Marcus Hayes: Eagles passed by Cowboys in NFC East after injury to best player, Brandon Brooks

Tribune Content Agency

There is an argument to be made, and a good argument, that Brandon Brooks is the Eagles’ most proficient player. As such, Philadelphia on Monday lost its best player. And so the Eagles no longer are the best team in the NFC East. The Dallas Cowboys are.

It was a tight race to mediocrity before this happened. Neither team will contend for a title this year, but which would lead the league’s worst division? Which would finish 9-7 before its first-round playoff loss? Which would be 8-8?

The Eagles had Brooks, the league’s best offensive line, a better quarterback, and a slightly better defense. The Eagles had the advantage of continuity, since the Cowboys not only revamped their coaching staff, and did so just before the coronavirus lockdown erased the NFL’s offseason. They also hired Mike McCarthy.

Before Monday the Eagles had them by a nose. Now, give the Pokes the edge.

Not often does such a discussion merit the energy it takes to make it when the subject plays right offensive guard, which is football’s fat-kid-playing-catcher position.

But Brooks isn’t your ordinary right guard. He’s not only the best right guard in the NFL, he’s the best offensive lineman in the NFL — at least, he is deemed so by both and Eagles right tackle Lane Johnson, both of whom devote hours of time to researching the matter.

Brooks blew out his right Achilles’ tendon as he began the seventh of eight 60-yard sprints to end his daily workout. How does this affect the Eagles’ prospects? Drastically.

The Eagles’ No. 1 objective, as a self-proclaimed “Quarterback Factory,” is productive quarterback play. Quarterbacks are productive only when they are protected. Brooks was the best pass protector on the team last season.

Miles Sanders set rookie rushing records last season. Brooks was the best run-blocking guard in the NFL last season.

To review: The Eagles lost their best pass blocker and their best run blocker to one 60-yard sprint. This is a crisis.

It might be hard to swallow that this player has this much impact on this team; or, that this player is this good compared with Carson Wentz, Fletcher Cox, Zach Ertz, Lane Johnson, or Jason Kelce. Understood. But think of it this way.

Is Wentz the best quarterback in the NFL? No. That’s Aaron Rodgers. Is he in the top five? No. Top 10? Probably.

Is Fletcher Cox the best defensive tackle in the NFL? No. That’s the Rams’ Aaron Donald, who also is the best player in the NFL. But Cox certainly is among the top five.

Is Zach Ertz the best tight end in the NFL? No. That’s the 49ers’ George Kittle. But he’s top 5 (and backup Dallas Goedert might be No. 6).

Is Johnson the best right tackle in the NFL? Debatable. Top 5? Sure.

Is Jason Kelce the best center in the league? Maybe. But he’s not the best offensive lineman.

Brooks is.

Brooks isn’t the most valuable player on the team. That’s Wentz. (Actually, that’s every quarterback in a league whose rules have been so softened and bastardized that quarterbacks effectively are too precious to fail, but that’s another, more Neanderthal discussion.) Wentz touches the ball every down. He makes the most decisions. Throwing the ball is a rare and precious skill.

Brooks isn’t the most dynamic player on the team. That’s probably Cox, who, when healthy, can wreck games like Donald does.

Brooks isn’t the most clutch player on the team. That, believe it or not, is probably Ertz, since the passing offense revolves around him, and since Doug Pederson is a pass-aholic.

Brooks doesn’t have the highest ceiling on the team. Johnson still does. With all due respect to Cox, who’s a likely Hall of Famer, and Wentz, whose talents cannot be denied, Johnson, at 30, and with three Pro Bowl trips and an All-Pro tag, is simply amazing.

Brooks isn’t the most significant leader on the team, either. He sets a superb example, he’s a generous mentor, honest and accountable, but it’s Kelce’s team. Now that safety Malcolm Jenkins has gone, Kelce is the conscience.

But, in this moment, Brandon Brooks is better at his job than any of them are at theirs.

Certainly, the loss of any of those five players would be similarly devastating. But none as devastating as the loss of Brooks. The drop-off from Brooks to whoever replaces him is immense.

If the Eagles lose Wentz, they have second-round rookie Jalen Hurts (if you think Nate Sudfeld gets a snap this season you’re delusional). If they lose Cox they have Javon Hargrave and Malik Jackson. If they lose Ertz, they have Goedert.

If they lose Johnson or Kelce, well, things get stickier. But the loss of either could be patched by re-signing 38-year-old left tackle Jason Peters. He played right tackle early in his career. He also could play left guard, which would free current left guard Isaac Seumalo to replace Kelce at center. In these scenarios, Peters’ return would put a bandage on a wound.

That bandage leaks too badly with the loss of Brandon Brooks.


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