Our second installment of looking at starting jobs that are up for grabs. Today we get into the trenches.
You can write in stone four fifths of the Eagles starting offensive line: Jason Peters at LT, Jason Kelce at C, Brandon Brooks at RG and Lane Johnson at RT. Only an injury will change that four some. The left guard position is very much up for grabs though. Last year’s starter Allen Barbre will compete with rookie Isaac Seumalo and veteran free agent Stefen Wisniewki, it’s possible that one of the veterans isn’t just competing for a starting job but a roster spot. However in their favor is that both veterans (and Seumalo) have the positional versatility that Doug Pederson values.
The incumbent: Allen Barbre
Barbre came to the Eagles in 2013 after bouncing around the league, having been on five teams in the previous six years. In 2013 he performed admirably in relief of Jason Peters against the Packers, over the rest of the season he saw just 36 snaps, either in a six OL package or in garbage time. Despite a year remaining on his contract and limited playing time in 2013, the Eagles signed Barbre to a 3 year extension in the offseason. In 2014 he opened the season as the starter at right tackle in place of the suspended Lane Johnson but suffered a season-ending ankle injury midway through the game. In 2015 he was given the starting job at left guard after the release of Evan Mathis and struggled all season.
The challengers: Stefen Wisniewski and Isaac Seumalo
Wisniewski was signed as a free agent this offseason after spending 2015 with Jaguars and starting every game. Prior to joining the Jaguars, Wisniewski was a 2nd round pick by the Raiders in 2011 and was a starter for his entire 5 year career there. After spending his rookie season as the Raiders LG, Wisniewski was moved to center and has remained there ever since.
Isaac Seumalo, a 3rd round selection out of Oregon State, was the Eagles second draft pick this year. At Oregon State Seumalo played center as a freshman and sophomore, though he filled in at right tackle for two games in 2013, he was a Freshman All-American in 2012 and 2nd team All-Pac 12 in 2013. He missed all of the 2014 season after breaking his foot in the 2013 Hawai’i Bowl, in 2015 he started at both right guard and left tackle. While that versatility was attractive to the Eagles, Doug Pederson has stated that he will start camp at left guard.
Leader in the clubhouse: Barbre
In May Pederson said that “Allen Barbre is my guy and he’s our starter.” But depth charts aren’t set in stone in May. Considering that the Eagles have a new system and playbook under Pederson and new starter at RG in Brandon Brooks, Barbre’s status as the first team LG could be nothing more than keeping as much familiarity as possible for OTAs and minicamp.
Contract implications: Semualo is guaranteed a roster spot. However the loser between Barbre and Wisniewski could be out of a job entirely. Barbre is under contract for 2016 and 2017 for $1.95M per year, which is very low starter/high backup cap hit. Releasing him saves $1.65 million in cap space. Wisniewski was given a one year deal of $760k in salary with a $500k signing bonus, a $250k roster bonus and a “likely to be earned” (i.e. it counts against the cap) incentive bonus of $1.25 million for a total of $2.76M, which is mid-tier starter money at both LG and C. Releasing him saves $2.26 million against the cap.
Wild Card: With three players competing for one job, one of which was a draft pick and the other a recent signing, it is hard to see anyone else earning the spot.
Way too early prediction: Wisniewski in Week 1, Semualo by season’s end. Despite “new” management and a new coaching staff, the Eagles offense is mostly holdovers from the Chip Kelly era. Wisniewski would be another step towards making the roster more “Doug Pederson’s”. Wisniewski having started every game he has played and being paid like a starter is not to be overlooked, nor is that he is five years younger than Barbre. But even if he does win the starting job, the Eagles are going to want to see Semualo in action. Expect Semualo to get playing time by season’s end.
If OTAs and minicamp are any indication Allen Barbre won’t go down without a fight though. Literally. Barbre was involved in multiple shoving matches in May and June, and fisticuffs aren’t out of the ordinary in training camp.