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October 24, 2017

How will the Eagles move forward without Jason Peters?

As Jason Peters was being carted off the field while Eagles fans filled the stadium with chants of his name – and after almost the entire Eagles' team (and some Redskins players as well) came onto the field to wish him well – the "Bodyguard" insisted on shouting instructions to his replacement, Halapoulivaati Vaiati, on how to protect quarterback Carson Wentz.

"As we were going out, he was starting to tell Coach Stout to tell Big V [Vaitai] a certain thing against a certain guy," said Wentz. "He didn’t even care, he was just trying to coach and just help us out to find a way to win. And that’s just the type of guy he is."

"When I saw Jason Peters, Jason tells me to calm down, take two sets and that’s it," said Vaitai.

While Wentz is the up and coming star quarterback, there probably isn't a player in the locker room who is more respected than Peters, a 13-year vet with nine Pro Bowls, and six All-Pro nods to his credit.

"He means a ton to that football team and to that locker room in there," said Doug Pederson. "He's a tremendous leader. We'll just have to see tomorrow where he's at. You just see the respect of the guys. You see the respect of the fans with a guy like that, an all-pro left tackle who has been in this business a long time and the toughness that he plays with every single week. He plays nicked up every single week, and there's no complaining out of him. You just see the respect from the team, the coaches, and the fans. Even the Redskins tonight, some of the players were wishing him well at that time."

According to Jeff McLane of the Inquirer, the early word is that Peters suffered an MCL tear. 

If after testing an MCL tear is all it is, Peters will still miss a substantial amount of time.

(UPDATE: Doug Pederson has since said that Jason Peters has a torn ACL and MCL, and is done for the season)

The loss of Peters from a leadership and respect standpoint is immeasurable. From an on-the-field and roster perspective, we'll take a look at how the Eagles could deal with his loss.

Will the Eagles move Lane Johnson over to LT?

In an in-game situation, when Peters went down, the Eagles simply inserted Vaitai in at LT, which makes sense, as Lane Johnson prepared all week at RT. However, in a scenario in which Peters is out for a lengthy amount of time, traditional football wisdom says that you have your best offensive tackle protect the quarterback's blind side, which would of course be at LT in the Eagles' case. If given a week to prepare at LT, Johnson could do it. 

Traditional wisdom may not make much sense in this case.

AT RT so far this season, Johnson has faced Ryan Kerrigan twice, Justin Houston, Jason Pierre-Paul, and Joey Bosa. He has been more than up to the challenge for every opponent, and is having perhaps the best season of his career. 

A growing trend in the NFL is to put your best pass rusher up against the opposing offense's RT, since many teams have a weak link at RT. Just like in the early part of their schedule, the Eagles will mostly face teams that put their best pass rusher up against the opposing RT.

"I’m fine with it," Johnson said, when asked if he would be content to just stay put at RT. "We’re going to be facing pass rushers like [Cowboys DE] DeMarcus Lawrence and [Broncos LB] Von Miller coming in here, so there’s really no place to hide.”

The following is a list of pass rushers left on the Eagles' schedule who primarily line up opposite the RT (in chronological order): 

Elvis Dumervil, 49ers: 102.5 career sacks, leads the 49ers with 3.5 sacks in 2017.

Von Miller, Broncos: 80.5 career sacks, leads the Broncos with 7 sacks in 2017.

Demarcus Lawrence, Cowboys: 18.5 career sacks, leads the Cowboys with 9.5 sacks in 2017.

Pernell McPhee, Bears: 31 career sacks, second on the Bears with 4 sacks in 2017.

Michael Bennett, Seahawks: 49.5 career sacks, leads the Seahawks with 4 sacks in 2017.

Connor Barwin, Rams: 52.5 career sacks, second on the Rams with 3 sacks in 2017.

Jason Pierre-Paul, Giants: 52 career sacks, leads the Giants with 4.5 sacks in 2017.

Khalil Mack, Raiders: 34.5 career sacks, leads the Raiders with 4.5 sacks in 2017.

Demarcus Lawrence, Cowboys18.5 career sacks, leads the Cowboys with 9.5 sacks in 2017.

When asked who he intended to play at LT and RT going forward, Pederson replied, "I don't know yet. That’s something we'll evaluate this week. As you guys know, back in the spring, and we talked about possibly having a plan that way, but we'll evaluate it this week and make a decision at least by Wednesday before we practice again."

When asked in the locker room if they had a sense of where they would be playing, neither Johnson nor Vaitai knew.

The above list of pass rushers is a murderer's row. It should be an easy decision for the Eagles to leave Johnson right where he is.

Who will now back up Johnson and Vaitai?

Currently, the Eagles only carry eight offensive linemen on their active 53-man roster. Prior to Peters' injury, their depth along the OL looked something like this:

 Jason PetersStefen Wisniewski Jason Kelce Brandon Brooks Lane Johnson 
 Halapoulivaati Vaitai Chance WarmackStefen Wisniewski  Chance WarmackHalapoulivaati Vaitai 
 Isaac SeumaloIsaac Seumalo Isaac Seumalo Isaac Seumalo Isaac Seumalo 

Earlier this season, heading into their Thursday night matchup against the Carolina Panthers, the Eagles knew they were going to be without Johnson, who had suffered a concussion the prior week against the Arizona Cardinals. With Vaitai forced into the starting lineup at RT, and Johnson almost certain to only miss the one game, the Eagles opted to simply roll with Isaac Seumalo as their backup swing tackle.

Here's what the depth chart could now look like with Peters out:

 Halapoulivaati VaitaiStefen Wisniewski Jason Kelce Brandon Brooks Lane Johnson 
 Isaac Seumalo Chance WarmackStefen Wisniewski  Chance WarmackIsaac Seumalo 
 Isaac Seumalo Isaac Seumalo Isaac Seumalo  

While Seumalo has the versatility to play all five positions along the line, he is best suited to play the three interior positions, and should only be playing tackle in emergency situations. With the possibility looming that Peters could miss the entire rest of the season, the Eagles are likely to make a roster move to add an offensive tackle, at least for depth. 

If the Eagles were to make a roster move, they have three options:

  1. They could sign Dillon Gordon from the practice squad to the 53-man roster.
  2. They could comb the streets for OT help.
  3. At 6-1 and the team looking like a legitimate contender in the NFC, they could look to trade for another team's offensive tackle, who could either be viewed as a fill-in starter, or depth.

Option 1 would depend on the Eagles' comfort level with Gordon, obviously. Seeing as he didn't make the 53-man roster and the Eagles opted to roll with just eight offensive linemen this year, their comfort level with Gordon likely isn't very high.

Option 2 isn't great. In a league where many teams desperately need offensive line help, there aren't good offensive tackles just waiting to sign with someone.

Option 3 would most effectively solve the Eagles' problems in the short term, but at what cost?

Howie Roseman will have his work cut out for him this week.

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