Doug Pederson expects competition at LG for Eagles, Kelce to be on team

Doug Pederson expects competition at LG for Eagles, Kelce to be on team

PHOENIX -- Get ready for the great left guard competition of 2017.

While the Eagles still have all five members of their 2016 starting offensive line on the roster as of Wednesday morning at the league's annual meetings, it seems very possible the starting O-line won't look the same next year.

At the NFC coaches breakfast at the Biltmore Hotel, Pederson said he still expects center Jason Kelce to be on the roster when the season starts in September. With a few options to replace him, the team has reportedly been trying to trade Kelce, which would help their salary cap situation.

But even if Kelce is the team's starting center in 2017, there's no guarantee that last year's starting left guard, Allen Barbre, will be lining up next to him.

At first, Pederson, when asked about keeping the same starting O-line, said, "You'd hope so," but then talked about the competition for that left guard spot.

"Well, going into OTAs, Isaac (Seumalo) has showed he played on a moment's notice," Pederson said. "He's a guy that we want to get into the mix and Allen (Barbre) is a veteran player that obviously has a wealth of experience, obviously a lot of starts in the National Football League, so there's going to be some good competition going into this season."

And it's not just Seumalo and Barbre in contention to win the starting left guard spot. The team also brought in free agent and former first-round pick Chance Warmack and re-signed Stefen Wisniewski to a multi-year deal. Pederson mentioned both of them by name.

That leaves four players, with 171 combined career starts (Wisniewski 83, Warmack 48, Barbre 36, Seumalo 4), fighting for one starting gig.

"It just creates some of that competition that we're always looking for, trying to find the best five going into the season," Pederson said.

Barbre will be 33 by the time the season starts, Warmack is on a one-year deal, and Seumalo appears to be the center of the future, so any of these three taking backup roles makes sense for now.

The more unique situation is with Wisniewski. The 28-year-old guard/center came to the Eagles on a one-year deal last season and wasn't shy about his desire to become a starter. Then the Eagles signed him to a three-year deal this offseason.

"Again, it's another opportunity for him to compete and compete on our roster," Pederson said. "He had six starts last year and he filled a role that we needed last year. Going into this season, the beauty of having guys like that, whether they're starters, backups, role players, whatever you want to call them, it just gives you depth at the position and gives you competition in training camp. It's a great thing to have veteran players as backups or role players that compete and want to start."

While there will still be question marks at the left guard and even center positions when the Eagles get together for spring workouts, there aren't questions at the other three spots on the offensive line. Jason Peters is the left tackle, Brandon Brooks is the right guard and Lane Johnson is the right tackle.

It seems very possible, however, that this will be Peters' last season, at least with the Eagles. The team asked him to restructure his contract this offseason but eventually decided to keep him at his $11.7 million cap hit. That number would go up even more in 2018, the last year of his contract.

The Eagles already have a solid succession plan already in place. When Peters retires or moves on, Johnson will slide over from right tackle to left and protect Carson Wentz's blind side.

But do the Eagles have a replacement ready for Johnson?

Pederson thinks they might have an answer in Halapoulivaati Vaitai, a fifth-round pick last year, who will enter his second season in 2017. He's just not sure yet.

"It's hard to just say, pin me down and say he's a starter," Pederson said. "I think what he did last year, talk about incremental improvement, that kid improved every week and I think there's a chance. I think there's a chance he could be a dynamic starting tackle in his future. And, again, it's a credit to Jeff Stoutland and Howie (Roseman) and the guys for finding him and looking at him. He was one of the guys watching on tape last year that really stood out a little bit. You saw from the Washington game on, how well he improved. If he continues to do that, I think he could be a starter in this league."

Eagles' top 5 players under 25 years old

Eagles' top 5 players under 25 years old

Recently, ProFootballFocus came out with a list of the top 25 players under 25 years of age. 

The Eagles didn't crack it. 

