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.

Eagles-Steelers: Roob's 10 observations

Eagles-Steelers: Roob's 10 observations

BOX SCORE

We could probably fill 100 points tonight after this wipeout of the Steelers.

Fifty of them might just be: Wow.

The Eagles on Sunday handed the Steelers' their worst loss in 27 years, walloping everybody's AFC favorite 34-3 and extending their streak to a game and a half without allowing a touchdown (see Instant Replay).

New coach, new quarterback, but you could make an argument the Eagles are the best team in the NFL.

Three games in, the Eagles have won three blowouts. Sunday's was the most impressive.

1. What Carson Wentz is doing simply defies belief. He isn’t playing at an insanely high level for a rookie, he’s playing at an insanely high level for a quarterback. It’s not about him being a rookie anymore. There’s nothing rookie about him. Wentz has managed to put together one of the finest three-game stretches in Eagles history, not just by a rookie but by any quarterback. And this after missing all of training camp and getting promoted to the starting spot exactly one month ago? It’s scary how good this kid is playing. His ability to recognize and diagnose what a defense is doing is off the charts, and he’s so accurate that as soon as he realizes who’s going to be open, the ball is on the way. He can fire it, he can float it, and he can do it all in mistake-free fashion. That’s what’s most impressive about all of this. Zero turnovers playing in his NFL debut, on a Monday night at Soldier Field and against a hot pick to win the AFC.

2. We all knew this defensive line was talented. But this? This group has played out of its mind so far. In all three games the opposing quarterback really had no chance by the second half. They are simply wearing people out, getting stronger and stronger as the game goes on and taking over in the second half. The Eagles still haven’t allowed a second-half touchdown this year. Look at net passing yards against the Eagles this year:

                                 1H                  2H

Browns                    118                  50

Bears                       145                  75

Steelers                   138                  84

They’ve been OK in the first half, but they are just destroying people in the second half. They have yet to allow 100 net passing yards in a second half. And that’s when teams that are trailing by double digits generally pad their passing stats. Ben Roethlisberger is a two-time Super Bowl winner, and by the second half, the Eagles’ defensive line was just teeing off on him, giving him very little opportunity to get the ball down the field. This has been an astonishing stretch from the entire defense, but the defensive line in particular has been playing at a breathtaking level.

3. There was no announcement in the press box about Ryan Mathews, but we’re assuming his sore ankle, originally injured on opening day, was bothering him. Mathews had minus-five yards on two early carries, then didn’t play the rest of the game. In his place, we saw a real emergence from the Eagles’ two young backs. Rookie Wendell Smallwood ran 17 times for 79 yards and Kenjon Barner was 8 for 42, both career highs. Mathews has looked sluggish running the ball all year, and Darren Sproles – as electrifying as he is in all other facets of the game – really isn’t a runner anymore. Smallwood and Barner both hit the hole decisively and have wheels once they get into open space. Sunday, they combined for 25 carries for 121 yards. Very promising start for both backs.

4. One thing the Eagles did throughout this game was tackle exceptionally well, something that’s been a problem around here for a while. The Steelers, unable to run the ball, and with Roethlisberger under tremendous pressure, tried snap after snap to get the short passing game going, trying to get 1-on-1 matchups and then break tackles for big gains. But time after time, the Eagles swarmed the receiver as soon as he caught the ball, quickly limiting the damage. Fourteen of Roethlisberger’s 24 completions went for six yards or less, and this is a quarterback who is as good as anybody getting the ball down the field.

5. Malcolm Jenkins in particular was exceptional Sunday, both in coverage, stopping the run and tackling in the open field. Jenkins has been playing at such a high level since he got here in 2014 it’s easy to take him for granted. But he’s playing as well right now as any safety we’ve seen here. This is Brian Dawkins-level stuff right now.

6. A few words about Brandon Graham. This guy was so vilified early in his career for not being Earl Thomas, and all he’s done for seven years is work hard in practice, play as hard as he can on gameday, and hope to finally get an opportunity to show that he can play. Graham hasn’t been bad. He had 23½ sacks coming into this year, including 12 the last two years. But he’s been playing his best football ever this year, not just pressuring the quarterback, getting sacks and being around the ball — he’s got a forced fumble and a fumble recovery to go with three sacks this year — but also playing very stout against the run. Graham has played under three head coaches and five defensive coordinators, and he’s finally in a scheme that really suits his strengths. Graham has perservered, he’s overcome a lot, and you might notice nobody ever talks about Earl Thomas around here anymore.

7. As impressive as the offense and defense have been, Doug Pederson has been just dazzling so far. His ability to call a game, to keep defenses off-balance, to establish the pass early and then start pounding the run … all of this is remarkable for a first-time head coach who’s never called plays before. Pederson has guided this team masterfully through a difficult few months, with the starting quarterback disappearing and then getting traded, two players in legal trouble, another player likely to get suspended and several players protesting during the national anthem. And here they are 3-0. Pederson has been astounding.

8. And how about the Eagles’ rush defense. The Steelers managed just 29 yards on 10 carries, and that includes a seven-yard Roethlisberger scramble. Their backs had just 22 yards. Nobody’s been able to run on the Eagles yet, and that makes this defense even scarier.

