Neither player was particularly pleased with the way 2016 unfolded. Right tackle Lane Johnson spent 10 games on the sidelines, suspended for a second time by the NFL for a violation of the league's performance-enhancing policy. Center Jason Kelce was critical of himself for an uneven performance as the man in the middle of the Eagles' offense.
Both were determined to take their games to a new level in 2017.
"I think all of us up front have played pretty well," Kelce said.
Kelce speaks the truth, and the honors back up his words. Johnson and right guard Brandon Brooks were named to the NFC's Pro Bowl team a couple of weeks ago, and then on Friday Johnson and Kelce were named first-team All-Pro by The Associated Press, with quarterback Carson Wentz and defensive tackle Fletcher Cox named second-team All-Pro. The NFL's All-Pro team is voted upon by a group of 50 members of the national media.
"Any time that you are considered at the top of your profession, it's natural to feel prideful and enjoy that," Kelce said. "But you've always got to take individual awards with a grain of salt. This game is not like any other game. There is so much that goes into you playing well – what plays are called, who is playing next to you, who the quarterback is – all of these little things that, at the end of the day, are so important. For an offensive lineman, the difference between having a good game and a bad game comes down to, potentially, two or three plays. Everybody is so reliant on everyone doing their jobs. It's so cliché, but it really is the ultimate team sport."
Kelce, bypassed for the Pro Bowl, has been the leader of the Eagles' offensive line and has had to develop chemistry first with Wentz, who threw 33 touchdown passes in the 13 games he played prior to suffering a season-ending knee injury in the win over the Rams, and then with Nick Foles, who replaced Wentz in the fourth quarter in Los Angeles and led the Eagles to the win, and then started and won against New York and Oakland to lock up the No. 1 seed in the NFC playoffs.
For Johnson, it's been more of a man-on-man triumph of a season. He has faced the very best pass rushers in the NFL and he's been dominating. The Eagles' first-round draft pick in 2013, Johnson has arrived after showing flashes of greatness, then frustrating times when he was suspended, in the years prior to 2017.
This season, Johnson put it all together from start to finish.
"It's been by far my best season, my most consistent," Johnson said. "If you go down the list of the pass rushers I've had to go against this season, it's been multiple Pro Bowlers, high-caliber guys and it's been every week. There really hasn't been a week off. I knew that coming into the season that I would be challenged like no other season.
"It fueled me. A lot of people doubted me, wrote bad things about me and I understand that. But it really fueled me, all that doubt. I had a lot to prove to myself and to this team and the fans. I'm stronger than I've ever been and I've got a great guard (Brooks) playing next to me."
Johnson said being named to the Pro Bowl "has been a huge goal of mine ever since I got into the league" and to be recognized as a right tackle, rather than the more highly acclaimed left tackle, has, Johnson believes, helped put the excellence of right tackles on the NFL map.
Clearly, Johnson and Kelce have helped the Eagles' offensive line become one of the best in the NFL, and they are deserving of that kind of recognition.
The same goes for Wentz and Cox. In 13 games, Wentz threw a franchise-record 33 touchdown passes, second in the NFL only to Russell Wilson's 34, and his 33-to-7 TD/INT ratio was best in the league. Cox compiled 5.5 quarterback sacks, four tackles for loss, and a career-best 34 quarterback hits/pressures. This is the third time in his career that Cox has been named to an All-Pro team.