Andre Dillard

NFC East Notes: Vander Esch, Eagles, Solder

Some positive Cowboys news emerged this week. Third-year linebacker Leighton Vander Esch has fully recovered from the offseason neck surgery he underwent. The former first-round pick told NFL.com’s Jane Slater he has been training full-go for multiple months (video link). Vander Esch was projected to be ready for OTAs, so it does not come as a major surprise he has moved past the injury that sidelined him for much of last season. However, Vander Esch’s cervical spinal stenosis condition — diagnosed while he was at Boise State — would make future neck surgeries problematic. So his transition back to the field will be a key part of Cowboys training camp.

Here is the latest from the NFC East, shifting to some of the division’s offensive lines:

  • Doug Pederson confirmed the Eagles have engaged in talks with 11-year left tackle starter Jason Peters, whom they let hit the market in March. However, the fifth-year Eagles coach expects 2019 first-rounder Andre Dillard to start at left tackle in 2020. “With Jason Peters, listen, we’ve always said we’d stay in touch with him during the offseason and we have,” Pederson said, via NBC Sports Philadelphia’s Reuben Frank. “I have a lot of respect for a guy like Jason Peters who played that left tackle position for so many years at a high level. But as we move forward, Andre Dillard was a guy we drafted to be that left tackle for us. The way Andre played last year kind of propels him into this offseason where he’s taken command of that role.”
  • Shifting to the Giants‘ left tackle situation, Nate Solder‘s contract makes it likely he will keep that job for a third season. But this will almost certainly be Solder’s last as a Giant, Dan Duggan of The Athletic writes (subscription required). Thanks to a September 2019 restructure, Solder carries a monster $19.5MM cap hit this season. The Giants can save $14MM by shedding his contract in 2021, which is the final season of the ex-Patriot’s four-year agreement. Big Blue drafted Andrew Thomas No. 4 overall, and it would be logical for the Georgia product to move from right to left tackle next year. New York used a third-round pick on UConn tackle Matt Peart, potentially planning a Thomas-Peart starting lineup in 2021.
  • The Redskins brought back veteran cornerback Aaron Colvin, whom they initially signed during the 2019 season.

Eagles G Brandon Brooks Left Game With Anxiety

Eagles right guard Brandon Brooks left in the first quarter of the team’s 17-9 loss to the Seahawks and did not return. The team listed Brooks as out with an illness and sources tell Jeff McLane of The Philadelphia Inquirer that anxiety was the culprit.

Brooks has talked openly about his struggles with mental illness throughout his career. This would not be the first time Brooks’ fight has caused him to miss time on the field. In 2016, Brooks missed a pair of games when he suffered panic attacks during the team’s pregame warmups. The severe anxiety seemed to cause Brooks more problems earlier in his career during his tenure with the Texans, but as most people with mental illness will tell you, cures are few and far between.

The Eagles were already dealing with the absence of right tackle Lane Johnson and were left with backups on the entire right side of their offensive line. Veteran backup Halapoulivaati Vaitai first stepped in for Brooks, but the Eagles decided to slide Vaitai over to right tackle due to the struggles of Andre Dillard. In Vaitai’s place, Matt Pryor received the first substantial action of his two-year career.

Brooks signed as a free agent with Philadelphia after the 2015 season to a 5-year, $62.5MM contract. Since joining Philly, Brooks has become one of the better interior lineman in football, reaching the Pro Bowl in each of the last two seasons. Going forward, the Eagles will hope to get one of the biggest pieces of their offense back.

Eagles Notes: Johnson, Ajayi, Mills

Let’s take a quick look at a few items from the City of Brotherly Love:

  • Eagles starting RT Lane Johnson is in the concussion protocol, as Jeff McLane of the Philadelphia Inquirer tweets. Johnson suffered a head injury during Sunday’s loss to the Patriots, and while he tried to play through it, the injury worsened and he was ultimately forced to exit (Twitter link via McLane).
  • The Eagles can ill afford to lose Johnson, arguably the best right tackle in football, as they fight for the NFC East title. But if they are without Johnson for any period of time, they could turn to rookie Andre Dillard rather than veteran Halapoulivaati Vaitai, as McLane tweets.
  • Jay Ajayi finally found an NFL home for 2019 when he signed with the Eagles on Friday. Interestingly, the deal includes a right of first refusal for 2020, as Ian Rapoport of NFL.com tweets. So if it wants, Philadelphia can match any offer Ajayi receives on the open market, which could be significant if the team lets Jordan Howard walk in free agency.
  • Cornerback Jalen Mills is eligible for free agency this offseason, and while he is not perfect, he has been very good since returning from injury in Week 7, and McLane says Mills may be playing his way into a second contract with the Eagles (Twitter link).
  • Eliot Shorr-Parks of 94WIP.com believes the Eagles need to completely overhaul their WR corps this offseason, and he offers a few names the club could target in free agency and the draft. He also says the Eagles could find a trade partner for Alshon Jeffery and/or DeSean Jackson, though obviously the returns on either player would be minimal.

Eagles Sign Entire 2019 Draft Class, 10 UDFAs

The Eagles have moved quickly to not only wrap up their entire 2019 draft class, but announce their crop of undrafted free agents.

Draft Class

Philadelphia moved up to pick No. 22 to acquire Dillard, sending pick Nos. 25, 127, and 197 to Baltimore in order to get ahead of the Texans, who had their own needs along the offensive line. Many analysts viewed Dillard as the best offensive tackle available in the draft, especially given the number of pass sets he took in Washington State’s pass-happy offense. With the Eagles, he’ll likely act as a swing tackle in 2019 before moving into the starting lineup in 2020 (if Jason Peters ever decides to hang up his cleats).

Sanders and Arcega-Whiteside give quarterback Carson Wentz a few more weapons to play with in 2019. The Eagles acquired running back Jordan Howard from the Bears, but Sanders should also be in the mix for carries. Meanwhile, Arcega-Whiteside will give Philadelphia a big body at the receiver position, and could potentially lead to the Eagles trading former first-round pass-catcher Nelson Agholor.

Undrafted Free Agents

Among Philadelphia’s UDFAs, Opeta may have the best chance to stick given his contract. The Weber State product received a $55K base salary guarantee and a $25K signing bonus from the Eagles, tweets Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle.