All rookies and veterans reported to training camp at Lehigh this year. That makes it only the third time in the last decade that the Eagles have had everyone show up.
A brief rundown of your holdouts and no-shows:
2011: DeSean Jackson
2010: Brandon Graham
2009: Jeremy Maclin
2008: Shawn Andrews
2006: Broderick Bunkley
2005: Brian Westbrook*
2003: Jerome McDougle
*Terrell Owens actually reported on time. But it was worse than if he hadn’t.
Losing Jason Peters for the year, as the Eagles did when he ruptured his achilles last week, is a devastating blow to the team’s hopes in 2012. Peters, if not the best offensive tackle in the league, is certainly in the top five. He’s a nimble mountain on the field, protecting Michael Vick and steamrolling defenders for LeSean McCoy. No matter when it happened, this injury would cause a big step back on offense.
However, despite some reporters’ unconvincing headlines, the Eagles are especially unprepared to deal with Peters’s injury. The team is lucky that there are still free agent options available and that they have a variety of early round picks if they want to go that route. But compared to past years, the Eagles have few players on the roster who can step into Peters’s shoes.
Because Juan Castillo (remember him?) built his lines from the outside-in, the most important tackle spots often had multiple potential replacements. Back in 2006, 2007 the Eagles had three players other than starters Tra Thomas and Jon Runyan prepping to step into their shoes. Todd Herremans and Shawn Andrews, both tackles in college, were starters at guard, and Winston Justice was learning as a backup tackle.
There was nothing guaranteed about their success, and indeed Andrews flamed out spectacularly after that. But there was no question as to what options were available if and when Thomas/Runyan couldn’t go. Even before Peters’s injury though, the depth at offensive tackle had worn thin. King Dunlap has shown flashes of potential in limited action, but has a meager pedigree and limited expectations. Justice, an adequate starter for two seasons, was shipped off for pennies to Indianapolis.
Moreover, Howard Mudd’s offensive line seems to be assembled in the opposite direction from Castillo’s. Whereas Jamaal Jackson was a huge linemen who would have shifted out to guard at least, Jason Kelce’s sub-300 lb. frame couldn’t play anywhere but center. Evan Mathis and Danny Watkins both played tackle in college, but projected to guards in the NFL (not that you would trust Watkins out there anyway). The team may try one or both on the outside, but neither has the potential to star as a tackle, like Herremans, Andrews, and Justice did.
Building and maintaining a NFL roster is tremendously difficult. At any moment, even in the offseason, an injury can take a position from strength to weakness. That’s why depth is so important, and unfortunately, the Eagles have burned through their tackle depth over the last few years and failed to replace it. In the last three drafts, Howie Roseman drafted just one tackle — Fenuki Tupou, who never took a single regular season snap.
Likely that will change this year, and the Eagles will take at least one early draft pick to compete for Peters’s spot. But depth isn’t necessarily something you can manufacture in a few weeks. With that in mind, it may already be too late to avoid disaster.
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Due to his Twitter and Reddit participation, Evan Mathis has become something of a unifying force for fan goodwill on the Internet. Honestly, I’m not sure there’s anything Eagles fans online agree about more than that Mathis must be retained.
At the risk of setting off a mini-revolt from those legions of supporters, I wonder if the enthusiasm has gotten a bit out of control. Is Mathis really as valuable as everyone says? There’s at least circumstantial evidence that points in the opposite direction.
First, we should remember that only a year ago, Mathis was completely unknown. With the Panthers and Bengals from 2007 to 2010, he started only seven games. He wasn’t a highly-valued free agent, just a veteran journeyman, and the Eagles signed him at the end of August last season largely because of Danny Watkins’s surprising holdout. If a bunch of options at right tackle, like Ryan Harris and Winston Justice, hadn’t failed so miserably, Mathis might not even have been promoted to the starting lineup.
Now, none of that on its own is damning. Players rise and fall over the course of their careers. Mathis is a good fit for Howard Mudd’s system, and his rapid offseason body change may have contributed to his revitalized prospects. Still, we must wonder whether a career year at age 30 is really indicative of future top performance.
The other question, for which I don’t have any conclusive answer, remains: was Mathis as good last year as many people thought? I’m not trying to take anything away from what was clearly a solid season. Mathis provided stability to an offensive line that desperately needed it and had good results despite sharing the middle with two rookies.
But at the same time, former NFL linemen have said that left guard is one of the easier line positions. Mathis manned that side with Jason Peters, a truly dominant force, and yet runs to the left tackle netted the third-worst mark in the league, according to Football Outsiders. When Todd Herremans lined up in that spot, directional rushing to the left was alwasy a major strength. In 2011 it became a mixed bag.
Furthermore, Mathis just never passed the eye test that a supposedly top-five-type guard might. He gave up few negative plays, but I also never found myself saying “wow” after one of his highlights. With Todd Herremans and Shawn Andrews in recent years, the Eagles have had guys on the interior that could lay claim to the “dominant” descriptor. As solid as Mathis was, to my eyes he was never that.
All of this is not to say the team absolutely shouldn’t resign Mathis. I’m actually in favor of that move in theory. But if he has other offers for significant money, would the Eagles really be wise to get into a bidding war for his services? I think not.
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The Eagles have spent the last three years stocking the ranks with lots of young, respectable team players. They’ve drafted captains and All-Americans, guys who can represent the team proudly. They’ve also jettisoned a number of me-first malcontents and with questionable work ethics, like Chris Clemons, Quentin Demps, and Shawn Andrews.
Yet, after praising this change, now fans everywhere are clamoring for the Eagles to grab one of the most notoriously selfish players in the NFL: Albert Haynesworth. Here’s a guy who signed one of the richest contracts ever, and then refused to go earn it on the field. He’s undeniably one of the most talented defensive linemen in the game, but has spent most of the last two years loafing it with the Redskins. Not to mention that even when he was productive in Tennessee, Big Al was still causing trouble.
I can see the allure of a player like Haynesworth. His disruptive abilities from the defensive tackle spot are perhaps unparalleled in today’s NFL. And in theory DL Coach Jim Washburn knows how to get the most out of him. But doesn’t he represent exactly the qualities that the Eagles have purposely avoided recently? If the team trades for or signs Haynesworth, they effectively wipe away the high standards they’ve set on personnel decisions.
In many ways, getting Haynesworth would remind me a lot of 2004, when the Eagles acquired Terrell Owens. TO was another player who was unhappy with his current team and wanted out. The Eagles scooped him up and his talent propelled the team to a Super Bowl appearance. He was the quintessential difference-maker, and I’d expect the same from Haynesworth. Pairing Big Al with Trent Cole might be the defensive equivalent of Owens and Brian Westbrook.
But at what cost? TO was happy for a year, then the sit-ups began and he helped torpedo the Super Bowl hopes of a team that he cared nothing about. I wonder how long Haynesworth would remain a happy Philly citizen, especially if they sign him relatively cheaply. I wonder how long he could stay out of trouble with the law and with the league office, given his long history.
In hindsight, TO wasn’t a gamble. He was a sure thing — sure to be ticking time bomb. Is Big Al any different?
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