January 13, 2020
The Philadelphia Eagles' 2019 season is over, and there will be a lot of interesting decisions made on the players currently on the roster, more so than in most years. Let's take a position-by-position look at who will likely be back with the team in 2020, and who won't.
Previous stay or go positional analysis
Today we'll look at the offensive tackles.
For the last two decades, dating back to the days of Tra Thomas and Jon Runyan, Eagles fans/media/etc. have been treated to some pretty stellar play from their offensive tackles. Peters has been the team's starting left tackle for the last 10 years, if you don't include the disastrous 2012 season, which was partly caused because Peters was out with a torn Achilles.
Perhaps because many of us forget what bad offensive tackle play looks like, there's a perception that Peters had a bad season in 2019. I'll disagree there. Yes, the false starts are annoying (and even those are a bit overstated -- he had six of them), but Peters had a good season, at least in comparison to his peers, though he was obviously not the same player that he was when he was arguably the best at his position in the game. More importantly than the false starts, Peters mostly did a good job protecting Carson Wentz.
Peters can still play, and he told reporters after the Eagles' playoff loss to Seattle that he still wants to play, perhaps for two more seasons, if the Eagles don't want him anymore. Of course, on January 22, Peters will turn 38 years old, and the Eagles spent first-, fourth-, and sixth-round picks on his replacement, Andre Dillard, in the 2019 NFL Draft.
Peters will be a free agent this offseason, and Dillard showed enough as a left tackle in 2019 that it is time for the Eagles to wish Peters the best of luck with whatever team signs him. There will definitely be suitors.
During his year-end press conference, Howie Roseman stated that he felt that one of his biggest weaknesses is getting attached to players who have been in Philadelphia for a long time. On that front, moving on from Peters will be his biggest challenge this offseason.
Johnson is a star player, and one of the best offensive tackles in the NFL, who signed a monster contract extension in November.
As noted above in the Peters section, Dillard should be the Eagles' starting left tackle in 2020.
Dillard's first taste of extended action in the NFL came against the Vikings, when he was forced to face off against a combination of Everson Griffen and Danielle Hunter, a pair of great pass rushers with two different styles, without much help. That is not easy, and there were some understandable bumps in that game. Dillard said that experience was good for him.
"It's how you learn, really, the best, is to just be thrown in there, especially in the NFL, because getting like one or two plays here and there, didn't help me grow that much, but kinda gave me a little taste," Dillard said. "Really being in there for series after series helped me a lot, especially going up against some of those guys, like Everson, who is really strong."
Dillard consistently got better in subsequent opportunities, save for a the Eagles' ill-advised decision to have him start on the other side at right tackle against the Seahawks Week 12, which predictably went badly.
As a player, Dillard showed his excellent athleticism, as he was able to handle speed rushers with little issue, but he struggled against bull rushes. Dillard acknowledged his deficiencies in that area.
"I just want to get stronger," Dillard said, when asked what he needed to do this offseason to get better. "Really how fast-paced the game is, how strong dudes are, how good everybody is, because it's the best of the best at this point, so I really just want to get stronger, is the main thing, and keep brushing up on my skills and my technique."
Vaitai turned out to be a good draft pick, and a key player for the Eagles over his last four years in Philadelphia, with his high point coming against the aforementioned Everson Griffen in the NFC Championship Game, followed by a starting role in the Super Bowl at left tackle.
Whenever the Eagles needed Big V to fill in either for Peters or Johnson, obviously there was a dropoff in talent, but Vaitai mostly filled in as ably as to be expected, particularly when he knew he would be heading into a game as the starter.
It will be interesting to see if any teams out there view Vaitai as a potential full-time starter. The guess here is that Vaitai will find decent enough money on the open market that will not make sense for the Eagles to match, at least for a swing tackle.
Mailata showed very encouraging signs in preseason games as a rookie at LT in 2018, when he had former NFL offensive linemen fawning over his combination of size and athleticism, as well as his rapid adaption to a game that he had never played. In 2019, the Eagles start cross-training Mailata at RT, and progression came slowly. Mailata had some good moments in the preseason, but his hype train began to slow down some.
His 2019 season ended when he went on injured reserve in September with a back injury.
"Obviously, everyone thinks that my progression halted when I got put on IR, but mentally it didn't. I was in every classroom meeting, I was at every walk-through, I was at every practice taking mental reps, and trying to progress my mental game further, and I feel like that's what happened, especially them putting me at right tackle this year," Mailata said. "I'm very comfortable on the left, but the right side was very hard."
How hard was it, Jordan?
"It's like wiping your backside with your other hand... It's not going to be clean, but it gets the job done."
If Mailata is going to have a role in the NFL, the 2020 season will be the time to make that leap. If Vaitai does indeed move on to another team, Mailata has to prove that he can be reliable on both sides as a swing tackle, while also staying healthy.
#JimmyVerdict: The "stash" period for Mailata is probably over. He will have to earn a roster spot this year, as a player with an actual game day role, and it wouldn't be surprising if the Eagles gave him competition via the draft.
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