Peters still has more in the tank
PHILADELPHIA >> As the Eagles turned into the Doug Pederson era, they were long on questions, but seemed to have at least one absolute: Jason Peters was close to the end.
Already 34, often injured and suspected of occasionally being disinterested, the eight-time Pro Bowl left tackle was about to be asked to do even more. First, he would be assigned to protect the blind side of a quarterback who’d be graduating from mid-major college football to a starter in the NFL in a matter of months. Then, he would be asked to provide stability on a line that was fraying and about to be cracked, with right tackle Lane Johnson due at some point in the season to serve a 10-game suspension for a failed performanceenhancing-drug test.
And he was going to have to do that for his third head coach in five years, with a new offense and a new offensive coordinator, all for a team few would expect to contend for much. More, he was under some measure of an obligation to do it at a pace reflecting the $51 million contract he’d accepted, the one technically running through 2018.
At some point, Peters will be in Hall of Fame conversation, and that could not have happened without his ability to handle heavy loads. But for that team, at that point in his career, under those conditions, that weight tended toward unreasonable. Turns out, it wasn’t. Turns out, Peters would play with jump and passion, would be helpful to a young Carson Wentz, would lend stability to the offensive line and, as such, would be as much a reason as any why the Eagles would become a 5-4 team with reasonable playoff expectations.
“I’ll tell you what: He’s playing extremely well,” Pederson was saying Monday, during his regular day-after press briefing at the NewsControl Compound. “For me as a coach and
just knowing him as long as I have, the proud thing for me is where he is physically. He’s in a great position right now.”
As recently as 2012, the 6-foot-6, 328-pound tackle was at a career crisis point when he shredded his Achilles in an offseason workout, reinjured doing household chores, and needed to miss an entire season. Though he recovered to start all 32 games in 2013 and 2014, he was decaying last season, when a quad injury tormented him in training camp and back ailments followed. He played just 14 games, with published reports alleging that he’d taken himself out of games to preserve his own health, aware that the Birds were flopping in the final hours of the failed Chip Kelly experiment.
Then, there was this season.
Then, there was a revival.
“I feel really good this year,” Peters said after the Birds’ 24-15 victory Sunday over the Atlanta Falcons. “Coach is taking care of me during practice. When I’m in, I practice hard all through the week. But I might miss two or three plays during the week in order to keep me fresh for Sunday. I feel better than I’ve felt in a while.”
The Eagles can benefit from that new energy, this season and perhaps beyond. While they loosely figured at some point to shift Johnson to the left side, walk away from their financial commitment to Peters and trust Halapoulivaati Vaitai to replace Johnson, circumstances have changed. Not only will Johnson’s 10 games of inactivity blunt his career progress, but he is one failed test away from a two-year suspension. And after a jarringly poor NFL debut in Washington, Vaitai has been a reliable right tackle.
Should Peters continue to benefit from a renewed interest in hydration, nutrition and beneficial weight gain, he could remain productive next season. More, since the Eagles are committed to the development of a quarterback, he could prove vital to the continued growth of Wentz.
“I don’t know,” Peters said. “I’m just chasing the dream that everyone is, to play this game and get to a Super Bowl. I’ve told coach that I’m year-to-year, but I’m not leaving until I try to get that ring.”
So, he’s trying. Sunday, the Birds rushed for 208 yards, and limited Atlanta to two sacks of Wentz, for a total of 10 yards.
In a year when Johnson is missing and Pederson has had to face repeated offensive-line questions, that up-front force has been a value. And it has started, and continued, with a left tackle thought to be finished.
“I’d love to see him play,” Pederson said, “as long as he can.”
Eagles offensive left tackle Jason Peters, seen in this file photo tangling with Detroit Lions defensive end Devin Taylor, is enjoying a rebirth this year and may be looking to play at least another year.
Philadelphia Eagles tackle Jason Peters (71) motions toward the line during a game against the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday.