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Eagles offensive line: how will things shake out in 2017?

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So many moving parts.

NFL: Minnesota Vikings at Philadelphia Eagles Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

The Eagles entered the melee that was free agency with colossal question marks at a number of positions; wide receiver, cornerback, running back, and pass rush each come to mind. They emerged with another one, albeit a much better question to be asking than “how do we find enough talent at [X] position?” Instead they now have to figure out how to parse through an *abundance* of talent on the offensive line.

“We want it to be the best it can be,” Howie Roseman said of the offensive line in early March. “Make it great up there with a deep, competitive unit. That was part of our plan.”

Because rather than trading Jason Kelce and letting Stefen Wisniewski walk, as many believed they would do, the team kept Kelce on the roster, brought Wisniewski back on a surprisingly pricey three-year deal, and even went so far as to leave Allen Barbre on the roster. They also signed dual guard Chance Warmack to a one-year, show-us-what-you’ve-got deal, ostensibly with the plan to give him a shot at a starting job if he can perform up to snuff this summer.

And where exactly do Halapoulivaati Vaitai and Isaac Seumalo, two second-year linemen who performed admirably when thrown into multiple burning buildings on the offensive line as rookies, fit in to this picture? We don’t really know. We do know the Eagles are pretty high on the two of them, and possibly view Vaitai as the team’s right tackle of the future, but that’s about it.

For his part, offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland is very excited.

“This is great, what we’re doing. I give the credit to Howie Roseman and to Joe Douglas that they’ve got the faith in me to work with all of these players and put something together with our offensive line that I think we’re all going to be very happy with,” Stoutland told the team website. “It’s going to be a lot of fun seeing all of these players pushing each other to be the best they can be this year.”

All of this crams the middle of the offensive line with a wild number of players fighting for three spots, and raises a few questions about how the Birds will dole out playing time in 2017.

I wanted to see what the scene looks like on the line as of right now, so that’s what we’ll be doing. Everything in here will likely change as we learn more from the coaches during OTAs and training camp, but this is how things look to me for now.

Right tackles

1. Lane Johnson
2. Halapoulivaati Vaitai

Right tackle was a problem for the Eagles in 2016. It won’t be in 2017. (Unless Lane Johnson goes and gets suspended again, in which case he will not be part of the team and we’ll be moving on.) The Birds used five different right tackles last season because Johnson was suspended for 10 games; during those games, the Eagles went 2-8 and were generally underwhelming on offense. In the six games Johnson played, the Eagles went 5-1 and

Seriously, the impact is extremely noticeable. Look at these numbers:

With Lane: 27.6 PPG, 117.6 RY/G, 1.16 RTD/G
Without Lane: 20.1 PPG, 110.7 RY.G, 0.90 RTD/G

The points per game is the most significant difference there. Lane Johnson’s presence was worth an entire touchdown per game extra, compared to the games he missed. The way Johnson played in those six games last season was encouraging, which means if he plays all 16 games this season, the Eagles are more than set at right tackle. This is good.

Right guards

1. Brandon Brooks
2. Matt Tobin

Brandon Brooks’ first season with the Eagles was pretty uneventful, until it wasn’t. He missed two games in a three-week span, both unexpected until game day, raising plenty of eyebrows. It turns out he was dealing with serious anxiety, which he talked about publicly and said he was working towards conquering. It was a bummer to find out, but really cool to see how he handled it.

And when Brooks was playing, it was even more cool, because Brooks is very good. The 27-year-old “veteran” is signed with the Eagles through 2020, when he’ll be turning 30 years old and looking for one more solid contract, but that’s a bridge we’ll cross after the Eagles’ first Super Bowl win in 2019.

Brooks was good in both run and pass protection, and did his best to get Halapoulivaati Vaitai up to speed on the right side of the line after his debacle against Washington in Week 5. He’ll likely be good again in 2017.

Centers

1A. Stefen Wisniewski
1B. Jason Kelce
2. Isaac Seumalo

This is where things start to get interesting. We’ve got two similarly-aged players in Stefen Wisniewski and Jason Kelce, with differing career trajectories.

