The first of eight parts previewing the Eagles’ roster before organized team activities begin on May 21.
Here is the schedule:
Tomorrow: Running back
Thursday: Wide receiver/tight end
May 13: Offensive line
May 14: Defensive line
May 15: Linebacker
May 16: Cornerback
May 17: Safety
Who’s back: You might have heard of Carson Wentz. He’s back, of course, but for the second year in a row, he’ll be returning from a season-ending injury. Wentz met with reporters last month at the start of the offseason program and said that the stress fracture in his back was improving, but he didn’t go so far as to say that he would be cleared to practice fully once the Eagles take the field on May 21.
A year ago, Wentz surprised many when he participated in various individual drills at the start of OTAs. It had many reporters predicting he would be ready by the start of the season. But that didn’t end up being the case — even though Wentz beat that drum for months — and he wasn’t in uniform until Week 3.
The feeling here is that the Eagles advised Wentz to downplay his recovery publicly so as to not raise expectations only to have them possibly thwarted. If he can’t partake in some team drills for part or even all of the spring, then so be it. Yes, he could use the work. The team and Wentz said that the time he missed during workouts might have hindered his play last season. But spring practices pale in comparison to training camp, and the Eagles don’t want to jeopardize his involvement when the team reconvenes in late July.
Wentz’s health is of the utmost importance for this coming season, of course, but the Eagles have his future to consider, as well. Howie Roseman has been uncharacteristically outspoken about wanting to sign the 26-year-old to a long-term extension this offseason. A deal now could benefit the team fiscally, especially if Wentz were to wait until next offseason and regain his 2017 form. But he might not want to take that gamble and play this season without the extension hanging over his head. Either way, he has some things to prove: that he can be durable and finish the season, and that he can perform with the season on the line and in the postseason.
It’s unclear if Wentz’s struggles in 2018 had anything to do with following Nick Foles’ Super Bowl-winning performance, but he will no longer have to look over his shoulder if that was the case. The specter remains, naturally, but Nate Sudfeld falls under the category of a traditional backup. The Eagles had said before free agency that they wanted to bring in veteran competition for the No. 2 spot, but they were unlikely to attract some of the top options on the market considering the established roles.
Sudfeld hasn’t done much on the field to be handed the job, but he’s spent two years watching and learning. It was time to either cut the cord or cut your losses. And the Eagles chose the former and tendered Sudfeld, a restricted free agent, a one-year, $3.095 million contract. He will get more practice reps than ever and will play significantly during the preseason. But there’s an in-season unknown with Sudfeld, and the Eagles would surely rather keep it that way.
Who’s new: The Eagles, to no great shock, drafted a quarterback last month. But taking Clayton Thorson in the fifth round, especially when they ended up with only five picks, was a bit of a surprise. The Northwestern product wasn’t especially productive in college. He had only a 32-27 touchdown-interception ratio in his last two seasons. But he was coming off an ACL injury last season and wasn’t surrounded by elite talent. Thorson could have some upside, considering his size and apparent aptitude, and that’s about all you can ask of a third-day selection. If he can someday replace Sudfeld as the backup, then it’s a solid pick. He’ll get to learn from some of the best in the biz. It shouldn’t take long to see if he has the tools to compete at the next level.
Luis Perez was signed to the roster in early April after the Alliance of American Football ceased operations. He didn’t exactly tear up the league in seven starts. He completed just 52.3 percent of his passes and had a 5-6 touchdown-interception ratio. But he’s a nice story and maybe he’ll get a chance to impress another team (he played for the Rams last offseason) during the preseason.
Who’s gone: A lot of ink was spilled on Foles’ future this offseason, but he was never likely to return. Many in Philadelphia will be watching the Jaguars from afar. Foles has earned the right to lead his own team, but he won’t have the same support system he had here — at least initially. Sudfeld has some big shoes to fill — ahem — but nothing ever lasts.
Roster competitions: The only roster question, as I see it, is whether Thorson comes in and tears it up and pushes Sudfeld. And I think I might know the answer the first time I see the rookie face a defense during team practice drills. The Eagles could keep only two quarterbacks on the 53-man roster, but I can’t imagine they’ll give up on a fifth-round draft pick that early, even if they believe they can stow Thorson on the practice squad. The Redskins tried that with Sudfeld — albeit a year after he was drafted in the sixth round — but lost him to the Eagles before they had a chance to bring him back.
Who’s back: The Eagles’ three-man specialist crew underwent a complete turnover the last two years, but there will likely be a return to consistency this season. Barring something unforeseen, kicker Jake Elliott, punter Cameron Johnston, and long snapper Rick Lovato will be back. Of the three, Elliott’s spot might be the most tenuous. He missed a few shorties last season and wasn’t nearly as automatic from long distance, going 2-for-5 from beyond 50 yards. But he’s still consistent enough (83.9 percent accuracy on field goals and 94.3 on extra points) to warrant a free pass onto the roster. Johnston had a very good rookie season after replacing Donnie Jones. He finished third in the NFL in net (42.7 yards) and gross (48.1 yards) punting. Lovato’s snaps were perfect.
Who’s new: N/A
Who’s gone: N/A
Roster competitions: The Eagles have yet to add competition at any of the specialist positions, but they could bring in another leg to help with practice repetitions.