Benching Nate Herbig is a symptom of the Philadelphia Eagles’ bigger problems.
When news broke that Nate Herbig was going to start the Philadelphia Eagles‘ first game of the season against Washington over presumed incumbent Matt Pryor, it turned quite a few heads in the City of Brotherly Love.
Sure, Herbig was entering his second year with the team, the same as Pryor, and clearly impressed the coaching staff enough to remain on the active roster for the entirety of the 2019 season, but surely he wasn’t going to be able to replace Brandon Brooks full stop, right? I mean, think about it, Brooks is arguably the most athletically gifted guard in the NFL, and Herbig ran the slowest 40 time of any player invited to the 2019 combine.
Well, as it turns out, the answer was a modest yes.
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Through the first eight games of the season, Herbig played all 568 of the team’s offensive snaps. Over said snaps, Herbig only surrendered two sacks and was flagged for three total penalties splitting his time between the left and right guard spot. Was he always perfect? No, Herbig had a few moments he would surely like back, but for the most part, he was solid.
In 2020, where the Eagles’ season can best be described by that gif of a dog drinking coffee while his house is on fire, solid is like a warm blanket and your mom telling you everything is going to be okay.
So, with that in mind, why the heck have the Eagles effectively benched Herbig for fellow UDFA Sua Opeta? Did the team somehow forget Herbig is around during their bye?
Well, apparently not, because during his press availability, Doug Pederson explicitly declared that Opeta had leapfrogged Herbig on the depth chart and was now the team’s top option at right guard opposite finally healthy Isaac Seumalo.
But again… why? Is the thumb injury Herbig suffered versus Dallas in Week 8 really that bad? Well, he was clearly healthy enough to be active in Week 10 and even play a snap on special teams, so that can’t be it either.
Seriously, what gives?
If Opeta was someone like Quinton Spain, a road-worn veteran free agent looking to continue his career into his mid-30s after a mid-season release, that would be one thing. While that sort of player oftentimes is nothing more than a stop-gap, when you have Brooks coming back next season – maybe even this season depending on how things break – that’s totally fine. Benching a 22-year-old UDFA who has played fairly well for a 24-year-old UDFA one week, and then a 25-year-old ex-sixth round pick who was beaten out cleanly for a starting spot in Week 1 is straight-up goofy.
Actually, goofy might be a bit kind. It’s a clear sign of a team feverishly spinning their wheels in the mud, hoping that the next spin of the wheel will be the one that gets things moving again.
Spoiler alert, maybe Herbig, Opeta, and Pryor are basically the same player, and no one is all that much better or worse than the other.
By constantly switching players around from week to week, the Philadelphia Eagles aren’t making things better. If anything, they’re just re-arranging deckchairs on the Titanic, hoping this combo keeps their defense from biting on every read-option or their quarterback from throwing picks with surprising regularity. Those problems are symptoms of bad coaching and bad roster composition, not the specific failings of one player or another at left and/or right guard. By constantly shuffling players around, the Eagles are guaranteeing they’ll never have continuity on the offensive line and, by extension, their offense in general – a rather peculiar decision by a team with playoff aspirations.