There were a few minor surprises but nothing that qualified as shocking when the Eagles unveiled the first draft of their 53-man roster Saturday.
Changes always come over the first several days, as teams put in waiver claims for other teams’ discarded players, or sign vested veterans who were released elsewhere.
The Eagles ended Saturday with only two tight ends, Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert, something that definitely could change, perhaps as soon as when the waiver period ends at noon Sunday.
General manager Howie Roseman emphasized that the team is “constantly looking to evolve and get better” when he spoke to reporters about the roster decisions he made Friday and Saturday.
“Just because we have two [tight ends] on the 53 doesn’t mean that we’ll end up having two to practice, or two when we go play. We’ll just see what happens here in the next day or so,” Roseman said.
The Eagles jettisoned Stefen Wisniewski, who started at left guard in Super Bowl LII, along with Josh Adams, their leading rusher in 2018, and quarterback Clayton Thorson, their fifth-round pick this season.
None of those players necessarily is gone for good; Wisniewski could be brought back after the opener, without the team’s having to guarantee his $1.5 million salary for the entire season, and if Adams and Thorson clear waivers, they can be added to the 10-member practice squad that can be established starting at 1 p.m. Sunday.
Seemingly gone for good is fourth-year Eagles running back Wendell Smallwood, whose roster spot has looked precarious for a couple of years now. The 2019 running back corps of Jordan Howard, Miles Sanders, Darren Sproles, and Corey Clement ought to be much stronger than last year’s group.
Roseman said jettisoning Adams and Smallwood, who together accounted for more than half the team’s rushing yardage last season, was “just a testament to what we have in that room right now. We’re really excited about that.”
Adams was a nice story last season — a former Central Bucks South and Notre Dame star turned undrafted free agent who made the most of a rash of injuries at the running back position. With Jay Ajayi, Sproles, and Clement missing multiple games, Adams’ 511 yards on 120 carries led the Eagles.
Defensive tackle Treyvon Hester, who got a finger on Cody Parkey’s 43-yard missed field goal attempt that gave the Eagles a playoff victory over Chicago last January, also was waived and also can come back to the practice squad if he isn’t claimed. Hester was a victim of the decision to just keep four defensive tackles for now -- Fletcher Cox, Tim Jernigan, Malik Jackson, and Hassan Ridgeway.
The Eagles ended up with only five draft picks last spring, so cutting Thorson wasn’t easy, but it seemed inevitable from the moment Roseman brought in 40-year-old backup QB Josh McCown on Aug. 18. In discussing having to cut a draft pick, Roseman noted that two undrafted rookies made the team, linebacker T.J. Edwards and center/guard Nate Herbig, giving the rookie class better numbers.
“When we made the decision to sign Josh, obviously that put Clayton in a tough spot,” Roseman said. “You’ll see today, there are going to be a lot of draft picks cut in rounds that are higher than the fifth round and lower than the fifth round. We’ve got to do what’s best for our football team, and build our team the way we see fit. … Things even out; we added two undrafted free agents.”
Edwards benefited from injuries that will keep Kamu Grugier-Hill (knee) out of the first few games, at least; that caused Paul Worrilow (knee) to be released; and that kept Nigel Bradham (foot) out of full team practice all preseason. Edwards and Canadian Football League veteran Alex Singleton became close friends but also were competing for the same spot.
“Both guys had really good camps. … I think that they have a little bit different skill sets, they play a little bit different spots in our defense,” Roseman said.
Singleton could join the practice squad, or he could return to the CFL, where he is especially valuable because he counts toward the seven Canadian starters each team must field -- his mother was born in Toronto.
Eagles offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland moved Herbig from guard to center, where he had never played, and Herbig took well to the move. It became apparent as Herbig got more and more preseason snaps that the experiment was going well.
The ability to play center was one of Wisniewski’s strong points. Clearly, the Eagles went for upside and size; at 6-foot-4, 334, Herbig is an inch taller and nearly 40 pounds heavier than Wisniewski.
Another notable competition was between Mack Hollins, sidelined all last year following two groin surgeries, and Greg Ward, a former college quarterback turned wideout, who was really good in his third Eagles training camp. Ward definitely flashed more in preseason games and in practice, as Hollins struggled to get healthy, and then to cut through rust. But Hollins, a 2017 fourth-round pick, made the team and Ward did not.
“Greg’s done a tremendous job. Really, I don’t have an answer, what he could have done more, other than, we’re trying to balance everyone we have at every position and what we’re looking for,” Roseman said. “Sometimes it just comes down to looking for a specific role from that specific spot. ... Maybe what we were looking for, from that fifth receiver spot, on special teams, it was just not something that he had done.”
Ward and defensive end Daeshon Hall were two bubble players who really stood out in the preseason. Hall made the team, with the Eagles keeping six defensive ends and opting not to get seriously involved in the bidding for Houston star Jadeveon Clowney, traded Saturday to Seattle.
