The Philadelphia Eagles are looking into two potential replacements for Jason Peters: left tackles Marcus McNeill and Demetrius Bell. Both are still available on the free agent market mostly because they have injury concerns as well.
The more heralded of the two, Marcus McNeill, appears to have the more serious injury concern. He was a long history of injuries and was diagnosed with spinal stenosis (narrowing of the spinal column) prior to being drafted in 2006.
McNeill’s main problem is with his neck. After the 2008 season, he underwent neck surgery for an undisclosed reason. He then hurt his neck again in November of last season and ended up on injured reserve.
His apparent slow recovery, failure of a team physical, and concerns for his future are what prompted the Chargers to cut ties with their former two-time pro bowl left tackle earlier this month.
Since then, there seems to be confusion over whether or not McNeill has been medically cleared to play. This report by Bill Williamson of ESPN says he has not been cleared, at least as of March 13th, 2012.
Around that same time, McNeill’s agent Alvin Keels stated that he was, in fact, cleared to play. However, the difference is that the clearance stated by Keels is from an independent orthopedic neck and spine doctor. The problem is, he was not cleared by the Chargers’ team doctor and will ultimately need to pass an NFL team physical in order to play.
In a nutshell, the prognosis on McNeill is sketchy at this point. If he’s 100% healthy, he’s the most talented tackle available. However, even if he is 100% healthy right now, whether or not he can stay that way is another story.
The other player the Eagles are considering, Demetrius Bell, also has injury concerns and is not as accomplished as McNeill.
Bell was seventh round draft pick by Buffalo in 2008 and earned a starting job beginning in 2009. He started eight games and then injured his knee which ended his 2009 season. In 2010, he started all 16 games and remained relatively healthy.
However, in 2011 he again struggled with various injuries and ultimately ended up on injured reserve with a shoulder problem. So, that’s one full year of playing sandwiched by two years of season-ending injuries.
The Bills appear to view Bell as being injury prone and it’s likely the reason they haven’t re-signed him. Between that, and the fact he is mostly seen as an average or mediocre player, it’s likely why nobody has signed him yet.
Pro Football Focus had Bell rated as the No. 51 overall offensive tackle in 2010, the year he played all 16 games. In that season, Bell gave up four sacks, 10 QB hits, 29 QB pressures and was penalized five times.
However, those numbers showed much improvement over the course of the seven games he played in last season before getting injured. Based on those games, PFF had him rated at No. 17 overall with one sack, one hit, nine pressures and no penalties given up.
Therefore, it seems that Bell has some potential but if the Eagles end up signing him, my first question will be: “How much better is he than King Dunlap?”
He has more starting experience than Dunlap, but that can be attributed to the disarray in Buffalo’s offensive line as compared to the stability at that position here in Philly. Talent-wise, I would say that on first glance, both Dunlap and Bell are on the same level.
With that being the case, Dunlap should get the nod based on system familiarity and Bell would be the backup.
Nonetheless, Bell is the left tackle who ended up replacing Peters in Buffalo, how fitting would it be if he was the one who ends up replacing him in Philly?
If McNeill truly is 100% healthy and ready to go, he’s the no-brainer pick. But that doesn’t seem to be the case because if he was, why is he still on the market? Quality left tackles are a highly sought-after position.
Therefore, it would seem that Bell is the more likely of the two to be signed. He appears to be the next best option after a fully healthy with no concerns McNeill, and is far above any other available free agent tackle.