Welcome to The Big Question. Every Monday during the offseason, Dave Spadaro, Chris McPherson and Bo Wulf will debate one of the hot topics surrounding the Philadelphia Eagles. We invite fans to continue the discussion in the comments section. Enjoy ...
CM: With the release of Evan Mathis, the Eagles will have two new starters at the guard positions in 2015. Does the line have enough pieces up front to maximize the potential of the offense?
DS: Yes, they do. It will take a village to do so. The Eagles are outstanding at both tackle spots and at center. We know that. Few teams can match what Jason Peters, Lane Johnson and Jason Kelce bring to the table. The Eagles are really high on Allen Barbre at left guard. They think he's ready to be a full-time starter. Right guard? It's up in the air with Matt Tobin and Andrew Gardner right now. Some young players will push for time. The Eagles will keep their eyes open. Dennis Kelly has experience starting. There is a need for more proven depth along the line, of course, but the Eagles are in a much better position than are most teams.
BW: This is going to be very interesting to watch play out. I believe that Allen Barbre can take over at left guard and pair well with Jason Peters. And I think there are enough competitors for the right guard spot that someone will emerge as a quality starter (my guess is Matt Tobin). But the biggest question I have, in lieu of the lack of offensive linemen added in the NFL Draft and in the initial phase of veteran free agency, is what will happen when the depth is tested? Yes, Andrew Gardner and Dennis Kelly have acquitted themselves well in the past, but does someone else emerge from the pack? Continuity is always talked about in reference to the offensive line, and I'm sure that if all five starters, whoever they may be, get to play together for a full 16 games as they did in 2013 then the results will be fine. If injuries hit again, then we'll find out about the wisdom of parting ways with Mathis.
CM: There didn't seem to be a sense of panic among the players who were asked about Mathis during the Organized Team Activities. Peters said that Mathis missed time last year and they still won. He is right. The Eagles were 5-2 in games Mathis did not start. Does that mean Mathis wasn't a valuable player? No. But the team didn't think he was indispensable either. Despite starting 10 different players last season, as well as two quarterbacks, the Eagles ranked near the top of the league in points and yards. The offense was still productive and some of those aforementioned players earned valuable snaps that will only help this season.
BW: It's also fair to point out that Mathis was himself a veteran afterthought when he signed with the Eagles in 2011.
There's no question that Chip Kelly has remade the roster this offseason with the goal of playing his kind of football and running his kind of program. The performance of the offensive line will be just one of the many referendums on those decisions this season.
CM: Without an in-depth study of other teams' offensive lines, how many could have sustained the losses that the Eagles had last season and still been as productive? The Eagles didn't just lose Mathis. They didn't have Barbre, who is now in place to start. Kelce missed time as did Lane Johnson. Chip Kelly has said that the long-term future of the O-line is a question mark, but the talent is there for the present.
DS: I go back to this thought: Chip Kelly will never shortchange himself and he knows what makes his offense go, and he has a tremendous amount of trust in line coach Jeff Stoutland. That said, some players need to step up. No question about it. There is a loss of continuity at the guard spots, so that has to be re-established. Let's see how some of these "unknown" players develop. It's going to be a central theme of Training Camp and the preseason games. The line must deliver in every way to allow a very talented group of skill players to maximize what this offense can be.
BW: The other interesting ramification of the Mathis release, to me, is the money saved. We saw Chip Kelly acquire Kiko Alonso in exchange for LeSean McCoy, allowing the Eagles the cap room to then sign a pair of running backs and take on money at the quarterback position in the Sam Bradford trade. With Mathis' contract off the books, what will Kelly do with the added room?