EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. - A few observations from Thursday night’s preseason finale, in order of relevance:
1) Jadeveon Clowney did not get traded to the Eagles. 2) He did not get traded to anybody else. 3) The New York Jets’ new dark green uniforms are certified fresh on the thread-o-meter. 4) Trevor Siemian has gone from a regular season Week 1 starter to a preseason Game 4 starter in just two years. 5) That still puts him ahead of Cody Kessler. 6) Even if somebody gave you free tickets to this game, it still would have cost you $40 to park.
It’s at this point in the list that we can finally in good conscience begin our dissection of what the historians will someday look back on as Clayton Thorson’s stirring last stand as a member of the Eagles active roster. It ended about as well as some other famous last stands, with a barrage of passes that occasionally went further than a few yards down field but only once or twice struck in the vicinity of their intended target. Twice on the game’s opening drive, Thorson completed passes that lost yardage. His final line: 12-of-26, 84 yards, no touchdowns, one interception.
Doug Pederson summed it up best when somebody asked him afterwards to evaluate Thorson’s play this preseason compared with the head coach’s expectations after the draft.
“Um,” Pederson said, pausing for more than a moment as he either considered the question or searched for the words, “I think he’s playing probably like a rookie quarterback should and would be at this time, quite honestly.”
At halftime, a press box interlocutor might have overheard a conversation between a couple of media members about the chances that the Eagles would keep four quarterbacks on their 53-man roster in order to keep their rookie fifth-round draft pick in the fold. Don’t judge them too harshly -- training camp does wacky things to people. Whatever gets you through the game with your sense of meaning and personal dignity intact.
Really, though, the conversation could have explored whether it even made sense for the Eagles to keep the kid on the practice squad, given the lack of practice reps that will be available once Nate Sudfeld returns from his broken wrist early in the regular season and joins Carson Wentz and Josh McCown on the depth chart. They kept a quarterback on the squad in Doug Pederson’s first two seasons as head coach, but in both cases that quarterback served as the de facto third stringer, given that the Eagles carried just two on the active roster. Aaron Murray had been a fifth-round pick of the Kansas City Chiefs in 2014 before making his way to Philadelphia in 2016, and Sudfeld himself went from sixth-round castoff to the practice squad in 2017 before the Eagles added him to their active roster in order to prevent him from signing a big-boy contract with the Indianapolis Colts.
Yet if the Eagles do indeed keep four quarterbacks in the building by adding Thorson to the practice squad, it will hardly be a travesty, whatever the Kaepernick lobby might say. It was only four months ago that they invested a non-negligible piece of draft capital in Thorson, and they could be in the market for a second-stringer as soon as next offseason, when McCown will sail back into the sunset and Sudfeld will enter free agency hoping to find a situation that offers a surer opportunity at a starting job. Sunk costs are sunk costs, but there’s a lot that goes into being a backup quarterback that doesn’t necessarily reveal itself to schmoes like us in training camp practices. Chase Daniel has spent a lot of years getting paid really good money to look really bad at throwing footballs.
“It’s not easy to play quarterback in the National Football League,” Pederson said. “Things that he has done in practice, and in some of these games, it may not look like it because of the end result, but he’s made a lot of progress this training camp.”
The Eagles practice squad hasn’t exactly shown itself to be a valuable feeder system in the universe’s great quarterback machine. Of the 14 they’ve kept over the years, only A.J. Feeley and Tim Hasselbeck have gone on to start a game anywhere in the NFL. Feeley ultimately netted them a second-round pick. That’s about it as far as return-on-investment goes.
Worse comes to worst, you’re sacrificing a chance at the next David Watford. At the very least, Thorson has shown flashes, particularly in his second preseason game, when he completed 16-of-26 passes for 175 yards with one touchdown and one interception. It’s also worth noting that he was probably surrounded by the best collection of talent he would enjoy this summer. In the other three games, he combined to complete 14-of-36 passes for 81 yards and two interceptions.