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.
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.
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.
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.