Cut-down day in the NFL is a time for anticipation, but also a time for reflection.
The Eagles whittled their roster down to 53 players on Saturday, and while allocation of resources at certain positions was unprecedented, the group, at least on paper, should be one that will compete for the NFC East title and possibly more.
A 2017 Super Bowl championship, three straight playoff appearances, coaching continuity, and a returning franchise quarterback alone warrant their mention in that company. So, too, does a roster that has elite talent at multiple spots and depth at others.
But the Eagles are not without their holes, or their patchwork pieces, as cut-down day offered yet another cruel reminder – as it does for many teams – that draft misses are more common than hits.
Sidney Jones and Rasul Douglas were released, three years after the Eagles expended second- and third-round picks on the cornerbacks, as was defensive end Shareef Miller just one year after he was selected in the fourth round.
Asked about Jones, who was chosen with the knowledge that he would be a long-term project following a pre-draft Achilles tendon rupture, general manager Howie Roseman conceded that drafting prospects with preexisting conditions decreases the odds of what is already a risky gamble.
“We’re going to be aggressive, and we’re going to take some chances,” Roseman said during a video conference. “And then if we’re wrong when we do those things, we got to learn from it. We have to figure out why they didn’t work and try to get better.
“You see it across the league; it’s hard to hit on all of your draft picks. There’s no doubt about it. But I think when we look at our track record, we got a pretty good track record of bringing in good players to Philadelphia. And they come in all sizes, shapes, and forms.”
While the draft is elemental in building a perennial winner, and for turnover that is younger and cheaper, there are many ways to construct a roster. The Eagles kept nine of their 10 picks this year, and, overall, there are 26 former draftees on the roster.
But 13 players came via free agency, seven through trades, three as undrafted rookies, two off waivers, and two poached from practice squads.
The roster will evolve throughout the season and should change as early as Sunday when waiver claims can be made. Roseman admitted as much. He also has more flexibility than in years past with an expanded practice squad of 16 players, fewer restrictions on injured reserve players, and easier roster movement to account for possible COVID-19 cases.
But, as it currently stands, here’s a closer look at the roster before several inevitable moves are made before preparations for next Sunday’s opener at Washington begin Monday:
Quarterbacks (3): Carson Wentz, Nate Sudfeld, Jalen Hurts.
While Sudfeld is expected to begin the season as Wentz’s backup, Hurts should be active and available on Sundays if the Eagles want to get him on the field in some way.
Running backs (3): Miles Sanders, Boston Scott, Corey Clement.
The Eagles could add a veteran to this group at some point. Scott and Clement aren’t exactly lead back material if Sanders were to be sidelined for an extended period.
Wide receivers (7): DeSean Jackson, Alshon Jeffery, Jalen Reagor, J.J. Arcega-Whiteside, John Hightower, Greg Ward, Quez Watkins.
Jeffery will be inactive for several weeks, but Roseman said the veteran was activated off the physically unable to perform list because the Eagles anticipate his return from injury before Week 7. The GM would love to move the receiver and his anvil of a contract, but he could help if Arcega-Whiteside and the rookies struggle early.
Tight ends (2): Zach Ertz, Dallas Goedert.
Only two tight ends were surprisingly kept, but undrafted rookie Noah Togiai will be back on the practice squad should he clear waivers.
Offensive linemen (8): Lane Johnson, Jason Kelce, Isaac Seumalo, Jason Peters, Matt Pryor, Jordan Mailata, Jack Driscoll, Nate Herbig.
Eight is light for the O-line, but Roseman intimated that there could be reinforcements. He confirmed that the Eagles worked out offensive lineman Cordy Glenn, but that signing free agents was a “three-day process” because of virus protocols. Peters, meanwhile, seems likely to stay at right guard based on Roseman’s response. Roseman defended the future Hall of Famer, but not moving him back to left tackle remains inexplicable.
Defensive ends (6): Brandon Graham, Derek Barnett, Vinny Curry, Josh Sweat, Genard Avery, Casey Toohill.
Joe Ostman wasn’t an unforeseen cut, but Avery making the team was curious. Of course, a release would have shown little return after the Eagles acquired him for a fourth rounder last season. Toohill, a seventh rounder, deserved a spot based off his camp and compensated for the Miller whiff.
Defensive tackles (4): Fletcher Cox, Malik Jackson, Javon Hargrave, Hassan Ridgeway.
If healthy, this may be the strongest interior unit in the NFL. Hargrave, though, missed all of camp with a pectoral muscle strain and Jackson is returning from foot surgery.
Linebackers (6): Nate Gerry, T.J. Edwards, Duke Riley, Davion Taylor, Shaun Bradley, Alex Singleton.
It’s an unsung group. But if you’re going to be weak at one spot in Jim Schwartz’s defense, it’s linebacker.
Cornerbacks (5): Darius Slay, Avonte Maddox, Nickell Robey-Coleman, Cre’Von LeBlanc, Craig James.
Jones’ lack of confidence and Schwartz’s lack of confidence in the cornerback paved the way for his departure. Missing camp with another soft tissue injury didn’t help matters. Douglas was undressed by Hightower multiple times in camp. There’s a chance either or both are back on the practice squad, however harmful that may be to their egos.
Safeties (6): Rodney McLeod, Jalen Mills, Will Parks, K’Von Wallace, Rudy Ford, Marcus Epps.
The Eagles haven’t kept as many safeties in recent history, but Parks’ hamstring injury forced their hand. Roseman said that Epps took a substantial jump this offseason and that Ford’s athleticism bought his ticket.
Specialists (3): Jake Elliott, Cameron Johnston, Rick Lovato.