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It’ll be pretty disappointing if Andre Dillard isn’t the Eagles’ starting left tackle in 2020

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Is the 2019 first-round pick really going to spend another year on the bench?

NFL: Preseason-Baltimore Ravens at Philadelphia Eagles Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

One of the biggest takeaways from the Eagles’ media availability at the 2020 NFL Combine is that the door on Jason Peters returning to Philadelphia this season isn’t totally closed shut.

When asked if he’d like Peters back, Doug Pederson responded with a “Heck yeah.” Howie Roseman talked about how Peters “played at a really high level last year.”

Perhaps the Eagles’ head coach and general manager were merely paying lip service to a legendary player. But I don’t know about that.

It’s really not impossible to think the Eagles could have a hard time moving on from Peters.

For starters, just look at the organization’s reluctance to part ways with Darren Sproles in the past. That comparison is especially relevant when you consider Pederson literally said “I think I said the same thing about Darren Sproles [last year at this time]” when asked about wanting Peters back in 2020. Sure enough, the Eagles re-signed Sproles ahead of the 2019 season.

One must also consider Peters has previously wielded a lot of influence at the NovaCare Complex. I mean, he literally referred to Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie as his “best friend.” That’s not a normal thing for a player to say.

Of course, Peters is far from a normal player. He’s a future Hall of Famer. He’s an Eagles legend.

But the Eagles potentially bringing Peters back in 2020 wouldn’t only be an endorsement of the 38-year-old. That action would also serve as an indictment of the team’s 2019 first-round pick, Andre Dillard.

It’s not unthinkable that the Eagles could view Peters as a better player than Dillard in 2020. Consider what Pro Football Focus recently wrote about the former:

Jason Peters’ injury history and age is only going to garner him a one-year deal this March, but he was still the sixth highest-graded tackle in the NFL this past season. In pass-protection, specifically, Peters was fourth in PFF grade.

And now look at these assessments of Dillard from PFF ...

Dillard was limited to reserve work when Jason Peters or Lane Johnson went down because of injury, and that was a good thing for Carson Wentz based on how he graded. He allowed a pressure rate of 14.7%, higher than any other tackle in the NFL.

... and from Football Outsiders:

Dillard blew 7.8% of his combined pass and run blocks, the worst rate among offensive linemen with 300 or more snaps.

That’s not so encouraging.

But it’s only fair to note that Dillard’s worst three games came when 1) he had to fill in on short notice for an injured Peters against the Minnesota Vikings, 2) he made his first NFL start on the road against the Dallas Cowboys, and 3) he started at right tackle against the Seattle Seahawks. Dillard graded out more favorably in his second and third starts at left tackle. Dillard also finished the 2019 preseason as PFF’s fourth highest graded tackle, for whatever that’s worth.

Even assuming Dillard is a downgrade from Peters, the equation shouldn’t be that simple for the Eagles. Roseman has admitted the team needs to get younger. He’s also talked about how his loyalty to the team’s veterans has been a “weakness.” Most recently, Roseman said the Eagles aren’t trying to go all in on the 2020 season as much as they’re trying to consider a three-year window from 2020 through 2022. If that’s truly the case, it doesn’t make sense for the Eagles to block Dillard from playing while paying a good chunk of cap space to bring Peters back.

It’ll be truly concerning if Dillard isn’t ready to be the Eagles’ starting left tackle in 2020. Otherwise, the Eagles will have traded up for a player in the first round who isn’t even at least a true swing tackle by Year 2 since he can’t play on the right side. And it’s not like Dillard’s this extremely raw and undeveloped prospect; he turns 25 in early October. By contrast, the projected first round tackles in this year’s NFL Draft are currently 20 years old.

There’s also no real precedent in recent history for a first round offensive tackle to sit on the bench for two entire seasons. Take a look for yourself:

2019

Jonah Williams - 0 starts (ACL tear, missed rookie season)
Andre Dillard - 4 starts
Tytus Howard - 8 starts
Kaleb McGary - 16 starts

2018

Mike McGlinchey - 16, 12
Kolton Miller - 16, 16
Isaiah Wynn - 0 starts (torn Achilles), 8 starts (injuries)

2017

Garett Bolles - 16, 16
Ryan Ramczyk - 16, 15

2016

Ronnie Staley - 12, 15
Jack Conlin - 16, 16
Laremy Tunsil - 14, 15
Taylor Decker - 16, 8
Germain Ifedi - 13, 15

2015

Ereck Flowers - 15, 16
Andrus Peat - 8, 15
Cedric Ogbuehi - 0 (injured), 12
DJ Humphries - 13, 5

2014

Greg Robinson - 12, 16
Jake Matthews - 15, 16
Taylor Lewan - 6, 15
Ja’Wuan James - 16, 7

2013

Eric Fisher - 13, 16
Luke Joeckel - 5, 16
Lane Johnson - 16, 12
DJ Fluker - 15, 16
Justin Pugh - 16, 14

2012

Matt Kalil - 16, 16
Riley Reiff - 8, 16

2011

Tyron Smith - 16, 15
Nate Solder - 13, 16
Anthony Castonzo - 12, 16
Gabe Carimi - 2, 14
Derek Sherrod - 0, 0 (suffered a broken leg as a rookie and never recovered)

2010

Trent Williams - 13, 10
Russell Okung - 10, 12
Anthony Davis - 16, 16
Bryan Bulaga - 12, 12

2009

Jason Smith - 5, 15
Andre Smith - 1, 4 (contract holdout and then injured as a rookie, injured again in second year)
Eugene Monroe - 13, 15
Michael Oher - 16, 16

If Peters is re-signed, Dillard will join Sherrod and Andre Smith as the most recent first round tackles who didn’t serve as a full-time starter in at least one of their first two seasons. The very notable difference is that injury wouldn’t be the factor preventing Dillard from playing.

Oh, and if you’re thinking the Eagles will re-sign Peters as backup for Dillard or to play left guard, you’re only kidding yourself. Peters thinks very highly of himself. It’s just not happening.

One can only hope that all of this consternation about Peters returning is much ado about nothing. Maybe that’ll be the case.

Even so, it would’ve been preferable to see Roseman and Pederson be much more effusive about Dillard. He needs to be the answer at left tackle for this team in 2020 and moving forward. It’s time to finally turn the page on Peters.