Counting Down the Eagles’ Needs: No. 7, Offensive Line

Counting Down the Eagles’ Needs: No. 7, Offensive Line

Free agency is right around the corner, and the draft will be here before you know it. With the Philadelphia Eagles’ offseason in full swing, we’re examining where the roster stands at each position, counting down based on team need. Check out the previous installments on quarterbacks, tight ends and  running backs.

Jason Peters, Jason Kelce and Todd Herremans made triumphant returns from season-ending injuries in 2013, and while there were certainly other factors at work, it’s not at all coincidental the Philadelphia Eagles’ offense—not to mention the club’s record—bounced back. Along with Evan Mathis and rookie Lane Johnson, all five starting offensive linemen appeared in all 17 games this season.

O-line play is once again a strength in Philly—but for how long?

With three starters into their 30s, it’s one of the few areas on the roster where the Eagles are old. How much longer will Peters and Mathis play at their current All-Pro level? How much longer will Herremans be a viable starter in the NFL?

[PHOTO GALLERY: What Linc upgrades will look like]

Now that everybody is back healthy, the front office is tasked with knowing when to replace these aging veterans and making a seamless transition in the process. It won’t be easy—offensive line continuity is often a delicate attribute—but it’s doable if the team begins setting plans in motion. Here’s a closer look at where the Birds stand at each position.

Left Tackle

Overview: Peters wasn’t quite as dominant in 2013 as his stellar ’11 campaign, but in addition to returning from a ruptured Achilles, he battled nagging injuries all season and still managed to earn first-team All-Pro honors. He could be even better in ’14.

Journeyman veteran Allen Barbre is signed through next season to be the backup and was excellent in relief appearances.

Why the Eagles must think about the future: Peters is scheduled to become a free agent next year when he’ll be 33 years old.

What they should do: Peters’ eventual replacement is already on the roster in the form of Lane Johnson. However, as long as Peters is playing at an All-Pro level, efforts should be made to retain him. A two- or three-year extension would be perfect, but if nothing else, they can get one more season out of him on the franchise tag.

Left Guard

Overview: Mathis was finally recognized as the best at his craft in 2013, earning All-Pro honors for the first time in his career. Since signing with the club in ‘11, left guard has been a rock for the Eagles.

Mathis did not miss a single snap last season. Barbre is listed as No. 2 on the depth chart.

Why the Eagles must think about the future: Although Mathis is signed through ’16 and has shown no signs of slowing down, he is 32 and his cap hit jumps this season.

What they should do: Nothing, for now. Mathis hasn’t given the team any indication that he’s going to be anything less than a top-notch guard, and he’s under contract. Continue developing talent behind him, but from what we can tell, there needn't be any hurry to find a replacement.

Center

Overview: While he was not recognized as an All-Pro or even so much as earned a nod to the Pro Bowl, Kelce graded as the best all-around center in the league in ’13 according to metrics site Pro Football Focus. His play merits more attention for such accolades going forward.

Julian Vandervelde served as Kelce’s backup last year, but the team already signed former San Diego Charger David Molk to a futures contract this offseason. Competition for the roster spot appears likely.

Why the Eagles must think about the future: Kelce is only 26 and can become a free agent next season. They wouldn’t want to let him get away.

What they should do: Sign Kelce to an extension this offseason. Nick Foles, Fletcher Cox, Mychal Kendricks and Brandon Boykin are among the names that could be seeking extensions next year. The Eagles have an estimated $20 million in cap space right now, and using some of that to front-load some of Kelce’s new deal wouldn’t be a bad idea.

A new deal for Kelce could cost somewhere in the neighborhood of $6 million per year.

Right Guard

Overview: It took a little time getting used to another new position, and playing alongside a rookie undoubtedly did not help, but Herremans finished the year strong. That being said, he’s clearly the weak link on this line.

Herremans did not miss so much as a snap this past season. Barbre is listed as No. 2 on the depth chart, and 2012 fifth-round pick Dennis Kelly has also tried right guard for the Birds.

Why the Eagles must think about the future: Herremans will turn 32 this year, and his cap hit is set to jump next season. He’s a solid hand who can play multiple spots, but looks like he might be starting to slow down a little. The team has to at least consider whether they can do better, and for less $5.2 million per year.

What they should do: Herremans is signed through 2016, and it might not make much sense to release him any earlier than that (unless he stinks) because of the dead money against the salary cap—$2.4M in ’15, $1.2M in ‘16. The logical thing to do is use a mid-round draft pick in the upcoming draft and start grooming somebody to take over in a year or two’s time.

Eagles offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland previously held the same position at the University of Alabama, and therefore would have added insight about a prospect like Anthony Steen. If Steen (6’2”, 310 lbs) is still available in the fourth round, he could be a perfect stash for the Birds.

Right Tackle

Overview: It was a little rocky at first, but Johnson held his own as a rookie. Chip Kelly raved about Johnson improving every week, and by the end of the season, it was easy to forget there was a rookie starting on the offensive line.

Johnson came out for just one snap all season and was replaced by Barbre. However, Dennis Kelly is listed as No. 2 on the depth chart, and inactive for that game due to injury.

Why the Eagles must think about the future: Because they didn’t use the fourth-overall pick on the kid to stick him at right tackle forever. The plan is for Johnson to eventually replace Peters on the left side, which in theory could be as early as next season.

What they should do: Thanks to the franchise tag, the Eagles likely have another year at least to sort this out, and that’s if Peters doesn’t agree to an extension. It’s not good to let the situation linger much longer without putting a backup plan in place.

Unless the coaching staff is confident in Kelly’s ability to take over at right tackle, they may want to consider taking another developmental tackle at some point in the draft as well. Best case scenario, Peters is sticking around for a little while longer, but you never know, he may want to test free agency as well.

Counting Down the Eagles’ Needs:

No. 10, Running Back
No. 9, Tight End
No. 8, Quarterback

Sixers-Magic 5 things: Sixers ready, rested with hope for dry court

Sixers-Magic 5 things: Sixers ready, rested with hope for dry court

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.

A closer look at the Cincinnati Bengals, a team the Eagles should beat

A closer look at the Cincinnati Bengals, a team the Eagles should beat

You think Eagles fans have it bad? After five straight trips to the playoffs, Bengals fans were expecting their team to be good. Really good. Instead, they're 3-7-1 and on the verge of their first losing season since 2011.

And in all honesty, the Eagles should probably clinch it for them. With the Bengals' best player out with an injury, there's nothing particularly scary about this team. The offense is running out of weapons, and the defense, while good, has its weaknesses.

This is the Eagles' chance to get back to .500 and make one final desperation push. Can they take advantage?

 

OFFENSE

Quarterback: Andy Dalton

After a breakout 2015 campaign in which he finished second in the NFL with a 106.2 passer rating, it seems Dalton is back to his usual self. The sixth-year veteran's 63.5 completion percentage and 7.4 yards per attempt are better than what he's posted in years past, but down significantly from last season, while sacks are up. About the only thing that's carried over for Dalton from his career year is he seemingly learned to take care of the football, as he's thrown only six interceptions in 11 games. Dalton is a game manager with upside in a perfect situation. The 2016 Bengals are not that situation.

Strength: Nothing in particular

Now that All-Pro wide receiver A.J. Green is out with an injury, as is versatile running back Giovani Bernard, the Bengals offense isn't exactly loaded with weapons. Prior to Green and Bernard going out, the duo combined for somewhere around 60 percent of the team's production. They still have Tyler Eifert, a Pro Bowl tight end who presents matchup issues, and running back Jeremy Hill, who is like a sledgehammer with legs. Left tackle Andrew Whitworth is one of the best offensive linemen in the NFL as well, although the rest of the unit is just okay. Without Green, there's nothing very impressive about what this group can do.

Weakness: Red-zone offense

This might seem oddly specific, but moving the football hasn't been a problem for the Bengals. Cincinnati's offense ranks 10th in the league in terms of yards per game, yet at 27th is near the bottom when it comes to scoring. Even when Green was healthy and despite having big bodies like Eifert and Hill, for some reason the Bengals have really struggled to put points on the board. Part of the problem is Dalton, who's only thrown 12 touchdown passes, but his 2.9 touchdown percentage is by far the worst of his career, so it's not easy to explain why. This team simply doesn't score a ton, which is probably why they only have three wins.

 

DEFENSE

Strength: Pass defense

Cincinnati has playmakers at every level of the defense, which can make them a difficult team to pass against. It starts up front, where Geno Atkins is pushing up the middle and underrated Carlos Dunlap is coming off the edge top create a hostile environment for quarterbacks. Dunlap had 13.5 sacks a season ago, and when he doesn't get to the passer, he often bats passes down at the line, as he's done 10 times this season. The Bengals boast a fine trio of cornerbacks as well, with Dre Kirkpatrick's three interceptions, veteran Adam "Pacman" Jones and 2014 first-round draft pick Darqueze Dennard. The unit ranks 10th in passing yards per game and has 11 interceptions, so while not impenetrable, they are tough.

Weakness: Run defense

Although it may be difficult to throw against the Bengals, opponents have had little trouble finding room to run. It seems odd with guys like Atkins and Dunlap up front, not to mention quality veteran linebackers like Karlos Dansby and Vincent Rey, but the fact is they aren't getting the job done. Cincinnati ranks 28th against the run overall and 26th in terms of yards per carry, allowing an average of 4.4 per attempt. It's pretty clear what the strategy should be against this defense, particularly for an offense with mediocre talent at wide receiver. Run the ball, then run the ball some more.

X-factor: Vontaze Burfict

There may not be a bigger wild card in the NFL then Burfict. The fifth-year veteran isn't an X-factor in the conventional sense that he'll rack up a bunch of sacks or create a ton of turnovers. A 2013 Pro Bowler, Burfict does lead the team in tackles, so he'll be in on a lot of plays. The bigger concern though is really whether he might go head hunting or dive at a player's legs and potentially hurt someone. Not to say he's not a talented player, but you could argue that threat makes him a bigger game-changer than any conventional charting numbers will measure.

 

SPECIAL TEAMS

Mike Nugent has seen better days. Cincinnati's kicker has missed five field goals, including all three tries from 50 or more yards, plus a whopping four extra points this season, which makes you wonder a little bit what the team is still clinging to. The Bengals' return game isn't especially dangerous either. Alex Erickson handles the bulk of the work, and does have strong averages on both kicks and punts, although he has yet to take one to the house this season.

 

COACHING

Marvin Lewis (14th season, 115-108-3)

Somehow, despite not winning a playoff game in seven tries over 14 seasons, Lewis is still the head coach of the Bengals. Probably not for much longer though. He's in his third straight year of lame-duck status, and one more defeat would guarantee the club its first losing season since 2011. Then again, Lewis has survived down seasons before, including a pair of four-win campaigns separated by only a year. He's a good coach, but as Eagles fans well know, sometimes after 14 years it's simply time to move on. The Bengals are weird, so who knows what they will decide, but at this point, Lewis has been given more than enough second chances and opportunities.