-year deal, provided Roseman a chance to gab in March, but it also underscored the looming decisions the team faces as it works to find the best mix for 2017 and identify long-term plans.
Aside from Brandon Brooks’ secure place as the starting right guard, Philly’s preferred group of interior linemen remains a mystery.
Center Jason Kelce, coming off a Pro Bowl nod season, has been caught in trade rumors all offseason. Meanwhile, 2016 third-round pick Isaac Seumalo is aiming to challenge for a starting spot at left guard, even as Allen Barbre returns with hopes of reclaiming his job.
It was a crowded group of interior lineman before the Eagles added Warmack and re-signed Wisniewski, who’ve started a combined 131 NFL games.
“There’s going to be some good competition,” head coach Doug Pederson said at the NFL annual meetings last month.
While that sentiment should stand as a positive for bright-eyed Eagles fans, it doesn’t erase the questions the Birds face. They need to sort out their preferences up front — it’s important to decided whether Seumalo can settle in as a steady starter, or whether Wisniewski is worth his $9 million contract.
And that’s before the Eagles consider perhaps a more pressing query: What should they do to create future stability at offensive tackle?
Starting left tackle Jason Peters, a nine-time Pro Bowler, is 35 and one of the oldest linemen in the league. Starting right tackle Lane Johnson is signed through 2020 but served a 10-game suspension last season for his second career violation of the NFL’s performance-enhancing drug policy.
One more strike would knock Johnson out of the NFL for two full seasons, according to the NFL’s collectively bargained guidelines.
Last year, 2016 fifth-round pick Halapoulivaati Vaitai started six games in place of Johnson, but it’s unclear if the Eagles trust the TCU product — or anyone else on the roster — enough to move toward the post-Peters era without another capable young tackle. Even if they do, Philadelphia could use more depth at the position, considering Peters’ age and Johnson’s suspensions.
So, will the Eagles draft an offensive tackle? If so, when will they do it and how will they fit him onto a roster packed with linemen?
And while we’re asking questions, might Philly find a draft-day trade partner interested in Kelce? When will the Eagles find clarity at center and guard?
Roseman’s talked plenty about the offensive line, and he’s addressed it through various methods. The job’s not done, though. If Philadelphia wants to sort out the best long-term combination of lineman to play in front of Wentz for years to come, they’ll need to hone in on the decisions that remain in front of them.
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