It's about options, says offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland. And the fact is, as you look back on 2013 through 2015, the Eagles just didn't have many of them. That's changed in this offseason in a very significant way.
The selection of Oregon State's Isaac Seumalo with the 79th overall pick gives the Eagles another piece, gives Stoutland another "option" and adds competition to an offensive line that has gotten the requisite boost in free agency and the draft.
Offensive guard Brandon Brooks was signed in free agency to start at right guard. Stefen Wisniewski inked a one-year contract in free agency to compete at left guard and provide a high-quality veteran with 77 starts under his NFL belt as a backup to center Jason Kelce. And Seumalo, who played center, guard and tackle at Oregon State, begins his Eagles career competing at guard, so the initial thinking is that he will be thrown into the mix on the left side to battle incumbent starter Allen Barbre.
Options. Stoutland loves 'em.
"At times we didn't have options. We had players maybe playing out of position because of need. We just had to do it. I think now we're going to have a lot more options to players at positions to play where they're better at playing," Stoutland said. "To me, competition brings out the best in all of us and I think that is just the case here."
Stoutland described Seumalo as a player "who brings a lot of value to the Philadelphia Eagles in the sense that he plays multiple positions inside and he's even played left tackle. I'm just so happy to have another smart, hard-working tough guy. He fits Philadelphia. That's his culture."
It's too early to etch the five starters in cement up front, but the Eagles appear to be four-fifths of the way there -- Lane Johnson at right tackle, Brooks at right guard, Jason Kelce at center and Jason Peters at left tackle -- with left guard still the starting job to be determined. That is not meant to demean Barbre, who started 16 games in 2015. It's that third-round draft picks are taken because they have starting-level upside, and the Eagles see Seumalo as that kind of player.
In the third-round of the 2016 NFL Draft, the Eagles selected OL Isaac Seumalo out of Oregon State. Get to know the new OL...
They also see Peters as a player with plenty of great football still in him. There is a narrative out there that says the Eagles have to bring Peters' replacement in here right now, at this very minute, because he struggled to stay on the field in 2015 (Peters played 66 percent of the offensive snaps), his 12th NFL season. It can't be too much longer, the narrative goes, before Peters is done and Johnson moves to left tackle and the Eagles need a right tackle. But the Eagles don't agree.
"First of all, Jason Peters has got a few good years left. The one thing with Jason is that he's a pro. He's a pro's pro. He understands his body, he understands what it takes to get ready on gameday, and he's a veteran guy ... you hate to limit guys like that because you never know what can happen.
"I understand Jason and I understand what it's going to take to get him ready to play on gameday," head coach Doug Pederson said. "Does he need to practice all week? Maybe not on a Wednesday, but if he can give us some good, quality work and get us to gameday healthy, that's the bottom line. That's what you want. I think we can do that."
Stoutland, who does the daily, hands-on work, still marvels when he sees the things that Peters can do. Left tackle, in other words, is in the best of hands and feet and body with Peters protecting the blind side.
"I still watch him slide his feet, anchor, work his hands. I mean, it's still unbelievable," Stoutland said. "Until that day comes along when he can't do it anymore, or someone comes along and is better, then we'll see what happens. But I still see him playing at a very high level and being very efficient at what he does."
The offensive line was a priority entering the offseason. We all knew it. We all saw how the line struggled to play at a high level, despite Stoutland's excellent coaching, in the tempo offense of Chip Kelly. After Lane Johnson, the first pick for the Eagles in the 2013 NFL Draft, the Eagles didn't select an offensive lineman in the draft until Seumalo. It's a new day here, folks. The offensive line has to be great. And the Eagles made Brooks a top priority in free agency and they targeted Seumalo in the third round of Friday's draft.
"We've got some pieces to work with. We'll see how it all fits in the summer," Stoutland said.
There was nothing particularly sexy about the 79th pick in this year's draft. The Eagles wanted an offensive lineman with versatility and athletic ability and a great work ethic and they got him. It was the team's only selection of the day, with five to go on Saturday. Much of Friday was devoted to first-round draft pick Carson Wentz, who wowed everyone with his poise and energy and likeability making the media rounds and meeting some fans in a handshake-and-photo-op session.
Two nights are down with one to go and the Eagles have hit their primary targets: Franchise quarterback and help for the offensive line.
"I feel great about what we've done," Pederson said. "It's been the kind of two days that we wanted to have."