What you see Tuesday at 4 p.m., when the Eagles trim their roster to the mandatory 53 players, almost certainly won’t be what you’re going to get 12 days later when they open the season in Atlanta against the Falcons.
One way or another, there are going to be some post-Aug. 31 changes. They likely are going to be carrying some injured players through Tuesday’s cutdown, including rookies Landon Dickerson and Tyree Jackson and others, who are headed for injured reserve.
Tight end Zach Ertz and offensive tackle Andre Dillard both could be traded.
There are other questions. Will veteran safety Rodney McLeod be ready to play when the season opens, or will he be put on IR as well? Will all of the missed practice time by 33-year-old defensive end Ryan Kerrigan, who has been sidelined for most of camp with a thumb injury, prompt the Eagles to go with a younger player?
Will the Eagles sign any players who might get cut by other teams?
Because of the continuing threat of COVID-19, the NFL will once again utilize expanded practice squads. It also has liberalized the injured reserve rules.
The 53-man roster will, in effect, be a 69-man roster. Each team will be able to sign 16 practice squad players, including up to six with more than two accrued seasons in the league. They’ll be able to protect up to four practice squad players per week from being signed by other teams.
The changes to IR will be particularly helpful to the Eagles and other clubs. Players on injured reserve will be able to return to play after just three weeks as opposed to the previous six. Also, there will be no limit on how many players can return.
If you’re looking for a cutdown surprise, it could be 2019 second-round wide receiver J.J. Arcega-Whiteside, particularly if the Eagles carry only five wideouts.
Several of the Eagles’ nine 2021 draft picks could end up on the team’s practice squad. Their top five picks — wide receiver DeVonta Smith, Dickerson, defensive lineman Milton Williams, cornerback Zech McPhearson, and running back Kenneth Gainwell — all are going to make the 53-man roster, or, in Dickerson’s case, be placed on IR.
But their three sixth-round picks — defensive tackle Marlon Tuipulotu, defensive end Tarron Jackson and linebacker JaCoby Stevens — and seventh-round linebacker Patrick Johnson are in jeopardy of not making the 53.
One man’s look at how things could shake out next week:
Starter: Jalen Hurts.
Backups: Joe Flacco, Nick Mullens.
The skinny: The Eagles likely will go with three quarterbacks on their 53-man roster. The coaches have been pleased with Hurts’ spring and summer development. Mullens has been up and down this summer. If another developmental quarterback that the Eagles believe has a bigger upside becomes available, Mullens could get cut. One thing that does seem unlikely is the possibility of the Eagles going with just two quarterbacks.
Running backs (4)
Starter: Miles Sanders.
Backups: Boston Scott, Kenneth Gainwell, Jordan Howard.
Practice squad: Jason Huntley.
The skinny: The Eagles are going to be throwing to their backs a lot this year, so coach Nick Sirianni almost certainly will carry four of them.
Sanders is a talented back, but needs to improve on last year’s awful 53.8% catch rate. He has continued to have concentration problems in camp. Fifth-round rookie Gainwell is going to have an immediate impact in Sirianni’s offense.
Howard could be gone if a back with a little more pass-catching versatility shakes loose after the final cutdown.
Wide receivers (5)
Starters: Jalen Reagor, DeVonta Smith, Quez Watkins.
Backups: Greg Ward, Travis Fulgham.
Practice squad: Andre Patton, John Hightower.
The skinny: Ward, who had a team-high 53 receptions last year, is a dependable slot receiver, particularly against the zone coverages that Hurts’ running ability is going to force defenses to play. But Watkins’ impressive summer emergence and sprinter’s speed appear to have earned the 2020 sixth-round pick a spot in Sirianni’s top 11-personnel grouping. Arcega-Whiteside probably will be the sixth wideout, but the Eagles may carry just five through next week’s cutdown to give them some roster flexibility at other positions.
Tight ends (4)
Starter: Dallas Goedert.