9. Seeing Cody Parkey miss two field goals for the Browns in their overtime loss to the Dolphins Sunday, including a 31-yarder as time ran out in the fourth quarter, and seeing Caleb Sturgis continue to boot all his attempts through the uprights is a good reminder of how a difficult roster decision has really paid dividends for the Eagles. Maybe it didn’t seem like a tough decision, since Sturgis outplayed Parkey throughout the preseason, but getting rid of a Pro Bowl kicker, who two years ago broke the NFL rookie scoring record, can’t be easy. Sturgis has been solid, making both his field goal attempts Sunday and seven of eight so far this year.

10. A couple quick stats to put this all in perspective:

• The last time the Steelers lost a game by 31 or more points, their quarterback was Bubby Brister. It was 1989 and a 41-10 loss to Boomer Esiason and the Bengals at Riverfront Stadium.

•  Wentz’s 102 pass attempts are the most in NFL history by any quarterback in his first three games. Dak Prescott is at 75 going into the Cowboys’ game Sunday night.

•  Wentz is the first quarterback in NFL history to throw 30 or more passes with no interceptions in each of his first three games. Only three others had done it twice.

• The Eagles are the 23rd team in NFL history to open a season with three straight wins by 15 or more points. Of the first 22, 18 went to the playoffs.

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Instant Replay: Eagles 34, Steelers 3

Instant Replay: Eagles 34, Steelers 3

BOX SCORE

It was just the Browns and the Bears, right? The Eagles hadn’t beaten anybody yet, right? We don’t know what this team is yet, right?
 
That all changed Sunday.
 
Big time.
 
Led by rookie phenom Carson Wentz and an absolutely stifling defense, the Eagles took down a Super Bowl contender at the Linc, demolishing the cross-state Steelers, 34-3.
 
With the win, the Eagles are 3-0. And thanks to the Giants’ loss, they’re all alone in first place in the NFC East.
 
After taking a 10-point lead into halftime, the Eagles absolutely poured it on in the second half.
 
They scored early in the third quarter on a special play from Wentz to Darren Sproles. Wentz avoided pressure, stepped up and hit Sproles in stride. The veteran running back did the rest, going 73 yards for a touchdown to put the Eagles up 20-3. They added a couple more scores after that.
 
As impressive as the Eagles’ offense was, the defense might have been more impressive.
 
The Eagles’ defense held a future Hall of Fame quarterback, the NFL’s leading rusher after two weeks and the NFL’s best receiver to three points.
 
Sunday was the worst loss the Steelers suffered since Sept. 17, 1989, when they lost to the Bengals, 41-10.
 
Turning point
The Steelers got off to a hot start, but Markus Wheaton dropped a touchdown pass and then the ensuing field goal was blocked. On the next drive, the Eagles put up the first points of the game. That was a huge swing and the Eagles never looked back.
 
Key stat
Wentz has now thrown 102 passes without an interception to start his career.
 
The Eagles’ defense, which had allowed 17 points coming in, gave up just three to the Steelers on Sunday afternoon. In total, the Eagles have given up just 27 points through three games. That’s the fewest points they’ve given up through three games since 1992.
 
First half
The Eagles had an impressive first half, taking a 13-3 lead into the locker room after two quarters.
 
The Steelers actually got the ball first and put together an impressive drive. Ben Roethlisberger hit Wheaton in the back of the end zone for what should have been a touchdown, but Wheaton dropped it. So the Steelers settled for a 36-yard field goal attempt, but it was blocked by Bennie Logan.
 
The Eagles responded with a field goal drive that went 63 yards on seven plays. The Eagles have now scored on their first drive in each of the first three games of the season. On those first-possession drives, Wentz has completed 16 of 19 passes for 167 yards and a touchdown.
 
A Wentz to Jordan Matthews touchdown early in the second quarter put the Eagles up 10-0. That touchdown capped an 82-yard drive.
 
The teams traded field goals later in the second quarter to keep the Eagles up 10.
 
Offensive stud
Wentz takes the honor yet again. The rookie has been unreal. On Sunday, he completed 23 of 31 passes for 301 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. His passer rating was 125.9. He became the third rookie in Eagles history to throw for 300-plus yards with two touchdowns in a game.

Sproles also had a huge day in the passing game. The Sproles' touchdown was the 16th 73-yard-plus passing touchdown in Eagles history and was the longest for an Eagles running back since Herschel Walker's 93-yarder in 1994.

Offensive dud
Ryan Mathews never really got it going Sunday. He has been dealing with an ankle injury, which might have limited him. He finished with minus-five yards on two carries that came in the first quarter.  
 
Defensive stud
We’ll give this to the whole unit. Just an all-around incredible performance.
 
Defensive dud
Rookie Jalen Mills got beat a couple times and had a defensive pass interference called against him. Overall, not a terrible day, it’s just that there wasn’t much to pick on with the Eagles’ defense.
 
Injuries
The Eagles entered Sunday’s game without Zach Ertz (ribs), Leodis McKelvin (hamstring) and Isaac Seumalo (pec). Pederson said he expects all three back after the bye week.
 
Up next
The Eagles have an early Week 4 bye so they’ll have an extra week to prepare for the Detroit Lions. Players will be at the NovaCare Complex on Monday, then go their separate ways. The Eagles will play again on Oct. 9 at 1 p.m. in Detroit, as they try to keep their perfect record intact.

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