Kelce, the incumbent, had a middling year in 2016. He was bad to start — like, straight-up bad. Low snaps and missed blocks plagued Kelce for multiple games. Maybe it was a problem meshing with a rookie quarterback who was named the starter just a eight days before Week 1, but hey, things happen.

Kelce figured things out and closed the season on a high note, but with a less-than-favorable contract and declining skill, his future became murky. According to multiple reports, including from the always-great Jimmy Kempski, the Eagles were looking to move on from Kelce this offseason, but have yet to broker a deal. There are still possibilities as we near the Draft, and I’m sure Howie Roseman won’t give up on his goal, but Kelce’s situation is pretty strange right now.

Especially because of this report from former BGN star Mike Kaye, who has heard the Eagles’ decision to bring Wisniewski back on a three-year deal hinges on their plan to put him in the starting lineup come September.

Wisniewski, a bit of a journeyman in his first handful of years in the league, finally earned playing time thanks to injuries last season, and played well at numerous positions on the line. Jeff Stoutland and the Eagles like versatility on the line, for obvious reasons, and Wisniewski’s ability to shift across both guard positions and play center is a huge bonus. Plus, he comes cheaper than Kelce, and can be tossed to the curb after two years thanks to a well-structured contract from Roseman. It would seem Wisniewski is the man for the Eagles in 2017, and I’m fine with that.

Then there’s the case of Isaac Seumalo, who was ticketed as the team’s center of the future when they selected him in the third round of the 2016 Draft. He looked good for a rookie at a couple different positions last year; when Wisniewski was still expected to be headed out along with Kelce, there were thoughts Seumalo could be starting at center in his second season.

Now, it looks like Seumalo’s future is on hold. Thankfully he’s only 23, so he’ll (theoretically) be able to wait out the team’s Stefen Wisniewski era, learn a bit more, and be ready when his time comes.

Left guards

1A. Allen Barbre
1B. Chance Warmack

Left guard is another interesting spot. Allen Barbre had a good 2016, and the last year of his deal is a team-friendly $1.95 million. But rumors about the Eagles’ interest in trading the veteran guard (which was always unlikely), and the fact that he’s a 32-year-old replacement-level guard on what is almost certainly downhill side of his career, made for shaky ground. Would he back? There were rumblings both ways.

When the Inquirer’s Jeff McLane reported the team would be bringing Barbre back in 2017, and then five hours later the team signed 25-year-old Chance Warmack, that only furthered the question marks around left guard.

Warmack’s deal is just a one-year, prove-it situation, with a measly $500K in guaranteed money, an example of Howie Roseman taking advantage of connections and a player who missed big time last season.

Warmack being reunited with his college offensive line coach in Jeff Stoutland, paired with his drive to prove to the Titans the error of their ways by letting go of the young first-round draft pick, makes for a good training camp storyline. Will Warmack show the Eagles’ coaches enough during OTAs, and then August, to warrant a starting spot at left guard and begin the second leg of his career? Or will the incumbent Barbre, who has endeared himself to Stoutland and the Eagles, remain at a position he’s been very solid in the last year-plus?

I have a feeling the coaches want Warmack to win the competition. Locking in the left side of your offensive line for the foreseeable future (with Lane Johnson slated to become the team’s left tackle next season) would make for easy sleeping as you make sure your franchise quarterback is safe. Whether Warmack steps up to the plate remains to be seen.

Left tackles

1(AND ONLY). Jason Peters — 35 years old

After center and left guard, this is… too easy.

I mean, really, is there anything we need to talk about here? Jason Peters is the greatest. This is likely his last year with the team, and we should enjoy every single game.

In case you missed it, you should watch this mic’d up segment with Peters against the Falcons from last season.

“Sometimes you’ve gotta remind them who the king is.”

The Bodyguard is the man.

***

So.

The offensive line is easy to understand in some places, and pretty convoluted at others. It would seem Howie Roseman and Joe Douglas have some sort of plan in place. At absolute worst, they’ve spent a fair chunk of money on a lot of players and are investing in security through numbers. There are worse ideas.

At best, they can find a trade partner for Jason Kelce before or around the Draft, and they continue to develop Seumalo and Vaitai as replacement pieces for the future of center and right tackle, respectively.

There are certainly worse places to be than flush with able bodies on the offensive line, which is where the Eagles find themselves these days.