Examining the Eagles' Options at Left Tackle

Examining the Eagles' Options at Left Tackle

With Jason Peters likely shelved in 2012, the Eagles are scrambling to replace their All-Pro left tackle. They already re-signed King Dunlap to a one-year deal, and another move could be on the way. We take a closer look at their remaining options.

Sign a Free Agent
Believe it or not, there are still decent tackles available in free agency. Of course, the downside is there are usually reasons why a player is available nearly three weeks after free agency began.

The focus for the moment is on Demetrius Bell, who is scheduled to visit Philadelphia over the weekend according to Howard Eskin. Coincidentally, the 6-5, 311-lbs. Bell replaced Peters in Buffalo, and he developed into a decent player, but has had trouble staying on the field, missing eight games in '09, nine last season with knee injuries. Plus, Bell visited the Steelers on Friday, so there is competition for his services -- and while Pittsburgh is tighter against the salary cap, they are in better position to offer him multiple years.

The Eagles have also reached out to Marcus McNeill, a two-time Pro Bowler with the Chargers, but his health is an even bigger concern. A second-round pick in '06, McNeill missed the final seven games last season with a neck injury, and was released earlier this month when he was unable to pass a physical. He was in the first year of a five-year deal worth $48 million, so that situation is not very promising.

There doesn't seem to be much left besides damaged goods. Kareem McKenzie is healthy, but the 33 year old is coming off a dreadful season for the Giants. Max Starks tore his ACL in Pittsburgh's playoff loss to the Broncos, and isn't close to signing anywhere. Rounding out the starters is Barry Richardson, who never panned out for the Chiefs. Are any of those guys an upgrade over Dunlap?

Realistically, the Eagles may not be able to find an upgrade, and instead might want to worry about finding capable depth. Journeyman Tony Pashos has started 70 games during a nine-year NFL career, including 12 with the Browns last season. He can push Dunlap for a job, or replace him if necessary.

Draft
I was genuinely surprised by the number of folks who are seriously discussing not only drafting a tackle in the first round, nay, trading up as high as the third overall pick to select USC's Matt Kalil, the consensus top tackle in the draft. It's hard to envision Kalil slipping past the Vikings at three, let alone dropping out of the top five, and we all saw how cost prohibitive trading up that high could be when the Redskins exchanged this year's first, and included two future firsts in a package of picks to jump from sixth to second. Welcome to earth.

That doesn't necessarily preclude them from using their first-round pick though, or even from trading up a few spots to get the next best thing. Iowa's Riley Reiff and Standford's Jonathan Martin are both first-round prospects who could be off the board around or slightly before the Eagles pick. Such a move stinks of desperation though, and causes a roster logjam a year from now.

Todd Herremans was just extended through 2016, and clearly is not getting away any time soon, while Peters is on the books through 2014. While it certainly isn't safe to assume Peters will pick up right where he left off as the game's best offensive lineman, much less ever reach that level again, the Eagles would have three tackles who demand playing time in 2013. Sure, Peters can be released with no cap penalty, but I'm not sure how that's even worth considering at the moment, and he'll be difficult to trade if he hasn't played since the injury.

If a tackle is the best player on the board, then by all means, the Eagles should take him. As this situation demonstrates, you can never have too much offensive line depth, particularly on the outside. However, they shouldn't use their first round pick based solely on a need this season. As we saw with Danny Watkins in 2011, there is no guarantee a rookie will even be ready. They are better off using a mid-round selection, and developing that player in case Peters doesn't rebound.

Move Herremans
Left tackle is typically considered the most important position on the offensive line, so the Eagles could move their remaining starter at tackle to compensate.

Reasons for moving Herremans: most teams line up their best pass rusher over the left tackle. Would you rather have Dunlap or Herremans blocking DeMarcus Ware? The right side of the offensive line is also the "strong" side. The tight end usually lines up along side the right tackle, where he can assist in protection.

Reasons to leave Herremans: Since Vick is a left-handed quarterback, the right tackle is responsible for his blind side. Usually you prefer the most reliable lineman has the QB's back. Additionally, it creates an even larger shakeup that will affect continuity. Right now, the Eagles are only replacing one player. If they switch Herremans, both Evan Mathis and Watkins will be learning to play with a different teammate from a year ago. For Watkins, it could cause an unnecessary growing pain for a kid who had his share of struggles as a rookie.

