The Eagles’ flirtation with Deshaun Watson seemingly ended Tuesday. Nick Sirianni officially named Jalen Hurts his quarterback. And Howie Roseman, while he declined to address his team’s level of interest in the Texans quarterback, appeared to put to bed the notion of acquiring Watson … this season.
“I think we’re very confident and comfortable with the quarterbacks that we have on our roster,” Roseman said during a video news conference. “Any player that is on another team is property of that team, and we’re going forward with who we’ve got here.”
You can’t be a quarterback factory and not, at least, consider acquiring arguably one of the five best at the position in the NFL. The Eagles did have interest in Watson and they did the necessary legwork in case there were advanced talks, NFL sources familiar with the team’s thinking said.
But there were always significant obstacles to a deal, namely Houston’s asking price, Watson’s no-trade clause, and, of course, 22 lawsuits involving sexual assault/misconduct. While a report from the Houston Chronicle said that Watson refused to waive his clause for the Eagles, a simple call to his agent would have prevented the amount of time the team invested in the possibility.
The specter of a blockbuster move for the 25-year-old quarterback, thus, hung over the Eagles through the summer. Reports kept surfacing linking the team to Watson and when Sirianni and Roseman declined to name Hurts the starter, it only added to the intrigue.
But giving him the job would have done little to stop a trade. Sure, Hurts’ struggles early in camp may have suggested the need to be aggressive, but he gradually improved, and by the end of camp, it became clear that the Eagles, more than anything, just wanted their 2020 second-round pick to put his stamp on the position.
Sirianni’s endorsement Tuesday said as much.
“We wanted him to take advantage of the opportunity and take the reins with the advantage of the opportunity that he got, and we feel like the preseason that he had, he did that,” the coach said. “I consistently saw a player that got better every single day.”
Hurts will lead a team that may look different with Sirianni in charge and new schemes, but two-thirds of the 53-man roster returns from last season’s squad, and approximately 20 were starters. The average age (25.9 years) is only slightly younger than it was a year ago (26.0).
The Eagles do have 22 of their 29 picks from the last four drafts on the roster, but less than a third are projected starters and a Pro Bowl-caliber talent has yet to emerge. There are candidates (see: DeVonta Smith). But the best players still come from drafts pre-2014.
But if Roseman has underperformed in player evaluation, he has compensated some in player acquisition over the years. He made two trades the last several days that were, on paper, winners.
He acquired quarterback Gardner Minshew from the Jaguars for a conditional sixth-round draft pick on Saturday. And he got that sixth-rounder back from the Colts for guard Matt Pryor and a seventh-rounder before he ostensibly planned to cut him.
Minshew might not have been the quarterback some expected, but he has won games in the NFL and at least gives the Eagles a reserve quarterback with two years left on his fifth-round rookie contract.
“We’re obviously a quarterback — what’s the word — factory, yes,” Roseman said, poking fun at his comment from last year after he drafted Hurts. “So, I think it’s a priority for us and we’re always going to invest in that position.”
Here’s a closer look at the Eagles’ 53-man roster, with the understanding that further moves are likely to be made over the next day with the Eagles sixth in line when the NFL’s waiver wire opens Wednesday at 4 p.m.:
Jalen Hurts, Joe Flacco, Gardner Minshew.
Sirianni made the depth chart official — not that there was much doubt about the order. Hurts should be given the season to prove that he is the long-term solution. There are caveats, of course, namely a trade for Watson or complete negligence. But neither is likely. Hurts showing glimpses is more probable, but not enough for the Eagles to dump Plan B: using their stockpile of draft picks to acquire a franchise quarterback. Flacco may be the backup initially, but if Minshew’s development is accelerated, the veteran could be expendable.
Running backs (3)
Miles Sanders, Boston Scott, Kenneth Gainwell.
Cut: Jordan Howard, Jason Huntley.
Howard, as a vested veteran, isn’t subject to waivers, so he could return as the Eagles’ short-yardage back. But he isn’t much of a receiver, and Sirianni’s offense emphasizes that trait in running backs. The waiver wire could provide a fourth name, possibly a tailback in the mold of Darwin Thompson. Sanders’ ongoing struggles with drops could affect his playing time and give snaps to Scott and Gainwell.
Wide receivers (5)
DeVonta Smith, Jalen Reagor, Quez Watkins, Greg Ward, J.J. Arcega-Whiteside.
