The Eagles have now made a number of free agent moves, almost all on the defensive side of the ball. Given that unit's poor play, such focus wasn't unexpected. The team needed at least four new defensive backs and some 3-4 building blocks. But I'm puzzled as to the front office's seaming lack of worry about one offensive position -- and it isn't quarterback.
Whither the offensive line? This is an area that so far at least has been totally ignored in free agency, despite a multitude of questions. I understand there's a lot of optimism surrounding the o-line, as everyone comes back from injuries. Football Outsiders tracks injuries with their Adjusted Games Lost metric:
Not that Eagles fans need another reason for self-loathing, but congratulations, your team had the highest offensive line AGL on record and the largest-ever increase in offensive line AGL. In 2011, only Jason Peters had an AGL above 1.0. In 2012, there were five: Peters (16.0), Jason Kelce (14.0), Todd Herremans (8.0), King Dunlap (2.0), and Danny Watkins (2.0). I don't think it's a stretch to muse that the offensive line injuries played a role in producing the third-worst quarterback AGL this year as well.
That kind of historic injury collapse is unlikely to happen again, so there's a lot of potential for a rebound season. But that conveniently avoids the underlying fact that the team has three starters returning from season-ending injuries -- including Peters coming back from a wicked ruptured Achilles tendon. We don't know if any of these players, especially Peters, will be the same players they once were.
Moreover, even putting aside the injuries themselves, we're looking at an increasingly aging line. The four presumed starters -- Peters, Mathis, Kelce, Herremans -- have an average age of 30. Teams can do well despite older offensive lines (Jimmy Kempski has tracked average age the last two seasons and coincidentally both times the oldest line has worked for the Super Bowl winner). But that doesn't mean it's a good idea overall to trust aging players during a rebuilding process. Are we sure that Peters and Herremans and Mathis are solid options for the next 2-3 years?
There are also major questions about performance. Danny Watkins is still around, for now. He's likely an unsalvageable bust at guard but there's no obvious replacement on the roster. Herremans had a subpar year in 2012 at right tackle. Is he capable of manning that spot long term, or does the team need to kick him back inside as an expensive guard? If so, they'll need a new offensive tackle, which is even harder to find than a new interior lineman.
And all of the above is just about the starting spots. As we saw last year, it's vital to have depth that you can count on. Right now, with the possible exception of Dennis Kelly, there's not a lot to like about any of the backups.
Howie Roseman and Chip Kelly have talked about filling holes now so that they are free to take the best player available in the draft. That's a good strategy, but they seem to have completely ignored this one glaring need. There were three intriguing right tackles on the open market, including Jake Long, who has already signed. Could Andre Smith or Sebastian Vollmer be on the docket next? Both have serious question marks, but a young, talented tackle would do so much to shore up this position.
There may be top linemen available with the Eagles' first pick, but you can't count on that -- and you also don't want to prevent yourself from going after a different player that you like better. Unless they make a late move here though, that's looking like the path the team is headed down.
Photo from Getty.