The Philadelphia Eagles have decisions to make at almost every position at the roster this offseason. Whether related to the cap or the draft, starters or depth pieces, these players and the possible avenues of their future with the Eagles requires some good tape study, roster management, and foresight. That’s what we hope to model here.
Starting us off: Eagles’ future Hall of Fame LT Jason Peters.
Coming off of a torn ACL/MCL in his left knee from the middle of the 2017 season, Peters’ functional quickness generally returned, but there was still a discernible drop-off in his explosiveness in 2018.
An ex-TE who dominated for a decade with great quickness for his size, Peters struggled with twitchy rushers across the 2018 season, even before he began experiencing quadricep tightness in the back half of the season.
You quickly notice that, while he didn’t get beaten around the outside edge track often, many of Peters’ losses in pass protection this season came against inside moves. Peters’ left knee was the one most recently injured: as a LT, that’s Peters’ kick leg, and it helps him generate power to come back upfield and inside against rushers attacking the B-gap. If that knee never came back to full health, that could potentially explain some of Peters’ struggles handling inside moves in 2018.
Furthermore, Peters tore his right bicep in Week 6 against the New York Giants. That right hand is Peters’ inside hand, and with it not at full power, Peters was lacking in some of his punch power and ability to sustain blocks post-injury. I tried to avoid that film as best as I could, but given Peters’ extensive injury history that has only become more relevant across the last two seasons, it’s worth noting that he’s likely to be banged-up player for the remainder of his career.
It’s tough to fault Peters for his losses against Khalil Mack in Week 18 of a season that really did a number on him, especially when you consider the positive reps he modeled as well. Generally speaking, Peters had a more effective season than I expected off of my memory of his 2018 performances.
Peters’ greatest strength in his advanced age is his toolbox. With a plethora of techniques mastered and contextualized, Peters can present so many different looks to rushers from his basic sets. With hand fakes, smart footwork, and savvy veteran play, Peters can dictate terms to even elite rushers by confusing their sense of timing and angles; throwing them off of their initial rush plan.
And at the end of the day, Peters still remains a strong recovery player. A huge body with great length, Peters is tough to get around even if when you get him out of position; and he still has great quickness around the edge track to carry rushers beyond the peak of the pocket. That creates alleys in the pocket, which the quarterback can use to escape pressure — a win for the offensive line.
Having watched Peters’ 2018 film in-depth and being familiar with his play style and success in seasons past, it’s easy to call Peters a Top-20 offensive tackle in the league heading into 2019. While his physical tools are wearing down, Peters’ technical understanding and remaining plus traits more than complete the form of a starting tackle at the NFL level.
That said, the wearing of Peters’ physical traits also makes him an unsteady starter. Despite starting every game for the Eagles in 2018, Peters played less than 80% of the total offensive snaps as he dealt with nagging injury. When on the field, even nursing injuries, Peters is as good of a left tackle as you could ask for — but he isn’t on the field as much as you’d like.
Per Over the Cap, this is Jason Peters’ current contract:
Originally, Peters’ 2018 season would have been the final year on his 4-year extension signed back in 2014. However, in 2017, GM Howie Roseman extended Peters’ deal by one year — this 2019 year — which is a team option year. Philadelphia must pick up Jason Peters’ option before the 2019 league year starts on March 14th, or Peters will enter free agency.
The extension served to protect Peters from being cut in 2017 (and to a lesser degree), 2018. At the structure of his previous deal, both were significant options that Peters clearly wanted to avoid. The 2019 year was tagged on to add a year onto which to prorate the new guaranteed money, which helped lower Peters’ 2017 cap number and generate cap space at the time of the restructure.
Whether or not Philadelphia got a return on their investment is a tricky matter. In 2017, Peters had an absurdly low cap figure for his talent, but failed to see the field due to the ACL/MCL tear. In 2018, Peters’ play again exceeded that of a $10.6M cap figure, but remembered: they paid that number for only 80% of the snaps.
In 2019, Peters is slated to be the 10th-highest paid left tackle and 11th-highest paid tackle overall (the only right tackle above him is teammate Lane Johnson), with a cap number of $13.2M. Even if you’re assuming Peters plays ~100% of the snaps, which is an unrealistic prediction, Peters is a fringe Top-10 talent at LT and may be overtaken by younger talent in his age-37 season.
Beyond 2019, it is highly unlikely Philadelphia would extend Peters’ contract or look to retain him in free agency; and given the success of his career, the expectation is that Peters would retire. The only way Philadelphia could reasonably extend Peters is if they restructure his deal to lessen his 2019 cap hit, by adding yet another option year at the end of his deal, that they would likely never pick up — but that is very unlikely.
It is worth noting that 1) denying Peters’ team option, 2) cutting Peters at any point after picking up the option, or 3) Peters retiring would all recoup Philadelphia a full $10.5M dollars, creating $2.7M in dead cap. It’s unclear what exactly 4) trading Peters midseason would do, as there may be per-game bonuses built into his guaranteed money.
