Continuity fueled the performance of the Eagles' offensive line in 2013 and derailed it a season later. The release of guard Todd Herremans on Friday casts a new light for the offensive trenches.
Herremans, a mainstay on this team since 2005, ended his 2014 season on Injured Reserve with a torn biceps injury. He's one of the Eagles you appreciate the most for his toughness, his loyalty, his performance on the field and his leadership in the locker room. Herremans will find a job in the NFL and, who knows in this crazy league, could make his way back to Philadelphia some day. Nothing is off the table for a player who can line up at both tackle spots and both guard spots and play well.
But the Eagles want to change the look along the offensive line and that starts with the move on Friday. The Eagles have some internal candidates to consider to replace Herremans at right guard, including Allen Barbre, who signed a three-year contract prior to the 2014 season and then broke his ankle in opening game as he replaced Lane Johnson at right tackle, Matt Tobin, who started seven games last season, including two at right guard, and Andrew Gardner, who started six games at right guard.
There is also the possibility that free agency could produce some candidates and then there is the draft and its crop of guards to consider.
And when the team gathers for the post-draft training sessions, Herremans, a staple up front for so many seasons, not likely to be there. It's going to be strange for a minute, and then offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland will go about the task of building some continuity and excellence up front. The line took a step back in 2014 with the suspension served by right tackle Lane Johnson and injuries to center Jason Kelce, left guard Evan Mathis and Herremans.
Amid all the offseason chatter around the quarterback position and the defense and the look ahead to free agency and the draft is the matter of getting this offensive line to play at its maximum level.
There is some age to consider with Mathis turning 34 in November and Peters aged 33. How long can the Eagles expect them to continue to play at a high level? At what point does the team start the transition to younger players who, in theory, would be durable and strong and athletic?
We're going to see the vision. It could be as simple as developing some of the younger players currently on the roster and seeing if Tobin is the prospect the coaches think he is and if Barbre is able to make the transition to full-time starter. Or, it could be that head coach Chip Kelly has a plan to bring in a player from the outside to put this offensive line back at the top of the league's units.
The key is to find the best fivesome and give them as many reps together as possible. So Stoutland will try to identify that group as soon as possible in the spring and summer and then build the bond through the preseason games.
The makings are here for a terrific offensive line. It's important, though, that Johnson makes Season 3 his best after the four-game suspension to start last year stunted his progress. Kelce, perhaps the most valuable player up front, is healthy after missing time with sports hernia injury in 2014. He gutted it out and played down the stretch and he played well, but he wasn't 100 percent healthy. Mathis has played in the last two Pro Bowls and Peters is deservedly acclaimed as one of the top left tackles, having played in seven Pro Bowls.
Past accomplishments are fine and nice, but the Eagles are more concerned with the present. They know they have to get it right up front. They saw how a dominating offensive line fueled Dallas and its run to the NFC East title in 2014.
The goal is to have the best offensive line in the league. Philadelphia was darn close in 2013 and the line helped the Eagles lead the league in rushing and explosive plays in Kelly's first year at the helm. Not coincidently, the Eagles turned the ball over 19 times.
Last year, with all of the injuries and the lack of continuity up front, the Eagles led the league in giveaways with 36.
There's a correlation.
The release of Herremans, a true Eagle, is part of the business. He knows it. The Eagles move on and wish Herremans the best of luck. Meanwhile, there is a salary cap to manage and free agency and the draft to attack and moves like this to be made. How do the Eagles upgrade the offensive line? What's the next step?
With everything else going on, the offensive line is a position to watch. The Eagles need to get back to the top here so the rest of the offense falls into place.