The Eagles took one of the biggest hits of the offseason a couple weeks ago, when All-Pro guard Brandon Brooks was lost for the season with an Achilles’ tear. Replacing Brooks was not going to be easy, especially with the Eagles’ tight against future years’ cap in a time of uncertainty. I liked incumbent Matt Pryor to do a fine job, but free agents with proven track records as starters were available, including one familiar face: Jason Peters.
Sure, the 16-year veteran has never played guard before — but Peters is a familiar face who knows the system in a time when camp will be limited and offensive line cohesion will be at a premium. As he transitions from left tackle to right guard, he also brings something the Eagles have valued in all of their offensive linemen: positional versatility. Peters was brought on to play guard, sure...but he’s also definitely able to play some tackle.
Peters’ role as the Eagles’ starting left tackle for the last decade forces an inevitable question about the performance of second-year pro Andre Dillard, drafted in the first round last year to eventually replace Peters. Dillard got flashes of playing time last season, but struggled at both left and right tackle. His ability as a weekly starter is yet unmeasured.
It is impossible to say that the Peters signing has nothing to do with Dillard and his job at left tackle. Peters held the job just last season, and continued to hold it for the duration of his healthy play because he was better than Dillard was as a rookie. Even if the Eagles signed Peters without any intention of placing him on the left tackle depth chart, they have introduced the question in media sessions, in the locker room, and certainly in the back of Dillard’s head. If Dillard plays poorly to some degree, the option to kick Peters back to left tackle will still be there.
This is not dissimilar in character to the issue the Eagles forced with their drafting of Jalen Hurts. Even with all of the money they put in Wentz’s second contract, for all of their insistence that they have no concerns with Wentz’s long-term health, picking Hurts invites questions into Wentz’s health and potential tension in the locker room. How many rough game of Wentz in 2020 will we see before people start clamoring for Hurts to take snaps? It would be a foolish call, of course — but it would be a call made nonetheless.
Of course, team-building often flies in the face of locker room harmony. If you never acquired any extra good players, there would never be any competition. There wouldn’t be room for difficult conversations, but there wouldn’t be motivation for improvement as well. And perhaps that’s the underlying impetus of this Peters signing. Sure, he offers the ability to play right guard, fill in for Brandon Brooks — but he also puts a little bit of heat on Dillard’s starting spot at left tackle.
Remember, the reports on Dillard’s first season in Philadelphia weren’t great, and the nature of the concerns regarded his competitiveness. As Jimmy Kempski of PhillyVoice and BGN Radio shared, Dillard’s mentality doesn’t seem to be taking to the rigors of Philadelphia, with its high-energy fanbase and boisterous locker room, and doesn’t necessarily translate to the aggressive offensive line play that Philadelphia was expecting.
That he was bad in 2019. Anchor is a problem, lack of aggression, isn't a "dog."— Jimmy Kempski (@JimmyKempski) April 23, 2020
The anchor issue was carried over from his Washington State tape, and was something Dillard would have to work on at any landing spot in the NFL. But if he’s not working or fighting or growing the way Philadelphia expected him to, such that he would fix his technical problems, then they would be inclined to cut their losses and move on while they could still get something of value out of the pick. That very well could be why Dillard was reportedly “dangled” on the trade block this year — because Roseman and the Eagles don’t see how he ends up a quality player in Philadelphia.
But without any takers, now they’re trying to give him additional motivation to improve, in the form of an alternative should he struggle as he did last year: namely, Peters. And the difficult truth of the matter is that, whether intentional or not in the Eagles’ re-signing of Peters, this is now the perceived reality of Peters return: that it is a referendum on Dillard’s potential.
So the Eagles have a Dillard problem, and they may or may not be trying to solve it with Peters — but it definitely looks like it, even if they won’t admit it. That’s likely the read that Dillard has on the situation, and if the Eagles’ didn’t intend to send him a message, he’s going to react to it anyway. If he does pull through and improve, all the more power to him — the Eagles desperately need him to hit, given the luxury they’ve enjoyed of having an elite offensive line for the duration of QB Carson Wentz’s young career. And if he doesn’t, then we’ll be seeing Jason Peters back at left tackle again at some point this season.