Options At The Position
The free agent market at tackle is typically a scary place to go, and this year is no different. There is not a better talent than Peters on the market, save for perhaps New England’s Trent Brown — but buyer beware of ex-Patriot offensive linemen, who often wilt outside of the Belichick/Scarnecchia sunshine.
In 2019, Philadelphia will have the highest paid right tackle (seventh overall tackle), fifth-highest paid guard, and 12th-highest paid center. Given the money the Eagles have already poured into the offensive line, it seems unlikely that they would cut Peters to pursue a high-tag free agent starter.
Philadelphia would love for their 2019 starting LT to be on the roster, should Peters be cut/retire — but they’re likely square outta luck. Entering his fourth season, swing tackle Halapoulivaati Vaitai has had more than ample opportunity to prove that he can take over for Jason Peters. However, his reps in relief of the injured Peters over the past two season have done little to inspire: Big V still struggles with balance and foot speed in pass protection, and surrenders pressures too easily when left on an island.
Behind Vaitai, the immediate depth is dire. Fellow fourth-year Isaac Seumalo allegedly has emergency tackle ability, as does second-year guard Matt Pryor, but only Seumalo has seen reps at a tackle alignment in a game, and those were minimal and pitiful.
The name of interest will always be rugby convert Jordan Mailata. A player with a wonderfully high ceiling, Mailata could have developed into a starting-caliber NFL tackle in only one true season as a football player — but read that sentence back and tell me how feasible it seems. The optimistic outlook for Mailata in 2019 is that he can dress on game days as a backup, and potentially threaten Vaitai for the OT3 spot.
Assuming Peters remains rostered and starting in 2019, Philadelphia will likely hope to see if Mailata can win the job in 2020, after two full NFL seasons under his belt.
This 2019 offensive tackle class is spectacular, and if Philadelphia is serious about Peters’ current quality of play and health, they should look to address the position early. Another bout with injury could force Philadelphia into playing Vaitai long-term, which could spell disaster for Carson Wentz, who has now seen two straight seasons cut short with injury.
Rookie tackles are a scary proposition nonetheless, so an option better than Vaitai would likely cost Philadelphia their first-round pick, at 25 overall. By then, expect Alabama’s Jonah Williams and Florida’s Jawaan Taylor to be off the board — they’re the best this class has to offer.
But Oklahoma’s Cody Ford, a massive body but graceful mover, could still be available; same goes for Wisconsin’s David Edwards, who is an athlete reminiscent of Lane Johnson. Philadelphia loves dipping into West Virginia for talent, and could bring in Mountaineer Yodny Cajuste, or Senior Bowl standout Dalton Risner, from Kansas State.
Regardless of Peters’ state for 2019, offensive tackle will be in serious consideration for the Eagles at pick 25. If they forgo the early pick for another later development piece, names like Edwards and Cajuste could still be available. But also keep eyes on Washington behemoth Kaleb McGary, Alabama State’s athlete Tytus Howard, and USC’s explosive Chuma Edoga.
Evaluation and Expectation
When you look at the recourses for cap space for a team that will need to create some, Jason Peters is one of the first names you circle. There is almost no chance he is retained beyond 2019; his play and health are both declining; he has the fourth-biggest cap hit on the team, and only Nick Foles’ departure would add more money back into the pool.*
In a vacuum, Jason Peters is probably a player you should seriously consider cutting.
But Jason Peters is a beloved locker room player and dear friend of owner Jeffrey Lurie. Despite what cutting Peters could do for the team financially, the emotional leadership and league-wide respect are perhaps too great of value to risk. Peters is tenured, in that he should be supported and not cast aside in his old age; he has earned the right to go out on his own terms.
And at the end of the day, his on-field product is likely still worth $13.2M this season (especially if Nate Solder is worth $17M and Eric Fisher is worth $13.6M). When you consider the comp picks Philadelphia is hoping to receive following the departures of Nick Foles, Golden Tate, Brandon Graham (?), Ronald Darby (?), and Jordan Hicks, they are unlikely to be big players in free agency this year anyway. So that 2019 cap space that cutting Peters would create? As long as they’re in the black, it wouldn’t mean that much.
That said, if Peters is mulling retirement a season early, that is a decision Philadelphia’s front office should support and even hope for. Without doing Peters the dishonor of cutting him, it would alleviate their books and give them more flexibility to potentially re-sign some of their own free agents. They would have to draft a LT high in response, but that’s coming ‘round the mountain anyway.
As it stands, Peters is most likely to play out the final year of his deal, at a level of play at or slightly under that cap figure. All things considered, Philadelphia will return all five of their starting offensive linemen — keeping intact a unit that performed above all others in 2017, and showed flashes of the same dominance in 2018.
*Cutting Timmy Jernigan with a post-June 1st designation could make him a bigger alleviation than Peters.