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June 22, 2023

Eytan Shander: The Eagles' offensive line is a model for sports in Philadelphia

Eytan Shander is in awe of the Eagles offensive line.

Eagles NFL
Offensive_Line_Eagles_Giants_1226211_Kate_Frese39.jpg Kate Frese/for PhillyVoice

PHILADELPHIA - DECEMBER 26: Nate Herbig #67 of the Philadelphia Eagles walks with teammates during the game against the New York Giants at Lincoln Financial Field on December 26, 2021 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

I lost sleep over the Philadelphia Eagles last night.

I wasn’t up crawled up in a ball dreading some inevitable injury to a key player, maybe even THE key player. Nor was I thinking about the Super Bowl and what was either taken away from the team, or simple faults that were exposed – all the time thinking what could have been.

This was the good version of insomnia.

When you get four hours of sleep ahead of a major event, something normally so positive that you can’t sleep. You are naturally caffeinated and just want to start the project, process, or whatever it is you are eagerly anticipating. The season is so far away yet the energy feels like it never leaves. It’s just such a constant flow throughout the offseason and into the coming years, some of it because of how well the team seems to do each summer. 

The Phillies are trying to springboard the month of June into a true playoff push, knowing that just a return to the postseason is not guaranteed. The Flyers are shutting down for business most likely this year to help prepare for a different future, whatever that may look like. The Sixers...

Well, I was a little hard on the Sixers last week. They have a level of regular season success that is hard to match in the NBA, but the postseason exits have marred that for me. I’m upset about the team I’ve cared about, a lot, and fought for, a lot. Most of the people running this team weren’t here when I was battling hundreds of callers a day on 97.5, defending the process and mission statement by Sam Hinkie. It’s why I continue to get angry about lack of moves or failures to improve each offseason, leaving us who fought – and will continue to fight for guys like Joel Embiid – upset and frustrated, even angry. 

There's also Villanova Basketball and the Philadelphia Union, but we seem to come back to the Eagles. So while we see another big trade in the NBA – don’t worry, the Sixers are better off not being involved in that – and more rumors swirling around Tobias Harris – the team has one thing and one thing only to do; build their version of the Offensive Line.

It’s what the Flyers have to do, assuming Carter Hart is their Jalen Hurts. It’s what the Phillies keep trying to do around the Bryce Harper culture and MVP performer. It’s what the Sixers have lacked all along. It’s what the Eagles have built their entire culture of success around, not just the individuals like Lane Johnson and Jason Kelce, but the idea of what an offensive line represents. 

While it’s true, the Eagles O-line could retire today and drop a platinum album – with Jordan Mailata seeming to be the leader of the crew and most talented of the bunch – they are also the top unit across football. Howie Roseman continues to put the right emphasis on building and maintaining the most polished vehicle in the entire lot. The demand to keep Jeff Stoutland as the top developer of offensive lineman remains on the level of Bill Belichick or Phil Jackson keeping a necessary assistant regardless of any other turnover. 

Then there’s identifying the right player, not only talent, but who can grow with this unit. Once the culture is established with All-Pro guys like Johnson — who hasn’t given up a sack in two seasons — it’s easier for someone like Cam Jurgens to slide in and perform. In fact, that’s exactly what is going to happen and what he will do. Losing one starter means nothing for a unit that will reload and fire better than any other line in the NFL. 

What’s even more amazing, remarkable, even unfathomable is how this unit was tied for the most penalties with 44 last year. Some of you probably didn’t even know that. It’s a testament to how great they played, being able to overcome some of the sloppiest play with domination. 

So, what exactly is “domination” and how does this “offensive line” thing transfer to other sports, like the Sixers and the NBA? The first question is rather easy to answer; production. The offense was able to thrive because it had time. Time is of the essence. Time is money. Time is on the Eagles side. No team can do what they plan on doing without the time to do it. That’s what the offensive line allows – time. Everything you see built on the success of this team is from the backs of the offensive line. It has become the focal point of this team, that adding an MVP like Hurts turns an offense into a superpower. 

Building a culture is hard, maintaining it is even harder, but the most difficult thing is giving the best player(s) on your team the means to explode on the rest of the league. The Eagles have done that with Hurts better than any other team in the NFL outside of the Chiefs – and that may simply be because Patrick Mahomes is better right now than Hurts. 

The Sixers offseason will be a big one, as they all have been with Embiid losing in the second round, but one thing I do know – James Harden is no Lane Johnson. Tobias Harris is no Jason Kelce. Tyrese Maxey may be Jordan Mailata but hasn’t had the chance to show it. Nobody on this team as it’s currently constructed outside of the idea of Maxey is here to directly benefit Joel Embiid. That is the exact opposite of the Eagles and Hurts. 

There’s time. There is always time so long as you are willing to jump on opportunities. While the Sixers were right to avoid the Kristaps Porzingis sweepstakes, there is a lesson to be learned about what Boston did. They moved on from a “heart and soul” guy in Marcus Smart. Why? Business. That’s all. Money, business, the league, all part of reasons why you move away from a fan favorite and major reason why the Celtics were successful. 

You know who else has no problem doing that? Roseman. The Eagles have already done this and will continue to so long as the NFL warrants the easy exiting of players. If Hurts doesn’t pan out, he will be gone too. There’s no sympathy cards or retirement tours unless you are still playing at an all-pro level – like Jason Kelce. Are we so sure the Sixers have it in them? The Flyers? Phillies?

The Eagles return to the Super Bowl rests on two things – staying healthy and keeping that starting five intact on the offensive line. If Jalen Hurts and the O-line play 15+ regular season games all intact, then expect some more magic. Super Bowl level magic.

That’s the stuff that keeps you up at night.

Follow Eytan on Twitter: @shandershow

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