It seems moving Herremans solves little, and invents another set of issues altogether. In fact, Herremans has started six games on the left in seven NFL seasons, so we're not exactly talking about a proven solution. In lieu of another option from free agency or the draft, they should at least give Dunlap a shot to earn the job, and go to plan B only if necessary.

Don't Panic
It's no surprise in the initial shock of this all, we are grasping at any and every straw that comes along. Jason Peters is a great, great player, and there is no way the front office can truly replace him in time for the 2012 season.

But don't you think maybe we are selling King Dunlap just a little bit short? This kid has come a long way since the Birds took him in the seventh round of the '08 draft. He has the tools to succeed in the NFL, and in seven career starts, has never once really disappointed. Who knows, maybe he is capable.

If the Eagles can find somebody better, fine. Just remember there's a reason why teams draft players in the later rounds, then hide them on the practice squad or at the end of the bench, spending years teaching them the system, coaching them up, preparing them to play. Sometimes, you wind up relying on those guys.

It's not the ideal scenario for a team with Super Bowl aspirations, but neither were the seemingly insurmountable injuries that faced the Giants last season, or the Packers a year earlier, or most teams that wind up hoisting the Lombardi Trophy -- some with backup quarterbacks. Why not with a backup left tackle?

Maybe this is Dunlap's chance to sink or swim... and the Eagles along with him.

Playing with 'swagger,' Gostisbehere flashes glimpse of rookie self vs. Canucks

Playing with 'swagger,' Gostisbehere flashes glimpse of rookie self vs. Canucks

VANCOUVER, British Columbia – The Flyers’ “Ghost” headed home Monday on a high note — for a change.

Defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere recorded three assists for the first three-point night of his NHL career Sunday as the Flyers edged the Vancouver Canucks 3-2 in the final game of a three-game Western Canada road trip (see story). In one night, he matched his offensive output of his previous 10 games played. 

He was a healthy scratch for three games in the meantime. On many other occasions, he has struggled while dealing with the NHL’s proverbial sophomore jinx following a standout rookie season. 

“It’s been a while coming,” Gostisbehere said. “It’s good to get some points, but I thought it was more important to get two points for our team.”

The win moved the Flyers (28-24-7) within a point of the eighth and final playoff spot, currently held by Toronto, in the Eastern Conference. With considerable thanks to Gostisbehere, the club’s much maligned power play scored on two of three man-advantage opportunities. 

“He played great,” Wayne Simmonds said of Gostisbehere. “He had his confidence and a little bit of swagger.”

Gostisbehere’s first assist enabled the Flyers to get off to a quick start offensively as Simmonds deflected in his point shot only 1:11 into the game. On the Flyers’ second goal, Gostisbehere head-manned the puck to Sean Couturier on a rush. Jakub Voracek easily put Couturier’s big rebound into a gaping net with Canucks goaltender Ryan Miller caught out of position.

One minute and 27 seconds later, Brayden Schenn took Gostisbehere’s pass and put in a shot from the slot. Altogether, Gostisbehere’s assists enabled the Flyers to build an insurmountable 3-0 lead in the game’s first 23 minutes.

“Ghost has had his ups and downs this year, but he's a heck of a player and has unbeliveable skill,” Simmonds said. “He can be a catalyst offensively for us, that’s for sure.”

Gostisbehere now has four goals and 18 assists on the season. Until Sunday, the 23-year-old had seemed like an apparition of his former self. 

He had a less-than-ideal recovery period from offseason hip (labrum) and abdominal surgeries, due to his participation with Team North America in the World Cup. Then he suffered a facial cut in the Flyers’ season opener and took a bruise on his right hand in December.

He also struggled defensively to the point where he was scratched — for the first time in his NHL career — in November and was later benched and pulled out of the lineup again. Heading into Sunday’s game, he had a woeful minus-22 mark, but he was only on the ice for one Canucks' goal.

He helped the Flyers shut out the Canucks in the first and third periods. 

“We don’t like how they came back, but we held the lead and, like I said, we got the two points,” Gostisbehere said.

