2017 Eagles Cost Analysis, OG: An embarrassment of riches

2017 Eagles Cost Analysis, OG: An embarrassment of riches

Two offseasons ago, starting offensive guards Evan Mathis and Todd Herremans were cut by the Eagles in the same offseason, with no real plan to replace either one of them. After years of neglecting the position in the draft, the club was down to a couple of journeymen and some projects that weren't really working out. Allen Barbre. Andrew Gardner. Dennis Kelly. Matt Tobin.

Yet remarkably enough, guard has rapidly become an area of great strength for the Eagles, thanks to a renewed interest in the position. Barbre surprisingly panned out, which certainly helped speed up the rebuild, while the front office went out and signed veterans Brandon Brooks and Stefan Wisniewski, then invested a third-round draft pick in Isaac Seumoalo.

The best part: three of those four players are under contract for 2017, and two of them carry a cap hit under $2 million. Even if the Eagles do nothing, they are in great shape here.

At the very least, a decision must be made on Wisniewski, who is set to become a free agent again — that is assuming he doesn't make it for them. Teams weren't exactly beating down Wisniewski's door last offseason, which is why the Eagles were able to swoop in with a one-year deal, but it's a little strange. He's a solid interior lineman that can also play center and has five years of starting experience in the NFL. You would think he can fill a need somewhere.

If the Eagles can have Wisniewski back as a reserve, it might be a no-brainer. He doubles as a high-quality backup to Jason Kelce, plus Barbre has only the upcoming season remaining on his deal and is getting up there in years. Cost becomes an issue, as Wisniewski did not come cheap, but with six starts in 2016, there was some bang for the buck.

Or, if the Eagles really wanted to be competitve, they could accelerate Barbre's demise and entice Wisniewski with the promise of more work. The club stands to save all but $150,000 on the final year of Barbre's contract if he were to get the axe or is traded, money that could be put toward the younger alternative. That potentially opens up a job for Wisniewski at left guard, although Seumalo obviously is in the mix as well.

There's a reasonable possibility Wisniewski generates more interest on the open market this time around, so with Brooks locked in at right guard and Seumalo waiting in the wings, the Eagles wouldn't be a very attractive option. That's a nice problem to have, though.

OFFENSIVE GUARDS UNDER CONTRACT

Brandon Brooks
Age: 28*
Cap Number: $7,200,000

Money well spent. According to Pro Football Focus, Brooks scored the fifth-highest cumulative overall grade of any offensive guard in the NFL in 2016. Yet in terms of money, eight guards currently carry a higher cap hit for next season, so while he came at a high price, Brooks is paying dividends thus far. There is the matter of Brooks unexpectedly missing two games with issues related to anxiety, but he vowed to get that squared away, so hopefully it's not a problem going forward. As long as he's healthy, Brooks was quietly the best free-agent addition by the Eagles in 2016, a 6-foot-5, 335-pound mauler who should be around for a long time.

Allen Barbre
Age: 33*
Cap Number: $1,950,000

Barbre doubles as a swing tackle, starting three games at right tackle in '16, though he's much better inside. Still, that versatility alone might be enough to give the Eagles pause about about trying to save $1.8 million this offseason. As it turns out, Barbre is actually a pretty good guard, too, earning the 22nd-highest cumulative grade from Pro Football Focus for this past season. With all of that in mind, a case could be made the Eagles are getting a steal here. The real question is whether they should think about extending his contract, although that might be unnecessary with Seumalo in the fold.

Isaac Seumalo
Age: 24*
Cap Number: $764,966

Barbre isn't the only person who can kick out to tackle in a pinch. Brooks has done it in the past as a member of the Texans, and Seumalo lined up on the outside just this year. The rookie didn't embarrass himself, either, no matter what position he was playing. There's little question the Eagles view Seumalo as the left guard of the future, which could be 2017 if they let Wisniewski walk and part ways with Barbre as well. One departure might happen, but probably not both, as it would unnecessarily create a depth issue at guard. Still, the franchise has to be thinking very highly of Seumalo right now, so much so that you wonder if he'll get a chance to compete for a starting job even assuming Barbre remains.

Dillon Gordon
Age: 24*
Cap Number: $540,000

An undrafted free agent out of LSU, Gordon initially made the 53-man roster out of training camp, indicating the Eagles really liked him and wanted to protect him from the first run of waiver-wire pickups. He was eventually moved to the practice squad, then reactivated at the end of the season once injuries mounted, seeing the field for a grand total of two snaps. While listed at 6-4, 322 pounds, Gordon seems smaller than that, but maybe that's because he's so agile. Coach Doug Pederson was giving him a look as a part-time fullback during camp.

