A few years ago, Jordan Mailata was a rugby player in his native Australia.
Now he’s a starting left tackle in the NFL.
While it became clear pretty early in training camp that Mailata was going to win the Eagles’ battle for the left tackle job over former first-round pick Andre Dillard, head coach Nick Sirianni confirmed as much on Tuesday afternoon.
“Jordan will be our starter,” Sirianni said.
Which means, this is the Eagles’ starting offensive line (left to right): Mailata, Isaac Seumalo, Jason Kelce, Brandon Brooks, Lane Johnson.
Mailata, 24, was a seventh-round pick back in 2018, a long-term project. The work offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland put in over the last few years has been remarkable. In 2019, the Eagles drafted Dillard in the first round as Jason Peters’ eventual replacement.
But this summer, it was clear that Mailata was just the Eagles’ better option.
Since Mailata won the job, it means that Dillard will head to the bench as the Eagles’ top backup left tackle. Based on the way the Eagles’ last few years have gone, they might need Dillard to play this season and Sirianni’s comments reflected that.
“Jordan had a great camp, a great camp,” Sirianni said. “Andre had a great camp. Andre missed some time. And during that time, the chemistry with the one offensive line was able to build. It’s a good problem for us to have. We have two left tackles who can really play and can start all across the NFL. Jordan did a good job winning that position. But I don’t want to short Andre at all. When he was in, he played really well. He played a phenomenal last preseason game. I thought that was also the case in the Jets practices as well.
“You don’t just say, ‘Hey, here’s one game and here’s a splash game’ and we’re just doing everything based off of that. The whole body of work’s in play. I’m sure glad we have both those guys on this roster.”
Dillard was clearly behind Mailata in the competition early in camp as the two rotated days with the starting offensive line. But then Dillard injured his knee, which allowed Mailata to really pull away with the job.
Mailata got a ton of reps next to left guard Seumalo, which is important. This offseason, when speaking about the battle, Stoutland stressed the importance of the starting left tackle meshing with Seumalo.
Even though the Eagles drafted Dillard to be their starting left tackle, the promise Mailata showed in the 2020 season forced the Eagles to have a competition. So Mailata forced the competition and then went out and won it.
With Mailata entrenched as the Eagles’ starting left tackle, it’s now time for the Eagles to think about a contract extension. Mailata is entering the final year of his four-year rookie contract in 2021.
There was a lot at stake this summer with this battle and all their teammates knew it.
“These are two guys who have a great opportunity to seize a position, a starting position, to potentially change their lives,” Kelce said early in training camp. “Right now, they’re in the NFL and that’s great. You end up starting left tackle, sign big money contracts, realize your dream of playing and starting in the NFL. Those are the storylines that you really love watching in training camp.”
Mailata’s story is made for a movie. This is a former ruby player who barely knew anything about the sport when he started — “Mate, as little as peanuts,” he said back in April of 2018 — who just won a starting left tackle gig in the NFL. It’s remarkable.
And through it all, Mailata has taken a calm, measured approach that hasn’t failed him yet. So when he’s asked how close he is to figuring it all out, Mailata will always politely sidestep.
“I don’t really set a cap on how close I am,” he said this summer. “That’s just because I sound like a broken record. It hasn’t changed, it’ll never change. Especially if Stout is my coach, it’ll never change. I will say that I’m a lot more confident in the tools that I have in my bag.”
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