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January 29, 2021

Eagles stay or go: Offensive tackle

The Philadelphia Eagles have mostly been among the league's best at the offensive tackle positions over the last two decades. In 2021, they're heading into an offseason in which they have an odd combination of depth, but also question marks at the starting spots. Today we'll look at who is likely to stay, and who should go.

Previous "Stay or Go" analysis: 

Howie Roseman • Doug Pederson 
Quarterback • Running backWide receiver • Tight end

Jason Peters

Peters started eight games for the Eagles in 2020 — six at his familiar spot at LT, and two at RG. His re-signing this offseason made some sense, in that he was coming aboard to fill in at RG for the injured Brandon Brooks, while also perhaps serving as something of an insurance policy at LT in the event Andre Dillard struggled at LT.

But that role didn't quite go so smoothly. When Dillard tore his biceps late in training camp, Peters held the team hostage by demanding more money before he would move from RG to LT. The team eventually conceded, and Peters was the Week 1 starter at LT. 

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Peters struggled badly at LT during the first three games, particularly against the Cincinnati Bengals, a game he did not finish. He then missed four games due to injury, with Jordan Mailata taking his place. When Peters was ready to play again, the team reinstated him back at LT and Mailata was back on the bench, despite the belief from many observers that Mailata had played better. Peters started the next three games, and when he was mostly ineffective, the team inserted Mailata back in as the starting LT, with Peters moving back to RG. After two games at RG, Peters opted to have surgery on his toe, ending his season.

When Peters' stellar NFL career is over, he is going to have a clear Hall of Fame résumé. We'll properly detail his time in Philly then. But in 2020, the team would have been better off without him.

Peters intends on playing again in 2021, though he noted that it would likely not be in Philly.

#JimmyVerdict: It would be utterly absurd for the Eagles bring Peters back again, and yet, I wouldn't put it past them. Still... Go.

Your verdict: 

Lane Johnson

In late November, Johnson announced that the inside of his ankle had "collapsed," and that he would need season-ending surgery. Johnson has been one of the best offensive tackles in the league over the last half decade or so, but he has a troubling history with that ankle:

2018: He originally injured his ankle in the Eagles' win over the Jacksonville Jaguars in London. He was out two weeks (the Eagles' ensuing bye, and one game), and he was right back in the lineup thereafter.

2019: He missed four games with a related ankle injury.

2020: It was reported that Johnson had surgery on his ankle in August, after which the team listed him as "day-to-day." Johnson made the trip to Landover Week 1 against the Football Team, and tried to give it a go, but could not play. He returned to action Week 2 against the Rams. Johnson later also missed the team's Week 6 game against the Ravens, and their Week 8 game against the Cowboys. Prior to the Cowboys matchup, Johnson did not appear on the injury list, and he was expected to play. On Saturday before the game, the team ruled him out. And then, of course, as noted above, in late November, he had pushed his ankle beyond its limits, and it gave out on him.

Even with a hobbled ankle, Johnson was still very good in 2020:

The surgery -- plus extended rest -- will perhaps finally get his ankle right, however, even Johnson himself acknowledged that it is not a certainty that it will ever be 100 percent again.

#JimmyVerdict: The Eagles are tied to Johnson through the 2022 season, at a minimum. Stay.

Your verdict: 

MORE: Duce Staley writes goodbye letter to Philadelphia as he moves on from Eagles | McMullen: QB coach Brian Johnson is the Eagles’ most intriguing hiring

Andre Dillard

After the Eagles traded up for Dillard in the first round of the 2019 NFL Draft, he was bad as a rookie, and had some struggles in 2020 training camp. Still, the Eagles were poised to have Dillard start at LT until a torn biceps in training camp ended his season.

Heading into 2021, Dillard probably won't have to worry about Peters lurking in the shadows. Instead, he'll have legitimate training camp competition in Jordan Mailata for the starting LT job. And really, in my view, Mailata probably deserves the first crack at the starting job, as he played better in his opportunities in 2020 than Dillard did in 2019.

Dillard has ideal athleticism for his position, but his struggles have come against power rushers. An emphasis was placed on him getting stronger during the 2020 offseason, and that will be the case in 2021 as well, I would assume. But beyond just hitting the weights and bulking up so that he is better positioned to handle power, it will be crucial for Dillard to better handle the mental rigors that come with playing in the NFL, especially in a hardcore football city like Philadelphia. The team believes that the longer he's here, the more well-adjusted he'll be. We'll see.

#JimmyVerdict: Would the Eagles be open to trading Dillard? Sure, but it's not as if he has much value at the moment, so he'll almost certainly be back with the team in 2021. Stay.

Your verdict: 

Jordan Mailata

One of the rare positive developments of the 2020 season was that Mailata actually looked like a legitimate starter, especially later in the season, after he had gotten his feet wet. As noted above, he looked like a more finished product in 2020 than Dillard did in 2019, and in our view, should be thought of as the favorite to start at LT in 2021.

It was also to Mailata's benefit that offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland is returning for another season. If Stoutland had moved on and the Eagles hired someone new, Mailata likely would have had to have learned new techniques, instead of continuing to master the ones taught by Stoutland. 

#JimmyVerdict: Mailata's ceiling remains high. Stay.

Your verdict: 

Jack Driscoll

Driscoll appeared in 11 games as a rookie, starting four, and playing a total of 300 offensive snaps, before suffering a "significant MCL sprain" against the Saints, which ended his season. He also dealt with an ankle injury during the season

In a normal year, the Eagles might have cross-trained Driscoll at tackle and guard (and maybe even center), but he mostly focused on tackle during the COVID-shortened offseason. When he got opportunities to play, Driscoll performed well enough to at least solidify a job along the Eagles' offensive line in 2021 as a backup. Depending on which players return and which ones do not, he could also possibly compete for a starting job.

#JimmyVerdict: With depth at OT, the bet here is that the Eagles will cross-train Driscoll at multiple positions this year, assuming COVID begins to cooperate with the NFL offseason. Stay.

Your verdict: 

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