Cut: John Hightower, Travis Fulgham, Andre Patton.
Sirianni said that Arcega-Whiteside’s work on special teams gave him the nod over Hightower and Fulgham. That may be lowering the bar for a former second-rounder, but he shouldn’t rest easy. The Eagles’ top three receivers have potential but they’re inexperienced. Receiver may be the most likely spot where Roseman adds a new face.
Tight ends (4)
Dallas Goedert, Zach Ertz, Tyree Jackson, Jack Stoll.
Cut: Richard Rodgers.
For all the hand wringing over Ertz’s expected departure this offseason, he’s back and quite possibly featured only slightly less than Goedert. Jackson, who suffered a back injury two weeks ago, will go to injured reserve with a feasible October-November return. His designation could pave the way for a Rodgers return, unless the Eagles believe the undrafted Stoll can fill the third tight end role.
Offensive linemen (10)
Jason Kelce, Lane Johnson, Brandon Brooks, Isaac Seumalo, Jordan Mailata, Landon Dickerson, Andre Dillard, Jack Driscoll, Nate Herbig, Brett Toth.
Cut: Sua Opeta, Kayode Awosika, Ross Pierschbacher, Le’Raven Clark.
If healthy, the offensive line should give Hurts enough protection and open enough holes for Sirianni’s offense to function. But the if healthy part has been no guarantee in recent years. And with Kelce, Johnson and Brooks over 30, and the latter two coming off surgery, nothing can be taken for granted. Mailata, meanwhile, beat out Dillard at left tackle, but he has the least experience and plays the most important spot on the line. Dickerson’s activation likely pushed Opeta off the roster. Awosika has enough potential to be claimed by another team if the Eagles hope to sneak him on the practice squad.
Defensive linemen (9)
Fletcher Cox, Brandon Graham, Josh Sweat, Javon Hargrave, Derek Barnett, Milton Williams, Ryan Kerrigan, Tarron Jackson, Marlon Tuipulotu.
Cut: Hassan Ridgeway, Raequan Williams, Matt Leo.
Placed on Reserve/COVID-19: T.Y. McGill.
Jackson and Tuipulotu were relative surprises because they failed to stand out this summer, but there was a modicum of improvement and the Eagles have often given their own draft picks the benefit of doubt. The position, otherwise, is deep. The top five ends all have starter potential, and if the Eagles are light in the interior, Williams has cross-trained enough to rotate with Cox and Hargrave. McGill could remain once off the COVID-19 list.
Eric Wilson, Alex Singleton, T.J. Edwards, Davion Taylor, Shaun Bradley, Genard Avery, Patrick Johnson.
Cut: JaCoby Stevens.
The Eagles were shopping linebackers before the deadline, but ultimately stood pat. They must like the youngsters Taylor and Bradley. The former, though, missed most of camp with a calf strain and still has only a handful of snaps on defense to his name. Wilson and Singleton will do most of the heavy lifting, though. Avery and Johnson have niche roles at strong-side, but it wouldn’t be a shock if either was released to make room for a waiver-wire addition.
Darius Slay, Steven Nelson, Avonte Maddox, Zech McPhearson, Josiah Scott.
Cut: Craig James, Michael Jacquet, Kevon Seymour.
Most teams at most positions have few starting-caliber reserves. But the Eagles are light here. Maddox would likely bump outside if either Slay or Nelson were to go down. And Scott would likely take his place in the slot. But it seems probable that Roseman picks up a corner with experience to insulate McPhearson at first.
Anthony Harris, Rodney McLeod, K’Von Wallace, Marcus Epps.
Cut: Andrew Adams, Elijah Riley, Grayland Arnold.
Placed on Reserve/Injured: Blake Countess.
McLeod is uncertain for Week 1. If he isn’t ready, Epps is likely to start alongside Harris, which could test first-time defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon. But the fact is there aren’t many NFL teams with depth at safety. It’s unlikely that Roseman finds a solution greater than just bringing Adams or Riley back, if need be.
Jake Elliott, Arryn Siposs, Rick Lovato.
Elliott, when healthy, kicked well in the preseason. He still has to show he’s rebounded from last year’s campaign. Siposs wasn’t exactly stepping into big shoes when he replaced Cameron Johnston, but he seems prepared for his first full-time NFL job.