It comes for 31 teams every year in the NFL when their season ends. There are questions that need to be answered. Emotional fans are upset. The media start pointing fingers. And some of those fingers are being pointed at left tackle Jason Peters, the player for whom the Eagles traded one week prior to last April's draft and who earned a Pro Bowl nod in his first season here.
I'm here to shoot down the criticism, much of which has been petty and uninformed. Peters was dominating at times in 2009, especially during a mid-to-late season run when the Eagles had all five offensive linemen healthy and the offense was humming with some continuity flowing up front. Peters was also only OK at times during the season, amassing some penalties for false starts and battling an ankle/knee injury that limited his lateral quickness and mobility.
And there was a game or two, notably in the playoff game at Dallas, when Peters flat-out struggled. One week after dominating Cowboys premier pass rusher DeMarcus Ware, Peters had trouble keeping Ware away from quarterback Donovan McNabb. Ware changed up his game, used a couple of inside moves to beat Peters and helped disrupt an Eagles offense that was grounded save the one touchdown pass from Michael Vick to Jeremy Maclin.
Now, in the aftermath of that defeat, some are rushing to proclaim Peters a mistake. They are saying he isn't a "Pro Bowl-caliber" left tackle. Of course, those who are saying that haven't seen every play of every left tackle in the NFC as they have seen Peters. Truth is, according to observers around the league and those who study personnel for a living, Peters was every bit deserving of the Pro Bowl nod.
Was he perfect in 2009? No, of course not. Far from it. Peters did not have an all-time, all-time season. But he solidified the left tackle position, learning a new technique and a new way of preparing to play the game and those dominating weeks in the middle of the season when Peters handled every player lined up in front of him, and then some, provided a top-shelf level of expectation for Peters to reach every week.
So now he's a mistake because of his struggles -- and he was far from alone -- against Dallas?
To suggest that Peters was out of shape and overweight, as some have done, is completely erroneous. Peters and every player are subject to a weigh-in each Friday, and not one coach had an issue with Peters' physique, his work ethic or his performance. Oh, they're all going to expect more from Peters now that he has been an Eagle for a full season and he has a complete understanding of what Andy Reid and Juan Castillo want on an every-day basis. Peters understands the cadence of the offense better, as well as the scheme devised by coordinator Marty Mornhinweg.
Peters has a huge upside. There are few players with the size, athletic ability and punch that he has. After years of enjoying Tra Thomas at left tackle, the Eagles realized that he was sliding and that even his veteran guile wasn't enough to overcome his cracks in performance. So the Eagles allowed Thomas to become an unrestricted free agent and then they traded for Peters prior to the draft last April.
It has already turned out to be a great deal for the Eagles. They got themselves a player who should be a Pro Bowl left tackle for the next handful of years. Buffalo, if you read the clippings these days, had a disaster of an offensive line in 2009 and has identified left tackle as a prime need for new head coach Chan Gailey.
Peters needs to have a big off-season, as does every player on this roster. He will benefit from working all spring and through training camp with Todd Herremans, who missed most of training camp and the opening month and a half of the regular season with his foot injury. Once Herremans came back and started at left guard, the Eagles got some really good play up front and the offense went to a new height.
My point is this: It bothers me that a player who was called "a force down the stretch" by one newspaper beat writer late in the season is now suddenly a subject of so much criticism and scorn. It isn't fair. And it isn't accurate. Peters had a good season, very, very good at times, and he will improve.
The lasting taste is sour for Peters after the loss against Dallas, and it should serve as prime motivation for him and for the whole team. Who isn't still smarting from the loss to the Cowboys? Hopefully, the players will think about how it felt to leave Cowboys Stadium that night and work just a little bit harder in the months to come to prepare for 2010.
In the meantime, the Eagles have areas to improve. Left tackle, rest assured, is not near the top of their list. They know they have Peters, a Pro Bowl left tackle who is entering the prime of his career with a coach who believes in him and who will squeeze out the very best of a player who will someday go down as one of the better left tackles in this team's history.
* NEWS, NOTES AND THIS AND THAT *
Who is Martell Mallett and what are the Eagles doing dipping into the ranks of the CFL to add a running back? Well, Mallett has good size, seems to have good quickness and has been extremely productive in his time at Arkansas-Pine Bluff and with the British Columbia Lions. He suffered a pectoral injury and didn't even get an invite last year to make an NFL roster, and then he signed with the Lions and had a terrific season. Mallett worked out for both the Rams and the Eagles recently, and signed here. Mallett is the 12th CFL player to sign with the NFL in this off-season. He's 6-feet and somewhere between 195 pounds (according to some Canadian reports I've read) and 210 pounds, which is how the Eagles have him listed. Mallett looks good on his highlight videos, of course. And it's probably great that he had a chance to spend a year after college carrying the football and showing his receiving skills. Let's see how he learns this system and shows what he can do in the spring before having a level of expectation for training camp.
- All of this "Is Brian Westbrook going to retire?" stuff is going to continue until Westbrook discusses his desire to continue to play, which he expressed late in the 2009 season. The Eagles won't say a thing on the subject, trust me on that one. No question, Westbrook's situation is one of the biggest stories of this off-season, but anyone who thinks the Eagles signed Mallett to begin the "phase out" of Westbrook simply doesn't understand the game. Mallett showed well at a workout and the Eagles signed him. He is not here to replace Westbrook. He is here to try to make the team. Big difference.
- I will keep you updated on what is happening and, in this case, what is not happening as the Eagles make their decision on what to do with the General Manager position open since Tom Heckert joined Cleveland. Nothing to report at the moment.
- A player who is rehabbing from injury who not many are talking about is Omar Gaither. I think he remains a critical piece in the defense. Gaither is scheduled to be a restricted free agent if there is no new Collective Bargaining Agreement and could very well return to the Eagles. I love Gaither's versatility and his leadership, and if he comes back healthy he will really help the Eagles in the nickel and, I think, will compete for serious playing time at the WILL position. He also gives the Eagles great depth at middle linebacker. Don't forget about Gaither when you think about the defense next season.