Hall, a former third-round pick of Carolina, joined the Eagles off the Texans’ practice squad last December and played in three games.
“I don’t know that there’s a better young defensive end in football than Daeshon Hall this preseason,” Roseman said. "He deserves a tremendous amount of credit. He went and worked on his body in the offseason. He came back 30 pounds heavier, and then he proved it on the field."
The Eagles are carrying cornerback Cre’Von LeBlanc, who has a foot injury that might sideline him well into the season. Now that he has been on the 53, they can put LeBlanc on injured reserve this week, starting Tuesday, and then opt to bring him back after Week 8. That would open up a roster spot.
Another prominent corner, Jalen Mills, went from preseason physically unable to perform to regular- season PUP on Saturday, meaning he will be sidelined until Week 7 -- nearly a calendar year since Mills suffered what at first was not supposed to be a serious foot injury. The Eagles have not explained Mills’ situation.
Rudy Ford, the safety/special teams ace the Eagles acquired last week, also is sidelined right now with an undisclosed injury, which the team thinks is short term. That was why the Eagles kept five safeties.
Here’s the full Eagles 53-man roster:
QB (3): Carson Wentz, Josh McCown, Nate Sudfeld
WR (5): Nelson Agholor, J.J. Arcega-Whiteside, Mack Hollins, Desean Jackson, Alshon Jeffrey
RB (4): Corey Clement, Jordan Howard, Miles Sanders, Darren Sproles
TE (2): Zach Ertz, Dallas Goedert
OL (10): Brandon Brooks, Andrew Dillard, Nate Herbig, Lane Johnson, Jason Kelce, Jordan Mailata, Jason Peters, Matt Pryor, Isaac Seumalo, Halapoulivaati Vaitai
CB (5): Ronald Darby, Rasul Douglas, Sidney Jones, Cre’Von Leblanc, Avonte Maddox
DE (6): Derek Barnett, Vinny Curry, Brandon Graham, Daeshon Hall, Shareef Miller, Josh Sweat
DT (4): Fletcher Cox, Malik Jackson, Tim Jernigan, Hassan Ridgeway
LB (6): Nigel Bradham, Zach Brown, T.J. Edwards, L.J. Fort, Nate Gerry, Kamu-Grugier Hill
S (5): Johnathan Cyprien, Rudy Ford, Malcolm Jenkins, Rodney McLeod, Andrew Sendejo
Special teams (3): K Jake Elliott, LS Rick Lovato, P Cameron Johnston
Here’s a list of the Eagles roster moves:
Reserve/PUP: CB Jalen Mills
Injured Reserve: TE Richard Rodgers
Released: DE Kasim Edebali, DE Eli Harold, LB Hayes Pullard, CB Orlando Scandrick, TE Will Tye, OL Stefen Wisniewski,
Waived: RB Josh Adams, WR Carlton Agudosi, TE Alex Ellis, S Trae Elston, C Anthony Fabiano, S Deiondre’ Hall, CB Ajene Harris, CB Josh Hawkins, DT Treyvon Hester, QB Cody Kessler, OT Riley Mayfield, CB Jeremiah McKinnon, WR Marken Michel, G Sua Opeta, TE Josh Perkins, RB Donnel Pumphrey, G Keegan Render, RB Boston Scott, CB Sojourn Shelton, LB Alex Singleton, RB Wendell Smallwood, QB Clayton Thorson, WR DeAndre Thompkins, S Jason Thompson, T Brett Toth, DT Kevin Wilkins, WR Greg Ward, LB Chris Worley
Waived/Injured: DT Aziz Shittu
Meanwhile, Eagles fans clamoring for Jadeveon Clowney can feel free to move on to another topic. The Texans and Seahawks reportedly have agreed to a trade that will send Clowney to Seattle for a third-round pick, pass rusher Barkevious Mingo, and linebacker Jacob Martin.
Clowney, 26, is an elite defensive lineman, a Pro Bowl selection the past three seasons, but is playing under the franchise tag, and his value was diminished when the Texans let pass the July 15 deadline for signing franchised players to long-term deals. The Seahawks can franchise Clowney next year, but they can’t sign him to an extension this season.
The Eagles were part of the Clowney trade narrative because their defense runs on pass-rush pressure, and their group might not be as strong as last season, given that Michael Bennett and Chris Long are gone.
But the team invested in Brandon Graham this offseason, three years and $40 million. It also wants plenty of reps for 2017 first-round pick Derek Barnett, who is returning from a shoulder injury that ended his 2018 season early.
Bringing in Clowney, with no assurance he would be here long term, would really mess with Graham’s and Barnett’s roles. The Eagles are said to have kicked the tires on Clowney, but apparently they were not in serious discussions, which began with Miami and shifted to Seattle when Clowney made it clear he would not play for the Dolphins.