Much was made last spring about how the Eagles’ offensive line was returning intact from the Super Bowl title they had won just a handful of months earlier.
It was one of the best in the league, if not the very best, in 2017, so it stood to reason it would be great again in 2018.
Some nagging injuries cropped up with Jason Peters that had the left tackle unable to finish some games, an ankle sprain then a knee injury that hampered right tackle Lane Johnson, and some sort of leg issue that affected center Jason Kelce. There was a change at left guard after the first four games, with Isaac Seumalo replacing Stefen Wisniewski.
Eventually, the unit came around and began to jell again – just in time to make another run into the postseason and an inspiring march into the Divisional round of the playoffs.
That line figures to look different in 2019, with the age and health of Peters a big question, the talk of retirement from Kelce, and the blown out Achilles suffered by right guard Brandon Brooks on the artificial surface of the Superdome on Sunday.
“Our offensive line was one of the top offensive lines I felt like in the National Football League,” said head coach Doug Pederson on Tuesday. “It is unfortunate, Brandon's injury how it happened and when it happened; obviously last game of the season. But moving forward, very comfortable. Not going to get into a lot of specifics obviously with each guy. (Executive vice president of football operations) Howie (Roseman) has alluded to the fact that we would love to have them all back.
“That's part of this process, part of building relationships with our team. The more guys obviously up front that you can keep together in the future is great for your quarterback, great for your running game, and just great for your offense in general.”
Peters will turn 37 on Tuesday and has a salary cap of $10.6 million in 2019. He wasn’t able to finish the game in New Orleans, being removed after playing 73 percent of the offensive snaps with a back injury. It was reminiscent of some games earlier in the year when an injury wouldn’t let him finish.
It’s time to move on from Peters, though he is a sentimental favorite of owner Jeffrey Lurie.
Sentiment was something the Eagles showed last year when they brought back Peters at a high cap number even after he had torn his ACL midway through the season. They also re-signed Darren Sproles.
Sentiment is a difficult emotion to deal with when it comes to players of the caliber of Peters and Sproles.
“Yeah, it's hard,” said Roseman on Tuesday. “These are guys who have done a lot for this football team, for this organization and for this city. And they're also good people and people you like being around on an every-day basis. We're here a lot. We're in the building a lot. We're with each other a lot. So when you have people like that, it's hard to separate the emotion.
“That's why we try to put some distance between the season and when we do our evaluations and try to be objective about what we want to do going forward to improve the team.”
As for Kelce and Brooks, well, losing both would be a big blow.
They are both in the top three at their respective positions.
Kelce is signed at a relatively inexpensive number, with a cap hit of $6.5 million in 2019 and $7 million in 2020. But he is also 31 and has had his fair share of injuries. He said following the season that he hasn’t made any decision, yet, on whether he will play on or ride into the sunset as a cult hero in Philadelphia after his spine-chilling speech at February’s Super Bowl parade.
Brooks’ situation is much different. The timeline for his return is likely the first week of the season. How effective he would be upon his return is open to debate given the fact that he is one of the team’s largest players at 6-5, 335 pounds playing a rebuilt Achilles without the benefit of any spring OTAs or summer training camp.
“We got a lot of confidence in some of our young players,” said Pederson. “We got Jordan Mailata and (Matt) Pryor, and of course Big V (Halapoulivaati Vaitai) played a ton of snaps in his three years, and Isaac. A lot of confidence there, too. This will be a big offseason for those guys.”
Perhaps the biggest offseason in several years for this offensive line.