Offseason Primer: Eagles Offensive Line

In the next couple of weeks, we’ll take a position-by-position, player-by-player look at the Eagles’ roster. Today, we break down the offensive line. If you missed yesterday’s post on the wide receivers, click here.

YEAR IN REVIEW

Jason Kelce – Coming off a promising rookie campaign, Kelce suffered a knee injury in the second game of the season against the Ravens. Considering his game is based on his athleticism, we’ll have to monitor his rehab progress in the spring and summer. But barring any major setbacks, pencil Kelce in as the starting center in 2013.

Evan Mathis – He didn’t make the Pro Bowl, but the veteran left guard turned in the best season of his career. That’s impressive, considering he was playing with a rotating cast of characters next to him at center and left tackle. Mathis was the only Eagles offensive lineman to start every game last season. He played at a high level and will continue to provide stability next season.

Danny Watkins – Things went from bad to worse for Watkins in his second season. He started six games before being sidelined with what Andy Reid called a “chronic” ankle injury. Even when Watkins got healthy, he was kept off the field in favor of journeyman Jake Scott. According to EaglesCap.com, the Eagles would be on the hook for $2.15M if they cut Watkins before next season. The question is no longer: Will he live up to the expectations of a first-round pick? It is now: What role can he play on your roster? Perhaps Chip Kelly thinks Watkins is still salvageable. Maybe he’ll peg him as a backup. Or maybe he’ll get rid of him altogether.

Jason Peters -He first underwent surgery in April, but Peters re-injured his Achilles in May and had to have a second surgery. In 2011, Peters was sensational. Even if he gets back to 75 percent of the player he was, you probably have yourself an above-average left tackle.

Todd Herremans – His injury occurred on November 5. Herremans sustained a dislocated bone, some fractures and torn ligaments in his right foot. Back in December, he said he doesn’t anticipate missing OTAs or mini-camps. Herremans’ 24 starts the last two seasons have come at right tackle. But the truth is, he was not playing well at that spot last year before getting injured. There’s a possibility he gets moved back inside to guard (more on that below).

Dallas Reynolds – Like the rest of the backup offensive linemen, he got his chance and struggled. Reynolds was out of practice-squad chances and ended up starting 14 games. You can’t fault his effort, but the Eagles will likely look to upgrade its offensive line depth before 2013.

King Dunlap – He started 13 games last year and was up-and-down. Dunlap certainly had his share of issues, but he’s a career backup so any assessment has to be based on a fair set of expectations. Going forward, the guess is that the Eagles will sign or draft someone with higher upside. Dunlap is a free agent. Remember, the Eagles showed no interest in signing him last year until Peters went down in the spring.

Jake Scott – He’s also a free agent. Scott started seven games and played OK. He’ll turn 32 in April and started 112 straight games from 2005 to 2011. If I’m the Eagles, I’d at least explore the possibility of bringing him back as a reserve. In the end, though, they might just opt for someone younger who can be developed.

Dennis Kelly – Initially thought of as a project, Kelly ended up starting 10 games as a rookie. The fifth-round pick saw action at guard and tackle, performing better at the latter. He had some good moments sprinkled in, but struggled quite a bit. Perhaps that was to be expected. Kelly will have to compete for a roster spot as a backup this offseason.

Demetress Bell – The Eagles were aggressive in signing Bell after the Peters injury, but he turned out to be a disaster, starting just four games all season. His days in Philadelphia are over.

Other guys who are on the roster but didn’t see significant action last year: Matt Kopa, Nate Menkin, Matt Reynolds, Matt Tennant, Julian Vandervelde.

LOOKING AHEAD

On paper, this unit actually has a chance to once again be a strength if Peters, Herremans and Kelce all come back healthy.

Tim wrote recently about what Kelly is looking for out of his offensive linemen. I recently spoke to Kelce, who said he’s had numerous conversations with the Eagles’ new head coach and likes what he’s hearing.

“I’m pretty excited about the whole situation in general because I’m very familiar with the spread style of offense I think he’s probably going to institute,” Kelce said. “I did a lot of that in college. Basically, in my opinion, it makes an offensive line’s job just so much easier. I’m excited about everything, and once they get a coach in here, I’ll be excited to see what he says.”

There are still a lot of unknowns about what Kelly is going to do offensively. And he’s yet to name an offensive line coach. If he plans on bringing his up-tempo attack to the NFL, the offensive linemen will have to be in great shape. That’s especially important this year with three of the five starters potentially coming off of injuries.

From a personnel standpoint, the key question is: Where will Herremans play? I touched on this above, and some have pointed out previously that Herremans is making tackle money. But he’s due to make $4.3M next season, according to EaglesCap.com. That doesn’t seem to be an unreasonable amount for an above-average guard. Mathis is scheduled to make $4M. And Ben Grubbs has a base salary of $5.2M.

In other words, I don’t think this will be a financially-based decision. There are some highly-rated tackles in April’s draft, such as Texas A&M’s Luke Joeckel, Central Michigan’s Eric Fisher and Oklahoma’s Lane Johnson. All are expected to be first-round picks. If Howie Roseman deems one of them the best player available when the Eagles pick, he shouldn’t hesitate with his choice.

As for free agency, there are some intriguing names out there like Denver’s Ryan Clady and Cincinnati’s Andre Smith. But both players are expected to stay put. Other free-agent options include Chiefs tackle Branden Albert, Dolphins tackle Jake Long and Bills guard Andy Levitre.

While I’m sure the Eagles will explore all their options, I’d be surprised if they made a huge splash on the offensive line in free agency. That could change if one of the injured players suffers a setback in their rehab, but otherwise, the plan will likely be to add a veteran or two for depth and build through the draft.

Follow Sheil Kapadia on Twitter and e-mail him at skapadia@phillymag.com.
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