Eagles fill need at tackle by signing Bell

Demetress Bell has replaced Jason Peters. He took over for Peters in Buffalo when the tackle was traded to the Eagles in April 2009. ED REINKE / Associated Press
Demetress Bell has replaced Jason Peters. He took over for Peters in Buffalo when the tackle was traded to the Eagles in April 2009. ED REINKE / Associated Press (This is the second time)
Posted: April 05, 2012

The Eagles accomplished two goals when they signed free-agent tackle Demetress Bell to a contract Wednesday.

They temporarily solved their short-term problem at left tackle, since Jason Peters suffered a ruptured Achilles tendon last week, and they addressed a potential long-term problem if the all-pro player can't return from a potential career-threatening injury.

Bell signed a five-year deal that could be worth $35 million, but the Eagles are on the hook for only one season. The contract is incentive-laden, and only the first year is guaranteed, an NFL source said.

Peters is likely out for 2012, although a proposed easing of injured reserve could allow the 30-year-old to return late in the season if he needs a best-case-scenario nine months to return. Bell's signing, though, covers the Eagles at least for this season.

If he performs well in place of Peters, and if his predecessor struggles to regain his old form, the Eagles could pick up the option on the 27-year-old Bell's contract for 2013. Coincidentally, Bell took over for Peters in Buffalo after the Eagles traded for Peters in April 2009.

The Eagles' preference, of course, is to have Peters through the length of his contract, which expires in 2014. He has been to five consecutive Pro Bowls and was arguably the best left tackle in the NFL last season. It is unlikely that Bell will block as well.

Bell, though, was probably the Eagles' best option with the free-agent market drying up, the draft light at tackle, and the team's roster options not as enticing. Before he visited the Eagles last weekend, Bell was in Pittsburgh meeting with the Steelers. The Packers, Cardinals, and Redskins reportedly were interested, too.

When he has played - and that hasn't always been a certainty - Bell has been reliable. Injuries curtailed two of his last three seasons. In 2009, Bell's season ended after eight games when he suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee. In 2011, a broken collarbone and torn meniscus in his knee limited him to six starts.

Bell, whose first name had been misspelled and mispronounced as "Demetrius" until it was corrected Wednesday, underwent surgery to repair the meniscus in December.

"Demetress was one of the top free-agent offensive linemen available this year, and we are happy to be able to add him to our squad," Eagles coach Andy Reid said in a statement. "We had a chance to meet him over the weekend and study him extensively on tape, and we came away quite impressed."

Bell didn't miss a game in 2010. He allowed four sacks over 978 snaps that season, according to ProFootballFocus.com. To put that into context, Peters surrendered only three sacks over 953 snaps last season. Sacks are subjective, of course, and Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick usually doesn't hold the ball long.

Bell will have to adjust to blocking for the mobile Michael Vick. The Eagles offense, and perhaps most important LeSean McCoy, will have to adjust to Peters' absence. The running back often ran to his left. In 2010, Buffalo running backs ran off left tackle or around the left end only 68 times. But when they did, they averaged 5.1 yards per carry.

"He's a big, athletic left tackle, and he has quite a few games of experience under his belt with Buffalo," Eagles general manager Howie Roseman said. "He'll excel with our style of play on the offensive line."

The 6-foot-5, 311-pound Bell is slighter than Peters, who goes 6-4, 328 pounds. There aren't many linemen as athletic as Peters. But if Bell is in the same mold, he should take to offensive line coach Howard Mudd, who likes his blockers to be aggressive and mobile.

"The issue with Bell has never been ability," one AFC scout said. "It's been durability. He wasn't drafted high because he was late to football. But he's got the reputation around the league as a guy that hasn't tapped into his full potential."

Bell originally attended Division I-AA Northwestern State on a basketball scholarship. It's in the genes. His father is NBA great Karl Malone. They have never had a relationship, however, according to various reports.

Bell had never played football. But after redshirting in basketball as a freshman, he decided to try out as a defensive end. He switched to offensive tackle a year later, became a two-time all-American, and was selected by the Bills in the seventh round of the 2008 draft.

The Eagles will introduce Bell on Thursday at the NovaCare Complex. If Reid is there, he likely will declare his latest acquisition the starting left tackle. But for how long?

Eagles Preseason

The Eagles announced their 2012 preseason schedule Wednesday, and Tim Tebow may make an appearance with the New York Jets on Aug. 30.

Here is the schedule:

Aug. 9 vs. Pittsburgh, 7:30 pm (6ABC)

Aug. 20 at New England, 8 p.m. (ESPN)

Aug. 24, at Cleveland, 7:30 p.m. (6ABC)

Aug. 30, vs. New York Jets (TBD)

The Eagles- 2012 regular- season opponents are:

Home: Atlanta, Baltimore, Carolina, Cincinnati, Dallas, Detroit, N.Y. Giants, and Washington.

Away: Arizona, Cleveland, Dallas, New Orleans, N.Y. Giants, Pittsburgh, Tampa Bay, and Washington.

The NFL is expected to release the 2012 regular- season schedule later this month.

Contact Jeff McLane at 215-854-4745, jmclane@phillynews.com or follow @Jeff_McLane on Twitter.


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