Eagles’ Top Options to Replace Pro Bowl Guard Brandon Brooks After Torn ACL

Philadelphia Eagles offensive guard Brandon Brooks during an NFL football game against the Minnesota Vikings, Sunday, Oct. 7, 2018 in Philadelphia. (Winslow Townson/AP Images for Panini)

Winslow Townson/Associated Press

One of the NFL‘s best offensive linemen will not be available for the 2020 campaign, and the Philadelphia Eagles are left with a big hole after three-time Pro Bowl right guard Brandon Brooks revealed on Twitter this week that he “tore [his] other Achilles” tendon during offseason workouts.

“I’ve noticed a lot of ppl wondering how it happened so let me be clear: I was doing 60 yard shuttles … and I went to touch the line push off and POP,” Brooks added. “That being said the work doesn’t stop because of an injury the direction I’ll continue to move is forward.”

Unfortunately, the Eagles must operate in the short term without one of their best players. But they’ve adjusted to this previously.

Brooks tore his right Achilles tendon during the ’18 divisional round against the New Orleans Saints.

Between those two points, he was the league’s best guard. According to Pro Football Focus, the interior blocker received the highest grade of any player at his position in ’19. He’s one of four guards in the last four years to grade among top 10 in both pass and run blocking.

PFF also ranked Philadelphia’s offensive line No. 1.

Despite an extensive injury history, including a dislocated shoulder suffered during the ’19 regular-season finale, Brooks started all but two regular-season contests since he signed with the Eagles in March 2016.

Offensive linemen aren’t often thought of as difference-makers, but the loss of a performer of Brooks’ caliber will have a profound effect on how the Eagles operate—unless he’s properly replaced.

Three options—two of which are available in free agency—are the most obvious routes for the Eagles to pursue.

Kyle Long

Jeff Haynes/Associated Press

Kyle Long retired earlier this offseason, or so everyone thought.

“I didn’t retire I got fired,” the three-time Pro Bowl guard tweeted. “I will know with conviction whether I’m done for good or not in the next few weeks. Full transparency: I miss football but at what cost.” 

Technically, Long never announced his retirement. He stated January 5 he’s “stepping away and getting [his] body right.”

And the talented interior blocker has suitors. The New York Post’s Manish Mehta reported the New York Jets expressed interest in signing Long earlier this month. 

Those overtures came to nothing. But Long has seemingly been working toward a return of some kind, since he’s trying to bulk up again. 

Kyle @Ky1eLong

280 by this weekend https://t.co/iSfTAR61TJ

His weight loss makes sense. Offensive linemen tend to shed mass once they retire after spending years trying to maintain a certain weight. This is especially true for those who had an extensive injury history to alleviate pressure on those areas. Long dealt with a torn labrum and a strained triceps, and ankle, finger, foot and hip injuries since 2016 and landed on injured reserve during his final four campaigns. 

The 31-year-old has to decide if he wants to play after so much physical punishment. 

But Philadelphia has to be an intriguing possibility for Long after seeing his older brother, Chris, win a championship with the organization. Plus, the younger Long would have an opportunity to play as part of an elite front five and a team consistently competing for a playoff berth, unlike the Jets. 

Larry Warford

Phelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press

Of the available options, Warford is the best from a general standpoint. But he’s not an ideal fit for the Eagles. 

Like Long, Warford has been named to three Pro Bowls. The difference lies in when those appearances occurred. While Long dealt with injuries in the last four seasons, Warford went to consecutive Pro Bowls from 2017 to 2019. 

Despite the honor, the Saints moved on from Warford for three reasons. 

First, his level of play dipped in 2019, and he wasn’t quite the same player he was during the previous two campaigns. Second, the Saints saw an opportunity to get younger and more athletic when they drafted Michigan’s Cesar Ruiz with this year’s 24th overall pick. Finally, New Orleans saved $7.75 million toward this year’s salary cap by cutting the 29-year-old veteran. 

Warford remains intriguing because he’s established and is still more than capable. He’s a powerful blocker when setting the depth of the pocket and a physical presence in the run game. Both of these traits are important after losing a gifted athlete such as Brooks. 

However, Warford doesn’t have the same movement skills as Brooks or the overall athleticism the Eagles tend to go for. Center Jason Kelce, right tackle Lane Johnson, left tackle Jason Peters (before he became a free agent this offseason) and Brooks were all considered elite athletes at their respective positions. Philadelphia’s coaching staff likes to get these linemen out in space where they can make blocks on the move. Warford doesn’t excel in these areas. 

While the signing would make a lot of sense on a surface level—and the Eagles could do worse than adding a player of Warford’s caliber—he shouldn’t be considered the top option since he’s not an ideal system fit. 

Options Already on the Roster

PHILADELPHIA, PA - NOVEMBER 24: Halapoulivaati Vaitai #72 and Matt Pryor #69 of the Philadelphia Eagles in action against the Seattle Seahawks at Lincoln Financial Field on November 24, 2019 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Ima

Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

Eagles general manager Howie Roseman shouldn’t feel pressured to make a move in response to Brooks’ injury thanks to his commitment toward building quality offensive line depth. 

Philadelphia has potential starting options among those already on the roster. 

Matt Pryor is the obvious candidate. Pryor, whom the team selected in the sixth round of the 2018 NFL draft, played five games last season as an actual contributor to the offense, including a start during the playoffs against the Seattle Seahawks after Brooks suffered his shoulder injury. 

Pryor will have plenty of competition from Jack Driscoll, Nate Herbig and Sua Opeta. 

Roseman drafted Driscoll in this year’s fourth round. The Auburn product, who can play both guard and tackle, tested well at the NFL Scouting Combine and finished ninth among offensive linemen in SPARQ (speed, power, agility, reaction and quickness), according to Three Sigma Athlete’s Zach Whitman

Herbig converted to center after going undrafted in 2019, but the 334-pound blocker started three seasons at guard for the Stanford Cardinal before declaring for the draft as an underclassman. 

Opeta has yet to play in an NFL game, but he was considered a physical, imposing lineman as a two-time All-Big Sky performer for the Weber State Wildcats. 

Other Linemen to Consider

Michael Zarrilli/Associated Press

Peters’ continued availability has to intrigue the Eagles.

Yes, the 38-year-old blocker has only played tackle throughout his professional career, and the organization appears committed to having last year’s first-round pick, Andre Dillard, take over blindside duties. But the possibility that Peters could return to Philadelphia and make a position switch to finish his career shouldn’t be dismissed. 

According to NFL Network’s Mike Garafolo, the Eagles had “remained in contact” with the 16-year veteran even before Brooks’ injury. 

Ronald Leary, Josh Kline, Michael Person, Ted Larsen, John Jerry and Earl Watford are veteran options with plenty of starting experience if the Eagles feel the need to sign someone as an insurance policy if they go with one of their developmental options at right guard. 

Brent Sobleski covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @brentsobleski.

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