Philadelphia Eagles News

Free Agency Preview: O-Line

In 2011, thanks in large part to the tutelage of new offensive line coach Howard Mudd, the Eagles' pass protection took a big step forward. Allowing a sack on 5.78 percent of passing plays, the Eagles ranked 12th in the league in pass protection, a big improvement from their ranking of 26 in 2010. Plus, that improvement came even though the line was in flux at the start of the season; neither the opening day lineup nor the eventual starting lineup took any reps as a unit before Week 1.

Once Danny Watkins was inserted at right guard, joining Jason Peters, Evan Mathis, Jason Kelce and Todd Herremans in the starting lineup, the results improved. Consider that the team was 6-3 in the nine games when all five players started (and 5-1 when that unit was protecting Michael Vick at quarterback). So how important is continuity? The Eagles' opinion on that question is likely to be shown in the next few weeks when we'll find out if Mathis, a free agent, returns to the Philadelphia.

On The Roster:
T – 1. Jason Peters  2. Todd Herremans  3. Winston Justice 4. D.J. Jones
G – 1. Danny Watkins  2. Julian Vandervelde  3. Dallas Reynolds  
C – 1. Jason Kelce  2. Jamaal Jackson  3. Zane Taylor

2011 Eagle(s) Hitting The Market: Mathis is the big one to watch here. Both sides have indicated an interest in reunited for the foreseeable future, but the market will determine how things play out. If Mathis gets blown away with an offer elsewhere, the Eagles will have several options to replace the 30-year-old, who impressed in his first full season as a starter. But don't overlook the impending free agency of swing tackle King Dunlap, a seventh-round pick by the Eagles in 2008 who developed into the team's sixth offensive linemen over the past two seasons. If another team views the behemoth 6-9 Dunlap as a starter, the Eagles will have to find a replacement whom the team can rely on to step in when needed.

Adam Caplan's Free Agent Rankings:
T: 1. Kareem McKenzie
2. Jeff Backus
3. Sean Locklear
4. Marc Colombo
5. Max Starks
6. Ryan Diem
7. Jared Gaither
8. Barry Richardson
9. Stacy Andrews
10. Khalif Barnes

G: 1. Carl Nicks
2. Ben Grubbs
3. Jake Scott
4. Evan Mathis
5. Jacob Bell
6. Vernon Carey
7. Bobbie Williams
8. Mike Brisiel
9. Doug Legursky (RFA)
10. Nate Livings

C: 1. Scott Wells
2. Dan Koppen
3. Nick Hardwick
4. Chris Myers
5. Todd MCClure

Where's The Fit?: As explored above, with Mathis unsigned, the Eagles have a void at left guard to fill. Though it's likely that Mathis could return, the other variable to consider is the team's faith in 2011 rookie Julian Vandervelde. The fifth-round draft pick never saw the field in the regular season, but consider that the front office (and Mudd, for that matter) thought highly enough of Vandervelde to select him a full round before they picked Kelce. At 6-2, 300, Vandervelde is another athletic, Mudd-type lineman. Perhaps he's too untested to be slotted a starter, but if the Eagles believe he is ready to play, they won't be quite as anxious to bring Mathis back.

The other consideration is whether veteran backups Winston Justice andJamaal Jackson will still be on the roster. Both players are rumored to be potential "cap casualties," or at least in line for a restructuring. If either, or both, parts, the team will need to find their replacements to solidify the depth.

Intriguing Names: Carl Nicks, the top-rated guard, has already made it known that he aims to become the highest-paid guard in league history. It's unlikely that the Eagles would choose to go down that road for a position where Mudd has been able to mold diamonds in the rough in the past. Ben Grubbs, the next guard likely to be on the board, is a possibility if Mathis and the Eagles can't get a new deal worked out.

The tackle crop is somewhat uninspiring, with the few starting-caliber players available likely to be offered, well, a starting job elsewhere. Perhaps a player like Khalif Barnes, a good pass blocker who struggles a bit in the run game, could fit as the backup. There do appear to be several quality centers available, like Scott Wells and Chris Myers, but the Eagles may look further down the line with Kelce already in the fold. Considering the relative success of Kelce and Watkins last season, it wouldn't be a surprise to see the team fill some offensive line depth in the middle rounds of the draft once again.

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