When you’re privileged, luxuries start to become important, or at least take on a perceived greater importance.
When it comes to the reigning NFC champion Philadelphia Eagles, that sentiment can best be validated by Andre Dillard.
Using a conventional measuring stick, Dillard was a failure as the 22nd overall pick in the 2019 draft, starting just nine games over his four seasons with the Eagles. Start-up costs, coupled with injuries and the amazing development of Jordan Mailata at left tackle kept Dillard tethered to the bench in Philadelphia.
Despite the narrative surrounding Dillard outside of the NovaCare Complex, the Eagles had developed great comfort in knowing the natural pass protector was the next man up at such an important position by last season.
They also knew it couldn’t continue.
Mailata has developed into one of the best left tackles in the NFL and Dillard’s rookie deal was up. The lack of demonstrated performance was going to limit Dillard’s earning power on the opening market somewhat but the number the former University of Washington star was going to get was going to lap the budget for any backup offensive tackle in a salary-capped league.
Sure enough, Dillard got three years and $29 million from the Tennessee Titans, an average annual value that some NFL teams will commit to their entire backup offensive lines.
Moving forward the Eagles’ plan to replace Dillard’s safety net is hardly set in stone. Mailata himself hemmed and hawed a bit when asked about the backup plans last week before mentioning a pair of 6-foot-7 Johnsons, the little-known Roderick Johnson and Fred Johnson.
Roderick, 27, arrived in the NFL first as a fifth-round pick of Cleveland in 2017 out of Florida State. At 6-7 and 301, he’s started six NFL games and played in 29 while trying to catch on with the Browns, Houston, Miami, Kansas City, and now Philadelphia over the past six years.
Fred, 25, arrived two years later as an undrafted prospect out of Florida to the Pittsburgh Steelers, At 6-7 and 326, Johnson has had eight career starts with stints in Cincinnati and Tampa as well before landing on the Eagles’ radar.
Brett Toth, the versatile former Army star, is a natural left tackle and is now a year off his torn ACL so he shouldn’t be forgotten.
Entering Phase 3 of OTAs this week the early plan, though, is to likely elevate Jack Driscoll to be the full-time swing tackle after the fourth-year Auburn product via UMass, who is a natural right-handed player, proved he could at least handle LT competently when forced into action for a limited time last season due to injuries.
The issue with that is either Cam Jurgens, a natural center, or rookie third-round pick Tyler Steen has to lock down right guard because Driscoll would be the ripcord there.
If you like to play the longshots focus on undrafted Louisville rookie Trevor Reid, a physical marvel at 6-4 and 311 pounds who ran a 5.0 40-yard dash and has an amazing 38-inch vertical leap indicating the NFL-like explosion is there.
The projection is significant, though. Reid didn’t start playing football until his sophomore year in high school and was a scant 245 pounds when he arrived at Georgia Military College in 2018. By the time he transferred to Louisville in 2020, he was still adding weight.
“He’s raw and needs to add strength but he’s got elite-level athleticism,” an NFC scout told SI.com’s Eagles Today. “He also needs a lot of work with technique but that’s a perfect [Eagles offensive line coach Jeff] Stoutland player. You saw what he was able to do with Mailata.”
The real plan from the Eagles is Stoutland. Give the well-regarded assistant enough swings and he will come up with something.