I can't stop thinking about the offensive line, and wondering just how the fivesome up front is going to be configured in 2009. Part of me thinks the Eagles are going to move away and start new at tackle, that they are going to allow Tra Thomas and Jon Runyan to enter free agency and play elsewhere. Another part of me thinks that such a strategy is too risky, and that head coach Andy Reid is far too smart to take a chance like that.
Back and forth, back and forth. As free agency nears and with it comes the anticipation of the spending spree that makes that first week such an exciting time, the offensive line has my attention, thinking of the scenarios. First of all, I don't expect a front-line offensive tackle to hit the free-agent market. Jordan Gross in Carolina? According to reports, Gross and the Panthers are deep into negotiations, which generally means that a deal is forthcoming.
Is there another standout tackle who could become an unrestricted free agent? Not sure I'm qualified to make that assessment, but rarely are stud tackles allowed to leave a team, and with the salary cap providing so much room, it's unlikely that a team would allow a star talent at tackle to come free.
Of course, the Eagles could sign Thomas now and then wait until June or so and see how Runyan feels after his knee surgery and address the bookend positions that way. But if they don't do that, and if there is not an obvious top-shelf player at tackle in free agency, what then? The options are interesting, to say the least.
The Eagles have always believed that they needed linemen who were versatile -- centers who can play guard, guards who can play tackle -- and could slide along the line and finish a game, and provide the kind of flexibility Reid and line coach Juan Castillo need. So maybe that is part of the master plan. Maybe the Eagles think they can move Todd Herremans from left guard to left tackle, and that they can count on Shawn Andrews at right tackle. Or maybe they think Andrews can play left tackle -- judging by Andrews' pure physical skills, his superlative feet to begin with, he could probably be a Pro Bowl left tackle -- and use Winston Justice at right tackle. Maybe the Eagles are going to add a guard or two and a center in free agency and in the draft and re-build the line inside-out.
I don't know. I am really interested in the line. I sat with General Manager Tom Heckert on Tuesday and he agreed.
"We have to figure out what we're doing with our offensive line," he said. "That's going to come in time. We know things are happening quickly this week and next, so we have some decisions to make."
No kidding. You all can talk about the wide receivers. That position is about fifth in the pecking order here, behind the offensive line, running back, tight end and safety. Way, way at the top is offensive line.
The scenarios keep running through my head. I just refuse to believe that Reid will take any risks up front. He has a plan. I know he has a plan. I'm just aching to find out what it is ...
* NEWS, NOTES AND THIS AND THAT*
- Heckert insisted that fullback Dan Klecko played well in his first go-round at the position, but the thinking here is that if the Eagles find an upgrade, they will try to add it. Klecko played in about 20-25 percent of the offensive snaps last year. Kyle Eckel has to figure in the mix, too.
- How many legitimate first-round picks are there in this draft? Heckert estimated the number at 28-29 now, but "it's early, and players will be added and taken off that list." Still, that number is an indication that the draft is deep at the top.
- Buckhalter, from this perspective, is going to have an awfully tough time in free agency. With veterans like Ahman Green, Fred Taylor and Deuce McAllister now on the market, there is a glut of veteran players who are going to play for reasonable contracts and give teams some production. Who will sign Buckhalter to be a starter? When you consider the free agents and the draft running backs, it is a good year to have a need at the position. The Eagles could bring back Buckhalter and still use a draft pick on a back. Or they could sign a veteran and keep the draft option open. And I still think Lorenzo Booker will get an extended look in the spring and summer.
- I've been high on Bryan Smith at left defensive end, and I'm going to continue to be high on him. Can't wait to see him in year two. I also have to wonder just how much playing time he will get if the Eagles keep their current rotation going. The more I think about it, the more I realize that Smith is going to have come in and wow the coaches to earn some significant time.
- Is there any position the Eagles will stay away from during the off-season? I would say that if there is one position, or one unit, it would be linebacker. The Eagles are set up pretty nicely there, unless they pull a shocker and decide that Akeem Jordan or Chris Gocong need to be challenged.
- A report surfaced on Tuesday that the Eagles won't use their franchise tag in this period of time. That's news? I guess so, but it sure seemed obvious to me that the Eagles wouldn't use the designation. Just look at the group of free agents to be on this roster.