While the Giants had two players (Odell Beckham Jr. at 1 and Landon Collins at 5) and the Cowboys had three (Ezekiel Elliott at 12, Dak Prescott at 15 and Byron Jones at 25), the Eagles had zero. Not one. 

So that got us thinking: Who are the Eagles' best young players? Here are their top five under 25: 

1. Carson Wentz (24)
The No. 2 overall pick had a pretty good rookie season, especially because he didn't become the starter until there was a week left before the regular season. He ended up completing 379 of 607 passing attempts (62 percent) for 3,782 yards, 16 touchdowns and 14 interceptions. He set multiple Eagles rookie records and finished with the fourth-most passing yards in a single season in franchise history. He also completed more passes than any Eagle or any rookie in history. 

Sure, his season had its ups and downs. After having a passer rating of over 100 in three of his first four games, Wentz didn't break the 100 mark again during the season. While there were some really shaky moments during the season, he pulled out of it and even led the Eagles on a game-winning drive. He's the future of the franchise; it's all riding on him. 

2. Jordan Hicks (24)
Through his first two seasons, the 2015 third-round pick has been a dynamic playmaker. He just always seems to be around the ball. In 2016, he led the NFL in interceptions by a linebacker with five. He's the first NFL linebacker to have 11 takeaways in his first 24 career games since Hall of Famer Jack Ham did it in 1971-72. Pretty good company. 

After the final game of the season, Malcolm Jenkins said he thinks Hicks will become one of the top linebackers in the NFL. Hicks is certainly on his way when it comes to making big plays. And he's definitely been a Cowboy-killer early in his career. 

The one area Hicks really needs to improve is in the run game. The pec injury that ended his rookie season didn't allow him to strength train as much he would have liked last offseason, so that's the goal this time around: get stronger to be better against the run. 

3. Jordan Matthews (24)
In his first three seasons, Matthews has caught 225 passes for 2,673 yards and 19 touchdowns. There are seven players in NFL history who have done that. The other six are Beckham, A.J. Green, DeAndre Hopkins, Mike Evans, Larry Fitzgerald and Randy Moss. 

And Matthews has been consistent, too. He has at least 65 catches and 800 yards in each of his first three seasons. He's one of just five players in NFL history to do that. The others are Beckham, Evans, Green and Moss. 

So, no, Matthews hasn't risen to the level of a superstar; maybe he never will. He still hasn't had a 1,000-yard season, but he's been a very good player and he's the best of the bunch of receivers the Eagles have. 

4. Isaac Seumalo (23)
The third-round pick would have spent his rookie season on the bench had there been no Lane Johnson suspension or other injuries. But Seumalo ended up playing in nine games and starting four. He played six different positions this season: right tackle, right guard, left guard, left tackle, fullback and tight end. The only position he didn't play was center, which might be his most natural spot. 

There's a really good chance Seumalo is a starter in 2017 at either left guard or center if the team decides to part ways with Jason Kelce.

Seumalo was the first offensive lineman the Eagles drafted since Johnson in 2013 and then two rounds later, they drafted another in Halapoulivaati Vaitai. He could have very well taken this spot on the list as well. 

5. Jalen Mills (22)
ProFootballFocus ranked Mills as the absolute worst cornerback in the entire NFL. That's a ranking many Eagles fans vehemently disagreed with. It's one defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz would very likely disagree with as well. No, Mills' rookie season wasn't great. There were plenty of struggles. But he's a confident and aggressive player who had good moments, too. 

As a seventh-round pick, he probably wasn't expected to play a huge role on the defense, but he did. He rose up the depth chart in training camp and then warranted playing time and forced a rotation during the season. Maybe his lack of top-end speed will prevent him from becoming a good NFL player, but if he can overcome it, he'll stick. 

Honorable mentions: Vaitai (23), Wendell Smallwood (22), Marcus Smith (24), Dorial Green-Beckham (23), Destiny Vaeao (23), Nelson Agholor (23). 

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