There is a circle of life in the NFL where it seems as if some teams project a higher level of value on some positions than others.
As we discussed during the draft season that there is a hierarchy in regards to positional value in the NFL, but this projection is slightly different. In addition to teams following the positional value structural chart created by the importance of the position to the day-to-day success of an NFL roster (QB, LT, EDGE, CB), there are some teams that inflate the value of a particular position based on the value they have to the scheme in place.
For example, the Seattle Seahawks made the base Cover 3 match/Cover 1 scheme famous across the league thanks to the success of the Legion of Boom secondary during this time. Even though the league has tried to copy this formula of success, some seeing more success than others, the one position that seems to make this defensive scheme more successful than others is having certain personnel at safety. There is a reason that following the implosion of the dominant secondary, Seattle put in contingency plans that saw the team trade for both Quandre Diggs and Jamal Adams in consecutive seasons.
While the combination of Diggs and Adams have not and may not ever see the same level of success that Thomas and Chancellor saw during their prime era, there is no denying the importance and the similarities of the particular skill set both sets to bring to the table. There are other examples of this, such as the Baltimore Ravens, who always seem to have a near-perfect group in place at the linebacker position, or the Pittsburgh Steelers, who seem to have been developing top-tier wide receivers since the early 2010s. When it comes to the Eagles, this particular position of value always seems to be the guy protecting the quarterback’s blindside.
Picture this — imagine going on a magical run in the early portions of the 2000s that saw your team become the face of the NFC.
During this era, your coach was the phenomenal Andy Reid, so despite how AWESOME a Jim Johnson-led defense was during this time (and trust me, there were a whole lot of them), all that mattered in the building was having a high-quality offense. Sounds familiar, right?
“But I do think somebody who is constantly curious of where the league is headed and what you need to do to have really good units. And again, without a really good elite offense, I tend to air on that side.”- Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie (2021)
That offense that we mentioned? Many will say that the heart and soul of that unit was the man wearing the 5 under center. Well, I’ll raise your Donovan McNabb and see that with the man who started the second-most playoff games of the Andy Reid era. Tra Thomas, selected with the 11th overall pick in the 1998 NFL Draft, became the best blindside blocker easily the franchise had seen up until that time. With 168 starts in 174 possible games, Thomas was one of the most underrated left tackles in the league during his time and was the face of an elite Eagles offensive line group. Yet despite how successful Thomas was during the 11 seasons he was in Philadelphia, could you believe it was possible for Philadelphia to actually upgrade at the position?
Well, that’s exactly what happened on April 17, 2009, when the Eagles made a deal with the Buffalo Bills that saw them send a first, fourth, and sixth-round pick in exchange for the franchise-changing tackle. You see, while Thomas was viewed as a high-quality left tackle across the league, he was never viewed in the light as names like Baltimore’s Johnathan Ogden and Washington’s Chris Samuels.
On the other hand, Peters had already played some high-quality football in Buffalo that opened the eyes of some executives around the league; after all, nobody saw the former Arkansas tight end turning into a perennial all-pro at the tackle position.
“Jason Peters is the best-left tackle in football. He is a powerful and athletic tackle, and I have admired his play over the last few years on film. I have always believed that success in the NFL is derived from the strong play of the offensive and defensive lines. This offseason, we have added two young, top-flight offensive linemen in Jason and Stacy Andrews.” – former Eagles coach Andy Reid following the trade.
‘The Bodyguard’ is how he became known around here, and for a good reason; a nine-time Pro Bowler, a member of the All-NFL 2010’s team, and a player who started every game he was qualified for barring any injury.
The acquisition of Peters took left tackle play to the next level in Philadelphia, whether it was his freak of nature athleticism or his fan-grabbing leadership.
Everyone in Philadelphia knew the importance of Jason Peters….
So how, when you’re a team that has seen over two decades of success at the left tackle position, prepare when the end is in sight? The first time you pulled off a massive trade, but this time, you don’t have an extra first-round pick at your disposal to help right what is becoming your wrongs? Of course, just like Thomas eventually, all good things must come to an end, which is exactly what Philadelphia signaled when they made the selection of Andre Dillard in the first round of the 2019 NFL Draft. As we mentioned before, every team has its preferences in regards to how to build the team.
