With the signing of Demetress Bell, the Eagles filled a gaping hole. Well, sort of.
The Eagles signed Bell to play left tackle in place of Jason Peters who suffered a torn Achilles tendon and probably is out for the season. While Bell may be the best available option, he isnt Jason Peters.
Peters was the Eagles best offensive lineman last season and, in my opinion, the best left tackle in the league. He has been a Pro Bowl selection each of the last five seasons but he played his best football in 2011. He adapted quickly to the new techniques of line coach Howard Mudd and he was consistent week in and week out.
Bell, who signed a five year deal with the Eagles, has experience (30 career starts with Buffalo) and good tools, but he has a long way to go before anyone compares him to Jason Peters. He isnt as physical as Peters and he isnt going to dominate people the way Peters did most of last season.
Still, this was a move the Eagles had to make. When Peters went down last week while training in Texas, the Eagles had to move quickly to shore up the left tackle position and Bell was the best player available on a rather thin free agent market.
The other options would have included entrusting the position to King Dunlap the Eagles extended his contact last week but Dunlap has only started seven games in four pro seasons or perhaps changing their draft strategy to select an offensive tackle with the 15th overall pick.
The trouble is the top prospects Matt Kalil of USC and Riley Reiff of Iowa will be gone early and the next tier of tackles Jeff Allen (Illinois), Jonathan Martin (Stanford) and Mike Adams (Ohio State) arent worth drafting that high. Plus, they would come in as rookies and there is always the danger of throwing rookies into the fire too quickly.
Another option would have been to move Danny Watkins, last years top draft pick, from guard to tackle where he excelled at Baylor. The Eagles then could have used their first draft pick on David DeCastro of Stanford, the best offensive guard in this draft class and a blue chip prospect who combines toughness with uncommon polish.
But all this shuffling and using high draft picks on offensive linemen might have just created a long jam next season assuming Peters comes back healthy and ready to play. It was easier for the Eagles to just go shopping on the free agent market for a veteran with starting experience and the 27-year-old Bell was the logical guy.
Why the five-year deal? Well, Bell was in a commanding position knowing the Eagles had to make a move and he used the leverage. The Eagles know what is at stake in the 2012 season so they were willing to address the short term need figuring the long term stuff can be dealt with down the road when they see how Peters fares in his rehab.
Bell is 6-5 and 310 pounds, about 30 pounds lighter than Peters. He isnt as powerful as Peters nor as dominant in the running game. He isnt going to cave in a defensive line as Peters did at times last season. He is a finesse blocker with good feet and balance. The Eagles are obviously counting on Mudd, an outstanding teacher, to polish those skills.
Bell missed part of last season with a shoulder injury, but that shouldnt be a problem for him now. He is still rather raw in his technique which isnt surprising since he did not play football until his second year at Northwestern (La.) State. He started as a defensive end and switched to offensive tackle his last two seasons.
Bell was a seventh round pick in the 2008 draft, same as King Dunlap. Buffalo took Bell with the 219th selection; the Eagles took Dunlap at 230. Both were seen as developmental projects. Bell grew into a starting role with the Bills the next season. Ironically, Bell took over for Peters when Peters signed with the Eagles in 2009. Now he will be replacing him for the second time.
E-mail Ray Didinger at firstname.lastname@example.org