Ghost’s offensive showing evoked memories of his seemingly other-worldly 2015-16 season. In 64 games last season, he notched 17 goals, the most by an NHL rookie defenseman since Dion Phaneuf, then with Calgary, who scored 20 over a full 82-game schedule in 2005-06. Gostisbehere also enjoyed a historic 15-game point streak in 2015-16, the longest ever for a first-year rearguard, and he was a runnerup for the league’s Rookie of the Year award.

His return to form Sunday bodes well as the Flyers face two Metropolitan Division rivals this week, first Washington at home on Wednesday and then the Penguins in Pittsburgh on Saturday in an outdoor game that will pack plenty of hype and pressure. 

After those games, the Flyers face a more compressed schedule than they have lately. The Feb.12-27 portion of their calendar contains only five games. But starting Feb. 28, they will play their final 21 games of the regular season over 41 days as they push to make the playoffs.

“We definitely know we’re a playoff team, for sure,” Gostisbehere said. “It shows. It’s a big test for us (this) week, playing these really good teams.”

Flyers, at this point, should sell a few valuable veterans ahead of deadline

Flyers, at this point, should sell a few valuable veterans ahead of deadline

Dave Hakstol’s Flyers returned home from Vancouver on Monday not quite resembling conquering heroes.

Sure, they salvaged two points from their three-game trek to Western Canada, but for a team that supposedly sees itself as a wild card, that just ain’t gonna get it done.

The Flyers required at least four points — ideally, five — from the trip to give us some proof they’re a legit contender for the wild card.

Right now, their wild-card hopes remain on life support.

Yes, they’re only two points behind Toronto. Thing is, the field of wild-card contenders have officially caught up and even passed them.

When the Flyers left for the trip, they were even in points with the Maple Leafs while holding down the 9-seed in the Eastern Conference. Toronto had the second wild card.

Hakstol's team is the 11-seed now. Toronto, Florida and the New York Islanders are ahead of them with games in hand.

This trip should offer enough evidence to general manager Ron Hextall that his team is still floundering.

There are no moves Hextall can initiate at the trade deadline that will guarantee a playoff spot without mortgaging the future.

Since their return from the All-Star break, the Flyers are 3-5-1. Those numbers don’t suggest they’re headed to the playoffs.

And even if the Flyers were to qualify as the second wild card, they would face a very early exit against the Washington Capitals.

Again.

At this point, with the March 1 NHL trade deadline staring Hextall in the face, he has to be a seller at the deadline.

If you trust Hextall’s long-term plan of patience, you understand that what this is about is preserving assets and preparing young players to be integrated into the system next year and the year after, and the year after that.

Mark Streit and Michael Del Zotto are two unrestricted free agents who could help someone else right now.

Streit has been strong this season on the power play, which is his forte. He’s the perfect deadline rental.

Even if Hextall would like to have Streit’s veteran leadership on the blue line next season on a one-year, low salary to “tutor” Robert Hagg or Sam Morin or Travis Sanheim, he could still move Streit now and re-sign him later this summer.

Del Zotto, at 26, will get a nice return in draft picks or a prospect. Del Zotto is going to want a big contract this summer (he’s making $3.87 million now).

There’s no incentive for Hextall to go that direction given the sheer number of young, outstanding defensive prospects in the system that will be arriving shortly, all of whom come with very low salary cap hits.

Don’t blame Hextall for not getting involved in the Matt Duchene/Gabriel Landeskog saga that is going on in Colorado. GM Joe Sakic is asking a lot.

Hextall seems reluctant to part with any future prospects or young players just to get the same in return.

Much of the fan base has been saying for a while now it’s time to move team captain Claude Giroux. He's in the midst of his fourth consecutive season in which his numbers have declined, and in some respects, dramatically from his two best seasons — 2011-12 (93 points) and 2013-14 (86 points).

Yet there is no indication from Hextall or anyone in the Flyers' organization that such is even being contemplated.

Or that the organization feels Giroux’s leadership abilities have been assumed by Wayne Simmonds, who is arguably the most popular Flyer, two years running now.

Hextall still sees veterans such as Giroux, who is only 29, as a player who would help the transition of younger pups coming along — Travis Konecny, German Rubtsov, Nick Cousins, Jordan Weal, etc. — and he also believes Giroux can recapture his offense.

In short, Hextall is not going to tear his roster apart nor is he going to make a blockbuster trade next Wednesday. But he will likely try to sell veteran assets that make the team younger in some way.

Which is the correct thinking for the Flyers now and right into this summer, as well.