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.

Villanova's Kpassagnon speaks softly but earns NFL scouts' attention

Villanova's Kpassagnon speaks softly but earns NFL scouts' attention

As the rain poured down on him, the 6-foot-7, 290-pound defensive lineman lumbered off the field at Villanova Stadium, a picture of dripping wet intimidation.

And then he spoke.

“I don’t really like the rain,” the Villanova senior said softly.

Then, he thought about the Wildcats’ trip to freezing South Dakota for a second-round FCS playoff matchup with South Dakota State on Saturday (3 p.m., ESPN3).

“I don’t like the cold, either.”

Meet Tanoh Kpassagnon, a quiet, articulate, intellectual business school student who doubles as one of the fiercest football players in Villanova history and a big-time NFL Draft prospect.

“He’s a bit of an anomaly,” Villanova defensive line coach Joe Trainer said. “He almost has that California chill mode to him. One of the first thing I tell scouts is he’s not that alpha male who’s gonna come up and go, ‘Hey, dawg, what’s going on, man?’ He’s going to wow you physically but he’s not gonna come out of his skin with personality. A lot of times people initially mistake that for softness but he definitely has an understated toughness and hardness about him that has served him well.”

It’s also served Villanova well as the No. 9 Wildcats rode their gentle giant to an 8-3 regular-season record, their sixth playoff berth in nine years and an opening-round 31-21 win over Saint Francis last week.

One of the top defensive players in the Football Championship Subdivision, Kpassagnon was named the CAA Defensive Player of the Year and recently earned an invite to January’s Reese’s Senior Bowl. He led the league in the regular season with 19 tackles for loss and 8.5 sacks, while adding two fumble recoveries, one forced fumble, one blocked kick and a touchdown.

And his stock may continue to rise with a good performance in Saturday’s Top 10 showdown against No. 7 South Dakota State.

“It’s more TV time, just showing we’re good as a team,” he said when asked about the extra playoff exposure. “I was just talking to the Sauce Squad — that’s what we call the defensive line — about our goals for the year and we had nothing except a national championship on our mind. That’s something that’s been ingrained in our minds, and we’re gonna do everything we can right now in order to reach it.”

The fact that Kpassagnon quickly turned the attention from himself to the team is indicative of how he’s handled his growing reputation around the country. According to Trainer, scouts from every NFL team have been to a Villanova practice or game at least twice this year with most teams coming three times. There have even been four or five NFL general managers at Villanova Stadium to see Kpassagnon, who retiring head coach Andy Talley has called “probably the greatest player we’ve ever had” in his 37 years at the helm.

But while calling the presence of scouts “nice,” Kpassagnon also said he “doesn’t really think about it too much” — at least not until the season ends.

“He’s a very grounded guy,” Trainer said. “The greatest compliment I can give him in terms of non-measurables is he’s as consistent of a player as I’ve ever been around. I mean that not in a performance standpoint but in a life standpoint. A lot of times young kids today are really high and then really low. He’s just steady as the day is long, and he takes everything in stride. His mom and dad have done a great job with him.” 

It’s also because of his parents, both of whom originally hail from Africa, that Kpassagnon isn’t laser focused on the NFL. His mother is a chemical scientist and his father an economist and both stressed education above sports. He never even watched any sports as a kid and didn’t begin playing football until the sixth grade.

Later, he morphed into a three-sport star at Wissahickon High, playing basketball and running track on top of his blossoming football career. But he never took his eyes off the books. A finance major with minors in accounting and entrepreneurship in the Villanova School of Business, he already has four job offers to go along with very good grades. And he likes to study the game of football too, taking pride in maybe finding things that others can’t on film.

“They have a highly skilled backfield but I’ve been paying attention to their line mostly, trying to see their tendencies, trying to see if they have any tells,” Kpassagnon said of the South Dakota State offense. “I think I picked up on a couple.”

He laughed, then added: “I’ll keep that a secret for now.”

No matter what happens Saturday in South Dakota, it’s clear that the secret on Kpassagnon is out. And judging by how much he’s been scouted — and his place on several mock drafts — it’s not a question of if he gets drafted but what round.

“I think he’s the best prospect that this league has ever had in all of my time here,” said Trainer, who coached at Villanova from 1997 to 2004 before becoming the head coach at Millersville and then Rhode Island, returning to ’Nova in 2014. “He’s a special talent whose best football is ahead of him. And he’s not even close to his ceiling.”

Sixers-Magic 5 things: Hoping for a dry court with rested roster

Sixers-Magic 5 things: Hoping for a dry court with rested roster

The Sixers (4-14) will tip off against the Orlando Magic (7-12) at the Wells Fargo Center on Friday night (7 p.m./CSN and CSNPhilly.com).

Let's take a closer look at the matchup:

1. Floored
Let's try this again.

The Sixers will return to the Wells Fargo Center court for the first time since Wednesday's game against the Sacramento Kings was postponed because of moisture on the floor.

While the Sixers were frustrated that they couldn't face the Kings, the team was also happy that player safety was made the top priority in the postponement decision.

"It was disappointing not to play," head coach Brett Brown said after practice on Thursday. "It got to a stage the longer that it went and it was being prolonged and prolonged, I'm glad that ultimately we didn't play."

2. Rested and ready
The postponement of Wednesday's game means the Sixers haven't played since Monday's road loss to the Toronto Raptors.

Center Joel Embiid should be even more rested than his teammates since he didn't make the trip north of the border because it was the second game of a back-to-back set.

When Embiid does return to action Friday against the Magic, he will have a little more freedom. The NBA's Eastern Conference Rookie of the Month had his minutes restriction raised from 24 to 28 earlier this week.

That should only mean good things for Embiid, who turned in a strong effort when the Sixers faced off against the Magic earlier this season. Embiid recorded 18 points and 10 boards for his first-ever double-double in a 103-101 loss to Orlando back on Nov. 1.

3. Protection plan
Perhaps Embiid's bump in minutes will help the Sixers better protect the paint this time around.

During the season's first meeting, in which the Sixers blew an 18-point lead, the Magic scored a massive 60 points in the paint. Former Sixer Nikola Vucevic and Serge Ibaka led the way with 45 combined points.

The Sixers can't allow that type of production inside, especially from a team that ranks 25th in the league with an average of 39.5 points in the paint per game.

4. Injuries
Jerryd Bayless (wrist), Nerlens Noel (knee) and Ben Simmons (foot) are out for the Sixers.

Former Sixer Jodie Meeks (foot) is a game-time decision for the Magic.

5. This and that
- The Sixers have lost three straight to the Magic.

- Vucevic has averaged 20.3 points and 13.2 rebounds against the Sixers during his career.

- Dario Saric scored a career-high 21 points on 9 of 14 shooting in the season's first clash.