Signing Eric Winston Would Allow Philadelphia Eagles to Go Defense in Round One

Cody Swartz@cbswartz5Senior Writer IMarch 7, 2013

HOUSTON - OCTOBER 09: Matt Schaub #8 and Eric Winston #73 tackle Lamarr Houston #99 of the Oakland Raiders after he intercepted a Schaub Pass> at Reliant Stadium on October 9, 2011 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)
Bob Levey/Getty Images

The Philadelphia Eagles’ fourth overall selection in the NFL draft has likely been narrowed down to a handful of candidates.

Chip Kelly could select offensive tackle Luke Joeckel or Eric Fisher to solidify an offensive line that surrendered 48 sacks in 2012. He could opt for his quarterback of the future in playmaker Geno Smith.

There’s always a stud defensive lineman or 3-4 outside linebacker like Star Lotulelei, Sharrif Floyd, or Dion Jordan. And there’s Alabama cornerback Dee Milliner, who could be the highest-drafted corner since Charles Woodson.

Those seem to constitute the bulk of the Eagles' choices. What the Eagles do has often been likened to whether Kelly will opt to improve his new offensive scheme or 3-4 defense first. And that decision should get a whole lot easier with the Kansas City Chiefs’ release of Eric Winston.

Cutting Winston was one of the first moves of Andy Reid’s career with the Chiefs, which is surprising because Winston is still a very fine player. He’s just 29 years old, which puts him in the prime of his career for an offensive lineman. He’s a right tackle, a position that always seems to be lacking at the NFL level.

Pro Football Focus, a website that grades every player on every play, rated Winston as the ninth-best right tackle in the business in 2012. He allowed just three sacks in over 1,000 snaps. To put that in perspective, Andre Smith gave up seven, and he’s widely considered the best right tackle (or one of them) in the league. Sebastian Vollmer gave up six sacks and Anthony Davis allowed eight. Each of those is a Pro Bowl-quality player.

Winston is every bit as good of a run-blocker as he is a pass-blocker. That’s why his release was so shocking. It was clearly more for salary cap reasons than anything else, as he was due to make $4.9 million in base salary in 2013. But that’s what a team has to pay for a quality right tackle. In fact, that’s a bargain.

The Chiefs became the second team in as many years (Houston Texans) to release Winston solely for cap reasons. That’s perplexing given the success Winston has had. He’s durable, having started 96 consecutive games. He was even better in 2011 than he was in ’12, grading as the 10th best offensive tackle among all 76 qualifiers. That would be like the Eagles releasing Todd Herremans or the Atlanta Falcons parting ways with Tyson Clabo.

Simply put, Winston would be a perfect fit for Philadelphia. The Eagles are already reportedly interested in him, per Les Bowen of the Philadelphia Daily News. Signing Winston would allow Todd Herremans to move to right guard, sending first-round bust Danny Watkins to the bench.

With Jason Peters, Jason Kelce, and Herremans all returning from injury, the Eagles would have one of the NFL’s finest offensive lines in 2013. Peters is an All-Pro. Herremans and Winston are very good, Evan Mathis is arguably the game’s best guard and Kelce was playing at a high level as a center before his injury in ’12.

Winston won’t come cheap. He will probably require a four-year deal around $20 million but that’s perfectly reasonable for a top-seven or eight right tackle.

What the signing of Winston will do is allow the Eagles to focus on the defensive side of the football with their first pick. Luke Joeckel is all but guaranteed to be gone by the fourth pick. That means Philadelphia could conceivably sign Winston AND draft a top defensive player or just draft Eric Fisher/Chance Warmack.

The Eagles can probably still get four or five years of very good football out of Winston. That’s a safer option than drafting a lineman, who may or may not turn out to be worth the selection. It would also allow Philadelphia to go all-in for Milliner, who fills a huge position of need.