“Welp, there goes Jordan Mailata’s future as the starting left tackle of the Philadelphia Eagles.”
The preceding was a common reaction to the Eagles trading up to No. 22 in the 2019 NFL Draft to select Washington State tackle Andre Dillard.
It’s not an unreasonable sentiment. The Eagles clearly view Dillard — whom Howie Roseman dubbed as a top 10 talent on the team’s board — as Jason Peters’ long-term replacement.
But just because the Eagles drafted Dillard doesn’t mean the Eagles are “down” on Mailata. The massive Australian still has an important role in the Eagles’ future.
Evidence of such importance was on display during the Eagles’ first OTA practice last week when Mailata was taking first team right tackle reps.
Now, it did take multiple absences for Mailata to be able to fill that spot. Peters and Lane Johnson were both not in attendance for the voluntarily practice and Halapoulivaati Vaitai was playing at right guard with Brandon Brooks still recovering from an Achilles injury.
In other words, it’s not like Mailata is super close to getting on the field this year.
But ... you never know!
Peters, now 37, only played 100% of the Eagles’ offensive snaps in seven out of 18 games last season (including playoffs). Johnson is one failed PEDs test away from being suspended for 32 games (yikes!). Vaitai, who is playing on the last year of his rookie contract, is a potential trade target for a team desperately looking for o-line help.
Still, the likely (and preferred) outcome is that Mailata doesn’t make much of an impact on the 2019 Eagles. The Aussie can stick on the roster as a deep reserve while he continues to develop; he still has much to learn considering he never played in a “real” NFL game until last August.
2020 should be a different story for Mailata. Assuming he’s able to build on the “unbelievable” potential he showed last summer, he could easily serve as the team’s swing tackle. Peters is bound for retirement as he turns 38 next January. Vaitai is bound for unrestricted free agency after failing to sign an extension with the Eagles to this point. Those two departures will have Mailata just one snap away from filling in for Dillard at left tackle or Johnson at right tackle.
“Jordan Mailata: Swing Tackle of the Future” admittedly isn’t as exciting as “Jordan Mailata: Starting Tackle of the Future” but it’s not like it’s an unimportant role to play. We all know the Eagles won Super Bowl LII using a backup at left tackle.
The bottom line is that Mailata’s presence is a good thing for the Eagles. The team has options. Mailata can be a swing tackle. He can be insurance if Dillard is a bust (hopefully not!). He can take over at right tackle if Johnson, who recently turned 29, unexpectedly declines or gets hit with a two-year ban. He might even be able to be used as trade bait at some point.
Of course, these scenarios presume that Mailata will continue to make progress in his development. There’s reason to be optimistic on that front but it’s not impossible that he could flame out. He’s a total wild card.
It’ll be fascinating to watch Mailata this offseason. There were no expectations from him last summer considering he’d never even played the game before. It was easy, then, to get excited about any positives he showed. This preseason will be a little different for the 22-year-old because now there’s some hype to live up to. And if he really struggles, the Eagles’ patience with him could be tested.
I don’t think the Eagles will be rushing to move on from Mailata, though. And they shouldn’t be. His upside is still intriguing, Dillard’s presence be damned.