The 2009 off-season can be declared as the changing of the guard. Well, actually it should be the changing of the tackle.
Tra Thomas and Jon Runyan started 134 games together during their tenure with the Eagles, the most by a tackle tandem in franchise history. The Eagles were faced with a serious predicament once the 2008 season came to a close. Both Thomas and Runyan were scheduled to become free agents. Should the Eagles keep one or both of them around for a couple of years? While they are still productive, age is certainly a factor. Thomas is 34 and Runyan is 35. Or do the Eagles turn the page and bring in younger players with more upside and allow them to grow into a leadership role that would be vacated by the loss of the Pro Bowl tackles.
The Eagles decided to look towards the future, but they were not sure who exactly the future was. Shawn Andrews and Todd Herremans are outstanding guards. They would have been the most likely in-house candidates to man the outside positions.
So, on the opening weekend of free agency, the Eagles signed Stacy Andrews away from the Bengals. As the clock ticked closer to the draft, it looked like that would provide the source of one of the starting tackles for 2009. However, the price for an unknown commodity is steep. The Eagles held the 21st and 28th overall picks and the elite tackles will be gone in the first 10 picks.
But last week an opportunity presented itself. The Bills were willing to deal two-time Pro Bowl left tackle Jason Peters. The Eagles got the deal done Friday night with the 28th pick, a fourth-round pick this year and a late-round pick next year. In addition, the Eagles signed Peters to a six-year deal.
"We needed to replace Tra and we tried to seek out the best left tackle in football," head coach Andy Reid said Sunday. "That's how we went about it. The Bills and the Eagles have a good relationship and we were able to work it out with them to where it benefitted, I think, both teams in a big way. We feel very privileged and honored to have Jason here with his ability and he's also a good person on top of that.
"Tra was a phenomenal left tackle here. We had our 75th year (anniversary) team a couple years back and Tra was the left tackle on that team. You're talking about the best left tackle in this team's history. But, age does take place in the game and Tra played a lot of years here. He did a phenomenal job."
When the Eagles open the 2009 season in Carolina, the five starting linemen are expected to be Jason Peters, Todd Herremans, Jamaal Jackson, Shawn Andrews and Stacy Andrews. The question now is who will start where. Peters is a lock at left tackle. Herremans should be entrenched as the left guard. Jackson will face stiff competition from Nick Cole for the starting center job. But the right side of the line is still up in the air.
Stacy Andrews underwent surgery to repair a torn ACL in January and is on pace to be ready for the start of the season. He has experience at both the tackle and the guard positions. Shawn Andrews, meanwhile, was called by Reid the most talented tackle prospect coming out of college that he had ever been around. If Shawn is going to make the switch to right tackle, it seems that now would be the time. Not so fast, however.
"Stacy has the ability to play both guard and tackle. He has done both at a high level, so that gives us some flexibility there. Both of our guards also play tackle, so I have flexibility there," Reid said. "If we want to move one of them outside and Stacy inside, we can do that. I haven't made any final decisions on that. The bottom line is we have a group of good, young players here that we feel can come out and handle the great competition in the NFC East from a defensive line standpoint and in the National Football League."
The offensive line will have a much different look in 2009. While we don't know the exact alignment just yet, it is obvious that the Eagles decided to turn the page and inject some youth. Amazingly enough, they acquired an obscene amount of talent and experience to go along with that youth.