The Eagles hadn’t seen an elite level CB1 in Philadelphia in about a decade at this point; the team could have used the pick on a wide receiver which probably would have served better especially given the likes of ‘Hollywood’ Brown on the board and seeds were already being planted for Malcolm Jenkins inevitable future departure. Yet as we know, Howie Roseman has and always will build through the trenches, which makes sense, given the fact he was developed under the former regime that obviously placed a level of importance on offensive and defensive line play.
So the Eagles picked the offensive lineman… was it the right decision?
That is exactly what is to be discussed. At the same time, no one is disputing if Philadelphia made the right decision by taking the offensive lineman, especially when you consider their building philosophies. The question is, what if the left tackle of the future was already in the building and the first-round selection of 2019 becomes a wasted pick?
See, despite already having Peters in the building; who the team believed still had a few good years of football left in him and the selection of Andre Dillard in the first round, the Eagles had made what was viewed as a low risk-high reward investment in a particular 6’8/346 pound, Australian rugby player.
An investment that would turn out to be one of the few bright spots of a 2020 season that saw a complete overhaul of the franchise take place in the coming off-season.
“Jordan Mailata, the big rugby player, now he’s officially a football player. He went out there and has played really, really well. It’s always good to see a 6-9, 400-pound guy show you he’ll be a good player in the NFL. Those are kind of rare to see.” – Jason Kelce, Dec. 15 interview.
The Eagles may have come across their very own unicorn. Think about it as the best of both worlds — you get a left tackle with the size of Thomas, who clocked in at 6’7″, 349 lbs, and the athleticism of Peters, who as a former tight end moved in ways that didn’t seem humanly possible for someone at that size.
Well, Mailata, the former rugby player, offers his fair share of inhuman athleticism.
When getting to the next level, he was definitely more of an aircraft carrier than a Jet Ski. Get him out in too much space, and LBs & DBs could easily avoid him. However, as a puller, in smaller areas, Mailata was able to hit his targets when defenders didn’t have room to hide. pic.twitter.com/VMXbOoS63Y
— Jimmy Kempski (@JimmyKempski) April 19, 2021
Despite the massive tackle not playing much football throughout the early years of his life and the first few seasons of his career, the former seventh-round pick from Sidney, Australia, made a massive impression on his teammates and his coaching staff. The most notable impression comes from the man behind the scenes, responsible for much of Philadelphia’s offensive line success since the early 2010s.
The longest-tenured member of the Philadelphia Eagles coaching staff; Offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland is one of the most well-respected coaches in all of football and has garnered the respect from the likes of legendary Alabama coach Nick Saban, as he spent time on his Alabama coaching staff. Stoutland has helped produce four players to seven All-Pro seasons during his time in Philadelphia, including Lane Johnson, Jason Kelce, Evan Mathis, and Jason Peters.
The longtime offensive line coach has been such an instrumental part of Mailata’s development. The former rugby player wasn’t afraid to acknowledge such when rumors of a potential Stoutland departure surfaced during the off-season.
“I almost had a heart attack when those rumors came out. I gave Coach Stoutland a call as soon as that article came out, and he reassured us that he was coming back. When it was all official and pen-to-paper, I was very relieved. (He’s) like my dad.” – Jordan Mailata
Now with Stoutland back in place, returning for his ninth season in Philadelphia, the Eagles have a decision to make and the right man in place to help prepare whoever is named the official starter at left tackle for the 2021-22 season. Head Coach Nick Sirianni has made it known that he is trying to breed competition at every position in his
first season at the helm. Well, the first objective is figuring out who will be the man blocking Jalen Hurts’ blindside in the fall.
It’s worth noting that Mailata lined up with the first team as Philadelphia hit the field for OTA’s; however, Sirianni has noted no starters have been announced yet.
“I expect that player to fit right in with the rest of those [offensive line starters], be accountable to all the things that are going on. Because when you watch the synchronization, you watch how synchronized the group is, I want the player to be just like that.” – Jeff Stoutland
Whoever is selected will have huge shoes to follow; I’m talking 20 years of success at the second most important position in football, kind of shoes.
Will draft capital prevail, or did Philadelphia actually find a diamond in the rough in Mailata?
Well, Mailata seems ready and willing to put the work in:
“I’m still trying to prove to myself that I am a dominant left tackle in this league and not a rugby player anymore. In order for me to do that, I’ve got to keep progressing and challenging myself every day.”
Featured Image: Chris Szagola/Associated Press