Darrell Greene
Age: 25*

Greene reportedly received a rather large bonus to sign with the Eagles as a rookie out of San Diego State, though wound up being passed on the depth chart by Gordon. Still, Greene was retained on the scout team and signed a future contract at the conclusion of the season, so he's being viewed as a prospect. Obviously, the front office will add more competition, but between the two of these guys, they can afford to lose a veteran.

EXPIRING CONTRACTS

Stefan Wisniewski
Age: 28*
2016 Cap Number: $2,760,000

Wisniewski had a higher cap hit as a backup in '16 than Barbre did as a starter, which is yet another complicating factor in a potential re-signing. The idea initially was Wisniewski would battle for the job, but a competition never materialized, and he became a highly paid reserve instead. Now if there are injuries, particularly to Kelce at center, he quickly becomes worth every penny, and he was. Regardless, the debate will be taken out of the Eagles' hands if Wisniewski catches on as a starter somewhere. Kind of a shame, but this is a situation where you probably can't keep everybody.

* Age as of 12/31/17

Eagles Mailbag: First-rounder, close to playoffs, Seumalo's future

Eagles Mailbag: First-rounder, close to playoffs, Seumalo's future

Other teams are still playing and there are still months before free agency and the draft, but the NFL never sleeps. 

You have questions, we make up answers. 

Here's a look back at the week's first mailbag. Let's hop into this week's second here: 

OK, I'll play. I guess I'll try to put myself in the shoes of the GM. It's my team and I need to make sure I hit on this first-round pick. The problem is, it's not that easy. If it were me, I wouldn't just simply go best player available, but I would go BPA at several positions. So if the best player on the board is a corner, receiver or defensive lineman, that's what I'd do. I know by not going BPA with all positions might lead to a reach, but it won't be a Marcus Smith-type reach. There will be a player at one of those positions worthy of the 14th or 15th pick. 

Who? Well, that's where it gets trickier. We're so early in the process, so things could change. But right now, most people think there are clearly three receivers at the top: Mike Williams, Corey Davis and John Ross. 

There are also a few first-round type cornerbacks right now. Marlon Humphrey and Teez Tabor are probably the top two at the position. From what I've seen, I really like Tabor, but either one would be worth that first-round pick. Keep in mind, this draft is considered to be pretty deep at corner, so it's possible the Eagles could get great value in the second round. 

Then at defensive end, there are a few options and the Eagles could certainly use help from an edge rusher. If they lose Bennie Logan, they'll need a replacement there too. 

And then don't forget about running back Dalvin Cook. 

But if you're asking me to pick one right now. I'm saying Tabor. He's a top corner who's really aggressive, which means I think Jim Schwartz will like him a lot. 

I think it's a little dangerous to play the game the Eagles did at the end of this year. You know, "We lost close games, so we were a few plays away from being a good team." Bad teams find ways to lose those types of games and the Eagles proved themselves to be a bad team in 2016. 

With that said, sure. Sometimes all it takes for a team to become a playoff team is a few additions. There's plenty of parity in the league and the Eagles have some decent core players. 

Really, it all hinges on Carson Wentz. He's the key. If he improves in Year 2 (with some weapons), the Eagles could have a better season. Some of that depends on the Eagles' finally getting him some weapons. Howie Roseman talked about not aiming to go 10-6 anymore, that they want to aim to be a top team in the NFC, but they could certainly win 10 games next year and sneak into the playoffs. 

Sure, that's a thought and Seumalo might eventually be a center in the NFL, but for now he's a guard. In fact, I think he has a real chance to be the starter at left guard next season. He got a chance to start there in the season finale and played well, looked natural. 

I know a lot of people are ready to move on from Jason Kelce and I understand the frustration. He's never going to be a center who can take on nose guards 1-on-1. He is, however, great at getting downfield and blocking and the Eagles just have to play to his strengths more. 

Having the same center next season might help Wentz too. 

I hear what you're saying, but I think it's too early to make that statement about Wentz. While Wentz had some down moments during his rookie season, it's hard to judge him on it because of the talent he had around him. 

We really didn't see him take many shots this season, so I don't have a large enough sample size to say his accuracy deep is a huge problem. 

The thing that should worry some fans is that many of his misses come high. It's something we've seen from him since the spring and it showed up a lot during his rookie season. For years, people made fun of Donovan McNabb for throwing so many balls into the dirt, but balls in the dirt don't get picked off. Balls that soar do. 

