Heading into the 2012 season, the Philadelphia Eagles’ offensive line was expected to be a major strength.
Left tackle Jason Peters is arguably the best offensive lineman in the entire National Football League. Left guard Evan Mathis, originally signed as a low-risk, low-reward veteran backup, produced the best season by any offensive linemen in the NFL last season, according to Pro Football Focus. Center Jason Kelce and right guard Danny Watkins had their struggles as a rookie but both will be a year older and more talented next season. And right tackle Todd Herremans had his usual productive season, despite switching positions.
All five are signed through 2014, and with veteran offensive line coach Howard Mudd returning next season, Michael Vick will be receiving stellar protection when he’s in the pocket.
That all changed last week when Peters suffered one of the worst injuries imaginable: a torn right Achilles tendon during a workout drill in Texas.
The injury will likely prevent Peters from playing football this season. As a result, he has a little more than 17 months to get back into football shape (for the start of the 2013 season).
At that point, Peters will be 31 and a half years old. Formerly a five-time Pro Bowl selection and one of the best players on the team, it’s going to be unclear whether Peters will ever regain his strength.
As an offensive lineman, Peters relies on his lower body strength and heavy bulk. He’s also extremely mobile (a college tight end) and is a master at downfield blocking for running back LeSean McCoy on screen passes.
The Eagles can’t predict whether Peters will ever regain those abilities.
A recent study indicated that just 67 percent of pro football players successfully return from Achilles tears. The other 33 percent never play again, such as former Eagles’ wide receiver Todd Pinkston when he ruptured his Achilles in training camp in 2005.
However, I don’t think the Eagles should count on Peters not returning. I think he’ll return.
Even if he can’t, I don’t think they should panic and select an offensive tackle in the first round of the NFL draft. First of all, there aren’t a lot of viable candidates in the draft, and second, the Eagles would have a problem when Peters returned in 2013. Who would go to the bench then? Peters, Herremans, and the 2012 rookie couldn’t all start.
No, there’s no need for the Eagles to panic and do something stupid like change the face of their offensive line.
Instead, they should select a veteran like Demetrius Bell, formerly of the Buffalo Bills, who already came to visit late last week. Marcus McNeill, formerly of the San Diego Chargers and a two-time Pro Bowl selection, is also available.
I would sign one of these players to a one-year deal. Hopefully he will be an average starter in 2012. I can deal with that. Not every position can be a major strength, and losing a star player in March doesn’t mean a team can’t win the Super Bowl.
Then re-evaluate Peters’ situation after the 2012 season, and decide if he will ever be able to return to football again.
But as of now, assume he will be back.