The Eagles’ Biggest Draft Need: Interior Offensive Line
We are few weeks away from the 2020 NFL Draft and the timelines are buzzing with excitement. During my countless hours of reading and research, I have been surprised to find that not many people are talking about the Eagles’ strong need to draft an Interior Offensive Lineman (IOL). NFL Front Offices are asked to not only think about the upcoming season, but they are also asked to think multiple years into the future. Most analysts and writers like to think of Front Office moves as if they were playing Madden. Your team needs receiver help? Trade a few picks for DeAndre Hopkins. Easy enough. You want speed at wide receiver? Convince your brain that your team is going to move up and get the fastest guy in the draft. The problem with this is that it doesn’t take into account the things that Front Offices actually think about when looking at their depth charts for the coming seasons. Those things could be contract holdouts, suspensions, injuries, players trying to force a trade and retirements. And a player retiring is exactly why I believe that IOL could be in the argument as the Eagle’s’ biggest need going into the draft.
Jason Kelce has been a stable force on the Eagle’s offensive line for close to a decade at this point. And believe it or not, he has only gotten better with age. As a matter of fact, he has been First-team All-Pro each of the past three seasons. Centers like Jason Kelce, with his blend of football intelligence, strength and athleticism, are few and far between. After the 2018 season, Kelce revealed that he had been mulling retirement and that at this point in his career, he is year-to-year. Now, before you jump down my throat, I know that Kelce signed an extension that keeps him with the team through 2021. But if recent history tells us anything, it is that there is no such thing as a sure thing and that today’s players don’t have an issue stepping away and “hanging ‘em up.” Take a look back at the 2018 season. Buffalo Bill’s cornerback Vontae Davis retired from the NFL at halftime of their game against the Chargers. He was 30 years old. Kelce is 32. But let’s talk about an even more intriguing case. Andrew Luck. Would you be more surprised to hear that Jason Kelce is retiring than you were when you heard that Luck was retiring? I wouldn’t be. If the Eagles start out 1-3 this season and Kelce is dealing with an injury, is it so crazy to think he may step away? I don’t think so. Now, if you think that it is slightly possible that Jason Kelce retires sometime in the near future, we have to take a look at how that could impact the Eagle’s offensive line.
In the scenario that Jason Kelce retires, most analysts and fans seem to think that the Eagles plan to slide Isaac Seumalo over to center. I don’t prescribe to this idea and I don’t think that the Eagle’s Front Office is planning on that either. I think that once a player proves that they are a solution at a position on the offensive line, the team likes to leave that player there. For instance, a couple of years ago most people were clamoring for the team to move Lane Johnson to left tackle. The team decided it was better to leave him in a role that he was clearly excelling in than to move him to the other side of the line. I think that is how they view Seumalo as well. He has proved to be a good left guard with the ability to play center in a pinch. If the center replacement isn’t Seumalo, then that guy isn’t currently on the roster. Since the center position is so critical for what the Eagles want to do on offense, they are going to need to bring in a high-caliber player. I can promise you that that player won’t be acquired through a trade or signing a free agent off the street, which only leaves the draft. It is very unlikely that you can find a player to fill Kelce’s shoes in the later rounds, so I fully expect the Eagles to address this need in the first three rounds. Now, what if the Eagles do view Seumalo as the center of the future? The weak spot then becomes guard and a completely different issue. The issue: Brandon Brooks.
Brandon Brooks?!? Rick, did you mean to type Brandon Brooks? Why yes, I did diligent reader. Here’s the deal. Brandon Brooks’ 2019 season ended when he was forced to have surgery on a dislocated shoulder. This is one year after his season ended due to an Achilles injury. Brooks has come out and said that he fully expects to be available for Week 1 and I tend to believe in Brooks ability to do that in a vacuum. However, we can’t forget how horribly the Eagle’s medical staff has bungled things the last several years. But inept medical staff aside, let’s say Brooks makes a full and timely recovery from his shoulder injury. That still doesn’t account for everything. We also have to remember that Brooks, like many professional athletes, struggles with crippling anxiety. And it is not farfetched to think that he misses some time because of his anxiety. I mean, it has already happened a few times in his career. It is not a guarantee that Brooks is going to be available for the Birds this season. If Seumalo slides to center and Brooks is unavailable at right guard, this team will have some season-derailing issues.
I whole-heartedly believe that the Eagles community is not recognizing or admitting how big of a need the interior offensive line is for this team. It is possible that Jason Kelce and/or Brandon Brooks are unavailable for the Eagles at points this year. That could mean one game, but it could also mean a full season in some scenarios. Do I think that these situations are likely? No. But does the Eagles Front Office have to consider a situation like this? 100%. And that is why I fully expect the Eagles to address center or guard very early in the upcoming draft.
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