In the span of an off-season, the Eagles took an offensive line that was aging on the edges and turned it into what they think, and what should be, one of the most dominating groups in the entire NFL. Working some magic to pull off a trade that leaked out early in the day and was then announced late on Friday night to acquire two-time Pro Bowl left tackle Jason Peters, the Eagles added another major, major piece to their 2009 puzzle and set up some delicious possibilities for the offense.
First some details of a trade that had been rumored for weeks: The Eagles dealt one of their two first-round draft picks (the 28th pick overall), a fourth-round pick (121 overall) and a late-round selection next year to acquire Peters, who made the meteoric rise in Buffalo from non-drafted tight end to a player some consider to be the best left tackle in the NFL.
Great deal. Peters signed his six-year contract on Friday night. He will hold a press conference at 11 a.m. on Sunday at the NovaCare Complex.
"Jason Peters is the best left tackle in football," said head coach Andy Reid. "He is a powerful and athletic tackle and I have admired his play over the last few years on film. I have always believed that success in the National Football League is derived from the strong play of the offensive and defensive lines. This off-season we have added two young, top-flight offensive linemen in Jason and Stacy Andrews."
With Peters on board -- and the guy is freakishly athletic and a huge, huge body -- the Eagles have basically overhauled their line from last year. They look forward to three Pro Bowl-caliber additions to the line for September -- Peters, right tackle Stacy Andrews, the prize in free agency, and two-time Pro Bowl right guard Shawn Andrews, who is healthy and happy and ready to resume his dominating career after an injury-plagued 2008 campaign.
Having 12 draft picks to use, the Eagles played the market wisely to acquire a player who had grown unhappy in Buffalo because of his salary situation. At 6 feet 4, 340 pounds, Peters is known to have extraordinary feet and bulk and power. His story is a great one, having played with Andrews at Arkansas and then entering the NFL through the post-draft route. The Bills looked at him at a tight end in their post-draft camps, and then released him before adding Peters to the practice squad for the 2004 season. He was activated late in the year and Peters played on special teams late in the season.
When former first-round draft pick Mike Williams faltered at left tackle, the Bills went to Peters, and by the 2006 season he was regarded as one of the finest in the league. Peters was named to Sports Illustrated's Monday Morning Quarterback All-Pro Team after the year.
By the time the next season rolled around, Peters was a big name around the league and he earned his first Pro Bowl nomination that year. An injury prevented Peters from playing in the game, but his name was known and his game was well respected around the league.
Last year was a tough one for Peters, though. Looking for a more suitable contract for a Pro Bowl left tackle, Peters held out of training camp and reported to Buffalo in time for the regular season. It was an up-and-down year for Peters and the Bills, although Peters earned Pro Bowl recognition once again and had clearly established himself as a dominating player on the edge.
As this off-season moved along, reports surfaced of a possible trade involving Peters. The Eagles stepped up in a large way to get this deal done on Friday.
"It helps this team in so many ways," said ESPN's Ron Jaworski. "Peters is very, very good. He can be a dominating player. He had some points last year when he had those contract concerns affect his play, and he wasn't in great shape after missing training camp, so I expect the Eagles to get after him and really work him hard. If they do that, he can control the line of scrimmage, and along with Stacy Andrews, the Eagles have dramatically improved their offensive tackle situation.
"I love the move for the Eagles. Instead of drafting a player and living through his struggles, the Eagles bring in an All-Pro. That's called a big-time upgrade."
The cost of acquiring Peters is significant, but the feeling was that the Eagles weren't going to get anything close to a player of Peters' caliber with the 28th pick in the draft. Trading away the fourth-round pick was much easier to do given the glut of draft picks this team had acquired over the years -- the 28th pick, in fact, was gained during last year's draft weekend trade with Carolina -- and the Eagles still have 10 picks to work with next weekend.
Another facet of the deal for the Eagles was signing Peters to a long-term contract, something Team President Joe Banner was able to negotiate. It is a deal, by the way, that reportedly makes Peters the highest-paid offensive tackle in the NFL. The Eagles did not comment officially on the deal. But they were able to get it done because they had ample room under the salary cap, and the Eagles could work comfortably with Peters' demands and get a deal accomplished. They have, in fact, spent lavishly in the off-season, first signing Stacy Andrews to the six-year contract early in free agency, inking fullback Leonard Weaver to a handsome deal in free agency, adding safeties Sean Jones and Rashad Baker and now topping off the big-money spending spree with the acquisition of Peters.
It was Banner, in fact, who said after the loss to Arizona in the NFC Championship Game in January that the Eagles faced a "challenging" off-season with many difficult decisions to make. Clearly, the Eagles have met those challenges with an aggressive, focused game plan. They have rebuilt the offensive line to the point where the expectations are as high as they have ever been, they have significantly improved the fullback position and they still have 10 draft picks to add depth and talent to both sides of the ball in the draft.
On paper, and this is the only way you can look at things now, the Eagles have a chance to be absolutely dominating up front. They should be much more physical with the additions of Stacy Andrews and Peters, and the return to Pro Bowl form of Shawn Andrews gives the Eagles a standout presence inside. As it looks now, the Eagles would start Peters at left tackle, Todd Herremans at left guard, Jamaal Jackson at center, Shawn Andrews at right guard and Stacy Andrews at right tackle. Nick Cole, Max Jean-Gilles and a host of younger linemen would compete for playing time and roster spots.
Things are not finished, for sure, but the expectation here is that all attention will now be turned toward the draft. The Eagles have made their big, big trade, and while you can't ever rule out Andy Reid and the moves he might make on draft weekend, things may calm down just a little bit.
As for the offense's personality after moves that have netted three new starters, who isn't to say that the Eagles might have a more run-focused scheme than they have had in the past with all of that bulk up front and the improvement at fullback and a healthy Brian Westbrook and the expected use of a draft pick on a young back? Sure, the Eagles are going to throw the football, and they think DeSean Jackson is ready to blossom along with Kevin Curtis, and that Brent Celek is a real threat at tight end, but there are a lot of indications that suggest the offensive line could be really, really good in the run game.
All of that is for down the line. The Eagles have overhauled the offensive line by using their assets wisely in this off-season -- spending big money because they could under the cap, trading draft picks -- and now the line looks -- again, on paper -- as good as it has ever looked. Young, strong, huge, long-term deals everywhere so continuity can be built.
Getting Peters is a great, great, great thing for the Eagles. The Eagles knew that the offensive tackle spots were spotty in their performance last season -- with all due respect to Jon Runyan and Tra Thomas -- and they went out and got themselves a pair of 20-something young veterans who have their best football in front of them. The Eagles want to overwhelm defenses with their tackles, and they have the chance to do that with Stacy Andrews and Peters. In the NFC East, with the defensive lines the Eagles will face and pass rushers like DeMarcus Ware, Justin Tuck and Osi Umenyiora coming hard and fast, that is the first priority.
This has been, after all, a marathon of an off-season and not a sprint. The Eagles have a draft weekend ahead, and they still plenty of tools with which to work. This is a team with a very good defensive line, an offensive line that should be dramatically improved and one of the best quarterbacks in the game in Donovan McNabb and one of the best running backs in the game in Westbrook. The puzzle is nearly complete. Draft weekend should provide enough drama and depth to give the Eagles all the weapons they need this season, and maybe even for years to come.