Free Agency 2020: Eagles face tricky situation with Jason Peters; they must avoid a Brian Dawkins repeat

Jason Peters has been one of the pillars of the Philadelphia Eagles for 11 seasons — the left tackle has arguably become one of the best players in franchise history and a future Hall of Famer whenever he decides to call it a career. However, at 38 years old, Peters is now set to become an unrestricted free agent this offseason and Philadelphia has already begun the process of moving forward — potentially without — one of the greatest offensive linemen to ever play for the franchise. If the Eagles let Peters walk, they could be making the same mistake they made nearly a decade ago with franchise stalwart Brian Dawkins.

Handling Peters’ future is arguably the biggest decision the Eagles had to make regarding a free agent since Dawkins left the NovaCare Complex for the final time after the 2008 season. While it seems simple for the Eagles to part ways with a declining player, Peters isn’t your typical free agent and neither was Dawkins. Not only is Peters one of the greatest players in franchise history, but is one of the most well-respected people in the Eagles’ organization. The Eagles will have to handle the Peters situation delicately, especially if Peters wants to continue playing left tackle. 

In March of 2009, the Eagles let Brian Dawkins sign with the Denver Broncos, a team that outbid them for Dawkins on the first day of free agency. There was no explanation from the Eagles front office regarding the decision in the days or weeks after Dawkins signed with another franchise with the exception of a short statement released by owner Jeffrey Lurie. 

For years, the Eagles have done anything they could to make sure the same doesn’t happen with Peters. Philadelphia has faced a hefty cap hit several times with Peters, giving the Eagles every incentive to release him. Instead, the Eagles have taken care of Peters with the goal of making sure he finishes his career in Philadelphia. The Eagles should have taken the same approach with Dawkins in the final years of his career, as Dawkins would likely have spent his entire career in midnight green. 

However, heading into the 2020 offseason, the Peters situation has gotten tricky for the Eagles. For starters, the Eagles have already begun the process of finding a long-term replacement for Peters at left tackle. That process began in the 2019 NFL Draft when the Eagles traded up in the first round to select offensive tackle Andre Dillard, who is being groomed as the heir apparent to Peters. 

This is where the Peters situation gets dicey. Do the Eagles decide to bring back a declining Peters for a 12th season (and 17th in the NFL) at age 38, keeping Dillard on the sidelines and develop him for another year? Do they decide to move on and hand the starting left tackle job to Dillard? Or do they bring Peters back for one more year and have him compete for the starting job with Dillard, potentially relegating him to a backup role? 

Is Dillard ready to take over at left tackle for an aging Peters, as the nine-time Pro Bowler is a step slower than in years past and has committed as many false start penalties (six) in three fewer games than the previous season? Dillard has shown the potential to be a franchise left tackle, but still has needs plenty of work in the trenches if he is going to live up to his first-round status. 

How the Eagles handle a potential departure of Peters will be key. Philadelphia could copy a page of the Los Angeles Chargers playbook, sending out an article while announcing on social media Peters will enter free agency (similar to what the Chargers did with quarterback Philip Rivers), making the decision weeks above the start of free agent signing period. The Eagles and Peters could say they “mutually agreed to part ways.”

If the Eagles do bring Peters back, the social media and press release route is easy. They can announce a contract extension with Peters and welcome him back for another year with the franchise. Of course, that will raise even more questions regarding Peters’ role on the offensive line for the 2020 season, especially since Dillard is the eventual replacement at left tackle. 

Philadelphia needs to handle the Peters situation delicately, especially since the signs are pointing in the direction the Eagles will move on. If Peters wants to continue playing football and seek a starting job, the Eagles should respect his request and allow him to walk. 

Simply put — the Eagles can’t afford another Dawkins debacle. The franchise’s reputation would be shattered for another decade, maybe even longer.

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