I suppose there's a possibility Schwartz could leave for a head coaching job, but I don't think it happens. And even if a team is interested in him, I get the feeling he wouldn't take just anything. He's been a head coach before and he likely wouldn't want to be put in a bad situation. 

Aside from that, nearly all of the head coaches hired last offseason were offensive coaches. There are some hotter names among the defensive coaches than Schwartz right now: Lions DC Teryl Austin, Dolphins DC Vance Joseph, Panthers DC Sean McDermott and Patriots DC Matt Patricia, among others. 

Isaac Seumalo, Halapoulivaati Vaitai gained plenty of experience as rookies

Isaac Seumalo, Halapoulivaati Vaitai gained plenty of experience as rookies

Had everything gone right for the Eagles’ offensive line during the 2016 season, Isaac Seumalo and Halapoulivaati Vaitai would have spent their rookie years as spectators. 

Instead, each got extensive experience this season. 

“I think the best way to learn is being thrown into the fire,” Vaitai said on Monday. “To get a feel for the league here.”

Back in the beginning of the season, Seumalo and Vaitai spent the first few weeks on the Eagles’ inactive list before Lane Johnson’s suspension, other injuries and Brandon Brooks’ bout with anxiety changed the plan. 

With all the issues the Eagles had on their line this season, fifth-round pick Vaitai ended up playing 423 snaps (37.3 percent) and third-round pick Seumalo ended up playing 335 snaps (29.6 percent) this season. 

“It gives us versatility,” offensive coordinator Frank Reich said in December about the young linemen’s growth. “It gives us depth; gives us options with those guys. And, like you said, Isaac (Seumalo) can play tackle; he can play guard; he can play center. These guys and Stout (Eagles offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland) and Eugene (Eagles assistant Eugene Chung) do a great job of cross training them all, and they really feed off each other. So, they are getting better all the time.”

Head coach Doug Pederson said before the season finale that Stefen Wisniewski would start in place of injured Allen Barbre, but he changed his mind and started Seumalo in the spot instead, which made a ton of sense. And while normally very critical of his play, Seumalo said he thought minus a few plays, he played pretty well at left guard against the Cowboys. 

Wisniewski is about to be a free agent and Barbre, while still under contract, will turn 33 before the start of next season. There’s a chance Seumalo could man the left guard position next year. 

If that happens, would he be ready? 

“Yeah, you have to be,” Seumalo said. “Gotta be. Ask anybody. If they start you are you gonna be ready? Yeah.” 

Left guard was just the latest position Seumalo played this season. Before Sunday, he had also played right guard, right tackle, left tackle, fullback and tight end. The only position along the line he didn’t play in 2016 was center, where incumbent Jason Kelce played every snap. 

“I almost pulled it off,” Seumalo said jokingly about nearly playing every position. 

Vaitai’s first game didn’t come until the Eagles traveled to Washington on Oct. 16. He showed enough in practice to fill in for Lane Johnson instead of the original plan of shifting the line around. 

That first start didn’t go so well. Vaitai was beaten early and often by Washington's top edge player, Ryan Kerrigan, in what was a pretty forgettable NFL debut. But Vaitai got better. And he proved to himself that he belongs in the NFL. 

“After that second game against Minnesota, I felt like I can do something, I can be here for a while,” he said. 

So what changed for Vaitai after that first game and allowed him to become a solid player? 

“My technique,” he said. “Trying to stay calm. You can definitely tell the difference. The first half of my first game, my head was all over the place. And then towards the end, I started understanding what's going on. And then you have to trust the coaches.”

Even after he got past the Washington game, it wasn’t all easy for Vaitai. He said he hit the "rookie wall" about halfway through the season and relied on his veteran teammates to get him through. Then he sprained his MCL against Seattle on Nov. 20 and didn’t play again until the season finale. 

Big V said it was nice to be able to go through his rookie season with Seumalo and undrafted rookie Dillon Gordon. Until this past spring, the Eagles hadn’t drafted an offensive lineman since they took Johnson in the first round in 2013. 

Seumalo and Vaitai were the result of an organization that wanted to get back to building its team through drafting linemen. After their rookie seasons, it looks like the Eagles have something to build from. 

“We didn't have a second-round pick, we didn't have a fourth-round pick, but we really do feel like those guys and Carson (Wentz), to start,” Howie Roseman said of all the draft picks, which certainly included Seumalo and Vaitai, “are going to be part of a core group going forward.”