By Michael Donovan

When the Eagles announced they had signed guard John Moffitt to a one-year deal, it sounded to many fans like just another stopgap fill-in to replace Pro Bowler Evan Mathis who was cut in a salary dispute.

But in truth it was a no-brainer.

That release of arguably the NFL’s best guard over the past several seasons left more than a few pundits scratching their heads at the latest splash move made by head coach Chip Kelly.

But on Monday, the Eagles made a move that showed there just might be a method to Kelly’s madness after all.

A third-round pick of the Seattle Seahawks in 2011, Moffitt most recently played with the Denver Broncos in 2013. However, part way through that season, Moffitt abruptly announced his retirement from football, telling the Associated Press (via ESPN) that his heart was no longer in the game:

“I just really thought about it and decided I’m not happy. I’m not happy at all. And I think it’s really madness to risk your body, risk your well-being and risk your happiness for money. Everybody, they just don’t get it and they think it’s crazy. But I think what I was doing is crazy.”

While speaking with Mark Eckel of NJ.com, at least one NFC scout theorized that a knee injury that sapped Moffitt’s effectiveness on the field may have led to his unhappiness off it.

“The big part of it was the knee,” the scout said. “He wasn’t bad at all before he got hurt, but then he just couldn’t change direction; he was bending at the waist. I think that’s why he got out, the knee.”

That unhappiness continued after Moffitt left the game. As Eckel wrote,Moffitt ran into problems with both substance abuse and the law before eventually enrolling in a California rehab facility. That was followed by a stint at Jay Glazer’s Unbreakable Performance Center, as Moffitt attempted to get back into playing shape.

Glazer offered his congratulations to Moffitt recently for getting his life back on track:

I have never been so proud of a guy I’ve trained than I am of John Moffitt. Retired two years ago [because] he knew he had drug issues, took time to go to rehab, clean up his life, beat his demons and he has taken his life back! Guy inspires us every day. He came to me 3 months ago…to train to take his career back. He’s become the favorite of every player in our gym. He officially un-retired today. Free agent starting guard. So proud of him to get here.

Assuming that Moffitt’s knee is OK and that his personal issues are behind him, it appears congratulations are in order for the Eagles, as well.

Moffitt isn’t a player on the level of Mathis; very few linemen are. The 33-year-old was the NFL’s second-ranked guard in 2014, per Pro Football Focus. The year before, Mathis ranked first. And the year before that. And the year before that, as well.

You just don’t “replace” a player of that caliber—especially in late June.

By weight of comparison, in 2011, Moffitt ranked as the third-worst guard in the NFL at PFF. The following season, that ranking improved—to 59th. Not great, but it was improvement. We didn’t get to see if that improvement would carry over into 2013, as Moffitt was traded to Denver, his knee kept him mostly off the field and then he hung them up.

However, as Eliott Shorr-Parks of NJ.com wrote, that doesn’t mean that signing Moffitt wasn’t a sizable coup for the Eagles—especially when you consider that the team is hard up for depth up front and hasn’t drafted a single offensive lineman since 2013:

Moffitt has a better resume than the team’s two current starting guards, Allen Barbre and Matt Tobin. Moffitt comes to the Eagles with 19 career starts at guard, more than Barbre and Tobin have combined.

During his last real action in the NFL, during the 2012 season with Seattle, Moffitt was on the field for 418 snaps, and didn’t allow a single sack. Only one of Moffitt’s teammates that season, Max Unger, played more snaps than Moffitt and didn’t allow a sack.

And that’s the thing. It’s difficult to add competent offensive line help when free agency starts. Teams just don’t let linemen leave for the most part. And finding a capable veteran who isn’t closer to being 40 than 30 (Moffitt is 28) at this stage of the game?

That’s like found money. Getting said lineman on a “prove-it” deal is icing on the proverbial cake.

Mind you, the addition of Moffitt doesn’t instantly fix all that ails the Eagles up front, nor does it completely make up for Mathis’ release.

However, all things considered, this low-risk, all-reward signing is just about the best result the Eagles could reasonably have hoped for.

And it shows that maybe, just maybe, Chip Kelly knows what he’s doing after all.

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