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2012 Free Agency Report: Offensive Line

This is the 4th in a series of posts where I take a look at how the Eagles could address each position via free agency this offseason, starting March 13th. Enjoy!

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The Eagles’ offensive line, amid questions coming into the year, actually played very well. The emergence of Danny Watkins at RG and Todd Herremans’ seamless shift over to RT, coupled with Jason Peters’ Pro Bowl-level play led to an above-average season for the offensive line. There’s really only one question mark entering free agency: Left Guard. Evan Mathis played very well last season, but he’s been injury-prone his entire career and is an unrestricted free agent. The Eagles, according to the most recent estimates, have approximately $17.9M in cap space. While Mathis is a very good player, and re-signing him would be a shrewd move, the Eagles have a chance to acquire the prize of free agency at left guard, much like they did last season with Nnamdi Asomugha at corner: Carl Nicks.

The Saints’ left guard, Nicks is a perennial Pro Bowler and arguably the best interior lineman in football. Since the Saints locked up RG Jahri Evans to a massive extension 2 summers ago, they used their franchise tag on QB Drew Brees, and Marques Colston is also a free agent, Nicks is set to hit the open market. He is expected to command one of the largest contracts for an interior lineman of all time. If the Eagles signed Nicks, it would make their offensive line one of the best in the NFL at both pass protection and run blocking. However, spending that kind of money on an interior lineman is always risky, so re-signing Mathis for less money would be completely acceptable and understandable.

If Mathis is retained, a veteran guard to back him up would be prudent. Unfortunately, the market for offensive lineman is very top-heavy this year, so there aren’t many options for added depth. Another option the Eagles could take a look at if they decide to let Mathis go is Steve Hutchinson, the former Seahawk and Viking who was recently cut by Minnesota. Although Hutchinson is 35, he’s still one of the better guards in the game and would be a good replacement for Mathis. Ben Grubbs from Baltimore would also be a very good replacement for Mathis, but I think ultimately re-signing Mathis and saving that cap space for other things (a DeSean Jackson extension, upgrades at LB and safety) would be the best move for the Eagles.

Offensive tackle, quite frankly, should be left the way it is. Todd Herremans had a very good season in his first year at RT, and with the

offensive tackle free agent class so barren this year, moving Herremans back to RG and signing a tackle to replace him in the lineup wouldn’t make much sense. King Dunlap is also a free agent, and it would be a smart move to re-sign him as a backup to both Peters and Herremans. Dunlap also filled in at guard last year for a couple games, so his versatility is an added bonus. There’s not too many backup offensive lineman who can boast Dunlap’s massive frame, and he’s come a long way since being a 7th round pick.

Finally, at center, the Eagles are also set. Rookie Jason Kelce, for all the questions about his size, did a passable job at center. The Eagles seem to like him a lot, since he started every game as a rookie 6th round pick. He fits offensive line coach Howard Mudd’s blocking scheme to a T and would seem to be penciled in as the starter for next year. Former starter Jamaal Jackson is waiting behind Kelce, although he may be cut or traded since he’s owed around $4.5M next season, which is pricey for a backup. If Jackson is let go, the Eagles would probably look to draft another center that fits Mudd’s blocking scheme.

Overall, unless the Eagles make a big play for Nicks or decide to invest in Grubbs or Hutchinson, the offensive line doesn’t figure to undergo many changes this offseason.

Tags: Ben Grubbs Carl Nicks Danny Watkins Evan Mathis Howard Mudd Jamaal Jackson Jason Kelce Jason Peters King Dunlap Steve Hutchinson Todd Herremans

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