There's been a lot written about the Eagles offensive line recently. It's easy to see why. Despite having the oldest starting line in the league, Philadelphia didn't use any of their 2015 draft picks on an offensive lineman. In fact, the Eagles haven't even drafted an offensive lineman since the franchise selected Lane Johnson with the No. 4 overall pick in the 2013 NFL Draft.
So is it time to panic? Well, no. But is the Eagles offensive line a concern? Sure. Didn't you read the headline?
As the self-proclaimed master of the lukewarm take (why would anyone call themselves that?), I felt it only right for me to weigh in on this discussion. You won't find me saying that the Eagles offense line could end up being a disaster like SOME people. Look, I'm not going to mention names (cough JIMMY KEMPSKI cough). But I'm also not under the impression that the line is a non-issue like some well-respected writers have argued.
Let's take a look at where the Eagles stand now. The starting lineup projects to be: LT Jason Peters, LG Evan Mathis, C Jason Kelce, RG Allen Barbre, and RT Lane Johnson. On paper, it's a good group.
Peters is 33 and he's still playing at a very high level. The future Hall of Fame tackle will eventually decline but he hasn't shown major signs of that so far. If there's anyone who could stave off regression, you would have to think it would be a physical freak like Peters. They call him "The Franchise" for a reason.
The Mathis situation is complicated. Is he even going to be on the team this year? Chip Kelly told reporters that Mathis has been available for trade but the team has received no offers for him. Mathis hasn't shown up to voluntary workouts this offseason. It's possible he ends up getting dealt, but for now let's assume he stays. Mathis, who turns 34 this November, will be the oldest starting guard in the NFL this season. The good news for him is that he has a little less mileage due to starting only 22 games in the first six seasons of his career. Mathis is still a PFF superstar.
Jason Kelce is obviously one of the better centers in the game and he's only 27.
Allen Barbre is a big question mark at right guard. Is he even the clear starter? It would seem so, but it's not necessarily a lock. The journeyman looked adequate when he subbed in for Peters at left tackle in 2013 but that was a very small sample size. Barbre looked up and down in the preseason last year when he was stuck at right tackle. Perhaps a move to guard would be best for him. With no disrespect meant to Todd Herremans, he was clearly on the decline so it's hard to see how the dropoff from him to Barbre could be catastrophic. The Eagles obviously has some level of confidence in Barbre. Whether that trust is misguided remains to be seen.
Lane Johnson is a stud at right tackle. He recently turned 25.
This is the area that seems to draw the most concern. What happens if the Eagles sustain injuries up front like they did last year?
Before we get to that, let's recognize the fact that the Eagles were very unlucky when it came the offensive line last year. One could argue these injuries are to be expected due to the unit's age. That's a fair point to an extent. Mathis and Barbre are older and suffered significant injuries in Week 1. Todd Herremans ended up on the injured reserve list mid-way through the season. But there were also some young guys missing time as well with injuries to Kelce and even Matt Tobin in the preseason. Johnson's four game suspension to start the season made things even worse.
It seems hard to believe the Eagles will face a situation that bad again. The Eagles were very lucky in 2013 to have all five starters start every game. Last year was incredibly unlucky. It's probably more reasonable to think 2015 could fall in-between.
So what do the Eagles have behind their starters? Some might say "Not much." I don't agree.
I've previously written why I believe Matt Tobin can be a good contributor. It involves giving him an excuse for last year:
"The Eagles were high on Tobin heading into the 2014 season, even before his stellar summer performance. It's hard not to wonder if the nasty-looking high ankle injury that Tobin suffered in the preseason finale really set him back in 2014. Allen Barbre suffered a high ankle injury in Week 1 and was ruled out for the season. Tobin merely waited a few weeks to return. It seems fair to suggest he was playing at less than 100%. Tobin, still only 24, could still figure in as a future starter if he rebounds. In the meantime, he has a lot of ground to make up."
For what it's worth, Tobin ranked as PFF's best guard in the preseason last year. He made the transition to the interior last offseason after starting off as tackle in 2013. Tobin is far from a sure thing but I see potential there.
Outside of Tobin, it doesn't appear there are any potential future starters waiting in the wings. That's OK. It's not realistic to expect all depth players to be great. The team still has some decent backups. Andrew Gardner struggled at tackle before playing OK on the inside. For what it's worth, PFF ranked Gardner 34th out of 78 guards. He seems like an average swing tackle who can also play on the inside. Think of him as the new Barbre.
The fact that David Molk is smaller and can't really play guard certainly goes against him, but he seemed to get a little better as the season went on. Case in point: he looked dominant against the New York Giants in Week 6.
I don't totally buy the narrative that these Eagles backups (Tobin, Gardner, Molk) are now better since they have experience from last year. Experience won't matter much if the talent just isn't there. But maybe there's some kind of value from having played last season.
The former undrafted free agent rookies who spent the 2014 season on the practice squad are worth mentioning: Kevin Graf and Josh "Don't Call Me Shawn" Andrews. It's unclear if these guys are any good. It can't hurt that they already know the system.
Last, and possibly least, are the 2015 undrafted free agents. There's a bunch of them and there's no guarantee one will even make the roster. Cole Manhart is my guy to watch simply because his name is awesome. How can a guy named Cole Manhart not be any good?
For as bad as the Eagles offensive line was perceived to be last year, some metrics rated them higher than you might expect. PFF had them ranked eighth in pass protection and first overall in run blocking. Football Outsiders ranked them ninth in pass protection and 29th in run blocking.
The pass protection bit is encouraging for the Eagles considering how Sam Bradford is such an injury prone player. The run blocking disparity is interesting and potentially worrisome, though. The Eagles were at their best in 2013 when they were able to run the ball efficiently. The Dallas Cowboys were able to exceed expectations in 2014 due to their strong running game. The Eagles need to get back to running the ball well in 2015 and that's some they're trying to do as evidenced by the trade of LeSean McCoy along with the signings of DeMarco Murray and Ryan Mathews. If the run blocking isn't adequate, however, things could get ugly again if the team is forced to throw a lot.
The future is more of a concern than the present
The Eagles aren't totally screwed ... yet. This year's unit should be fine unless there's another disaster like last year, which isn't really fair to expect. Would it have been ideal for the Eagles to draft an offensive lineman in the past two drafts? Absolutely.
Moving forward, the Eagles need to find a way to get younger in the trenches. There's still time for them to address those needs before things get too bad. In the meantime, the Eagles will hope things hold up.