Offensive line is one of the pivotal areas to watch this off-season. Here is a brief look at all three spots as free agency quickly approaches ...
The Eagles are providing two of the top free agents in Tra Thomas and Jon Runyan. Both of them are well over 30, but still are very good players. Reports indicate that the Eagles have been in talks with Thomas to bring him back. Runyan, however, underwent knee surgery and will have to prove to teams later in the off-season that he's able to come back.
The cream of the free agent crop was supposed to be Carolina's Jordan Gross. However, Gross wanted to remain a Panther and was signed to a lucrative multi-year deal. Now that he's off the market, the demand for quality starting tackles will be high with the supply not so much. If you want an experienced left tackle, start with Pittsburgh's Marvel Smith and Jacksonville's Khalif Barnes. Smith is an experienced hand with nine years in the league, though he is not the mammoth that Thomas and Runyan are. Plus, the Steelers offensive line has been long known for porous pass blocking – a must in the Eagles offense. Barnes just wrapped up his rookie contract. At 26 years old, the former second-round pick is steady, durable and provides starting experience. But Jacksonville places more emphasis on the run and the Jaguars as a whole underachieved in 2008.
On the right side, an interesting prospect is Cincinnati's Stacy Andrews. The brother of Eagles' two-time Pro Bowl guard Shawn, Andrews was the Bengals franchise player last season and very easily could have been slapped with the tag again. However, a knee injury suffered late in the season made it too much of a risk for the Bengals as they are expected to allow him to hit the open market. Like Shawn, Stacy can play either tackle or guard and it remains to be seen whether he can even play in 2009.
Mark Tauscher is to Green Bay what Runyan is to Philadelphia from a longevity standpoint. The biggest difference is that injuries have continued to build for Tauscher, ones that have kept the right tackle on the sidelines two of the last three seasons. In 2007, Tauscher played in every game and was very effective - he held All-Pro defensive end Patrick Kerney without a sack or a tackle in the Divisional Playoff matchup. A former seventh-round pick, Tauscher has spent his entire college and pro career in Wisconsin.
Will the Eagles be shopping? It's impossible to imagine Andy Reid not having a firm plan for solidifying the offensive line this off-season. Right now, both of last year's starting tackles are due to become free agents. The Eagles could slide Todd Herremans and Shawn Andrews out from guard to tackle. But one way or another, it is a position that must be addressed.
One day after a cap purge that left the likes of Derrick Brooks, Warrick Dunn and Laveranues Coles jobless, the Bills parted ways on Thursday morning with a big-ticket free agent signing from two years ago in guard Derrick Dockery. A massive presence at 6-6, 330 pounds, Dockery has started every game in the past two seasons for the Bills. Originally a third-round pick of the Redskins in 2003, Dockery at 28 years old is still in the prime of his career. In 2007, the Bills as a team only gave up a franchise-record-low 26 sacks.
New Orleans' Jahri Evans was a mid-round steal from Bloomsburg University in 2006. Evans played tackle in college, but earned all-rookie honors as a guard and has solidified his spot there ever since. He is a restricted free agent, but with that versatility and experience in a pass-happy offense - the Eagles would be a good fit for the Philadelphia native.
Also about to hit the market is San Diego's Mike Goff. Buyer beware. While Goff is an iron-man and was a part of the Chargers line that rushed for 2,000-or-more yards in six straight seasons, he is 33. Age also plays a major factor with Washington's Pete Kendall. Pittsburgh's Chris Kemoeatu would be ideal for a run-oriented team.
Will the Eagles be shopping? It depends on the tackle situation. If the Eagles have to move Andrews or Herremans out to tackle, then it's a much-greater possibility. However, the Eagles have Nick Cole, a young Mike McGlynn and Max Jean-Gilles - if he rehabs from his leg injury - who all could start if needed to.
Jason Brown of the Ravens is young and extremely talented. What's even better is that he can play center or guard, he has starting experience at both. Last year, Brown played center but reports indicate he wants to play guard. He's only 25 and has great size for either position (6-3, 320 pounds).
The only other young center prospect with starting experience would be Eric Ghiaciuc of the Bengals. He was the starting center for the third straight season and started all 16 games for the first time in his career in 2008. At 6-4, 303 pounds, Ghiaciuc has only limited experience at guard and isn't as big as current Eagles starter Jamaal Jackson (330 pounds).
The rest of the crop includes some very good, but much older and relatively undersized players. Matt Birk would be a great locker room addition to any team. The Harvard alum has spent his entire 11-year career with the Vikings and has paved the way for the NFL's leading rusher, Adrian Peterson. He is a six-time Pro Bowl selection. Again, at 6-4, 309 pounds, Birk isn't quite as big as Jackson. Indy's Jeff Saturday entered the NFL as a rookie free agent. Ten seasons, three Pro Bowls and a Super Bowl title later, Saturday is hitting the free agent market. At 33 years old, Saturday has been a part of a Colts offensive line that has produced 5,000 net yards of offense in every season he was there. In the last 160 games, all with Saturday at center, the Colts have surrendered a league-low 192 sacks. Brad Meester of the Jaguars is another old, steady hand who is one of the franchise's best all-time players and has guided a very effective run-oriented attack. Age would be the issue there.
Will the Eagles be shopping?Again, the offensive tackle position is the first domino to fall here. The Eagles must get that resolved. If it involves utilizing one of the current interior linemen, then it's a possibility. Jamaal Jackson can play center or guard. Would the Eagles want to upgrade the center position? Jackson has been a very good player who must be commended for how he fought through the tragic death of his brother last season. There are names here, but not too many players who are going to be good now and could be even better later.