PHILADELPHIA _ For months, the question surrounding the Eagles has been: Will Juan Castillo be back?
But what about one that hasn't been asked but maybe should: Will Howard Mudd be back?
If Mudd doesn't return as the Eagles' offensive line coach it will be for much different reasons than those that likely would lead to Castillo's departure as defensive coordinator.
Mudd, who turns 70 in February, could decide that he wants to retire. He's done it once before. But last February, Eagles coach Andy Reid convinced Mudd to come out of retirement _ with one caveat.
"I told Andy, 'If this doesn't work out for either side, I want it written into my contract that I can walk away after one year or you can tell me to take a hike,'" Mudd said back in April.
It's safe to say the Eagles won't be telling Mudd to hop on his motorcycle and hit the road back to his retirement community in Arizona. Overall, the season has been a major disappointment, but the offensive line has been one of the Eagles' success stories.
There were plenty of reasons to be concerned heading into the season. Mudd was implementing a new blocking technique after the lockout-shortened offseason. He ended up starting two rookies. And he essentially remade the line.
But despite all that, Eagles quarterbacks have been sacked only 30 times _ down from last season's 49 _ heading into Sunday's season finale against the Washington Redskins. The Eagles have the fifth-ranked run offense, and running back LeSean McCoy is second in the league in rushing.
NFL Network analyst Brian Baldinger, a former offensive lineman, recently said on radio that this version of the offensive line was the best the Eagles have ever had. That may be an overstatement, but it would suggest that Mudd may want to come back for another year and see what he can do with a full offseason.
"I don't know what he's going to do, to tell you the truth," center Jason Kelce said Thursday. "Talked to him a little bit earlier, and I don't think he even knows. I think a lot of it is going to depend on what happens with the entire coaching situation."
Reid, it is expected, will be back. But beyond that is anybody's guess. Castillo, Mudd's predecessor, has been widely speculated as the most likely to go from Reid's staff, or at least be moved into another position. Could he, if Mudd decides to retire, go back to coaching the offensive line?
It's hard to imagine Reid's going back to Castillo's blocking methods if that were to happen. The Eagles have been a zone-blocking team for years, but Mudd had his linemen initiate contact with defenders on pass plays instead of dropping back at the snap.
Kelce and journeyman guard Evan Mathis were just two that flourished under the new system.
"I could say he's helped save my career," Mathis said. "I was finally able to play to my potential and mainly because of the techniques that he taught."
Mudd's preference, in some cases, for smaller, more athletic linemen meant that former starters Jamaal Jackson, Winston Justice, and Mike McGlynn either lost their spots or were cut.
"There's no way I would be where I'm at in my rookie year without Howard," said Kelce, who was a sixth-round draft pick. "He saw something in me and then right away he started working with me on techniques and different things that would suit a guy that's my size in the NFL."
There aren't many O-line coaches in the NFL that teach Mudd's methods. The Colts' Pete Metzelaars, who studied under Mudd in Indianapolis and then replaced him, does. Eugene Chung, a former NFL lineman and currently an assistant strength and conditioning coach for the Eagles, has been working with Mudd this season.
"I don't know if (Chung) would be a viable option right away if he left," Kelce said.
Kelce didn't think Mudd's health _ he had hip-replacement surgery in October _ would affect his decision. When the Eagles played at Seattle earlier in the month, Mudd got to see his grandchildren, who live nearby.
"Honestly, I think health-wise it's not going to play too much of a factor," Kelce said. "I think just whether mentally he wants to go through another season being away from his grandsons and working that hard."