Backups: Zach Ertz, Richard Rodgers, Tyree Jackson.
Practice squad: Jack Stoll.
The skinny: Jackson was having an impressive camp before breaking a bone in his back last week. He’ll be out 8-10 weeks. There’s a good chance the Eagles will carry him on the 53 through next week’s cutdown, then move him to injured reserve until he’s ready to play, which figures to be about late October.
Unless Ertz is unexpectedly traded between now and Tuesday, the Eagles may carry four tight ends through the cutdown to 53 and then move Jackson to IR.
Stoll, an undrafted rookie out of Nebraska, has had a good camp and preseason and will be a practice squad candidate if no one else claims him.
Offensive line (10)
Starters: C Jason Kelce, RG Brandon Brooks, RT Lane Johnson, LG Isaac Seumalo, LT Jordan Mailata.
Backups: Jack Driscoll, Nate Herbig, Le’Raven Clark, Andre Dillard, Landon Dickerson, Sua Opeta*.
Practice squad: Kayode Awosika, Brett Toth, Matt Pryor.
The skinny: The big unknown is Dillard and what the Eagles are going to do with him. He never made a serious move on the starting left tackle job, then hurt his knee and missed a ton of practice time. Do the Eagles keep the 2019 first-rounder around as the backup swing tackle behind Mailata and Johnson? Do they try to trade him?
They’ve also got two linemen coming off major injuries — Clark (torn Achilles) and Dickerson (ACL tear). Clark is almost ready to return. Dickerson is a little further away.
Dickerson is currently on the nonfootball injury list. The Eagles will need to carry him on the 53 through next Tuesday’s cutdown if they want to activate him this season. If they don’t trade Dillard by Tuesday, look for them to cut someone like Opeta and then re-sign him after moving Dickerson to the IR or NFI list.
Pryor played nearly 800 snaps last season, but gave up a team-high 35 QB pressures. The addition of Clark, assuming he’s ready to play, makes Pryor expendable.
Defensive linemen (9)
Starters: DEs Brandon Graham and Josh Sweat; DTs Fletcher Cox and Javon Hargrave.
Backups: Derek Barnett, Ryan Kerrigan, Milton Williams, Tarron Jackson, Hassan Ridgeway.
Practice squad: T.Y. McGill, Raequan Williams, Marlon Tuipulotu, Matt Leo (NFL international pathway program).
The skinny: Hargrave and Sweat both have had excellent camps. Kerrigan isn’t the player he was 4-5 years ago, but still can be a productive role player.
The key to whether the Eagles carry nine or 10 defensive linemen may depend on their level of confidence in third-round rookie Williams’ ability to play inside. He has taken most of his snaps on the edge this summer. He might be able to be an interior rusher in sub-packages, but he’s really not big enough or strong enough to be an early-down tackle.
Starters: Eric Wilson, Alex Singleton, Genard Avery.
Backups: T.J. Edwards, Davion Taylor.
Practice squad: Patrick Johnson, Shaun Bradley, JaCoby Stevens.
The skinny: This is a tough unit to predict. Last year, with Jim Schwartz as defensive coordinator, the Eagles went with five linebackers most of the season
Even in Jonathan Gannon’s defense, which puts a little more importance on the linebacker position than Schwartz’s did, they’re still going to be using one- and two-linebacker sub-packages 70% of the time.
After Wilson, Singleton and maybe Edwards, it gets a little fuzzy. Avery’s role as the starting SAM appears to be tenuous. He played just 126 defensive snaps last year as an edge-rusher. He and rookies Johnson and Stevens all are learning new positions. Stevens has been sidelined for the last two-plus weeks with a hamstring injury.
The Eagles had hoped Taylor, their fleet-footed but raw 2020 third-round pick, would take a major step forward in his second camp. But he has been out with a calf injury most of the last three-plus weeks and still is listed as week-to-week. There’s a good chance he’ll wind up on IR after next week’s cutdown.
Defensive backs (10)
Starters: CB Darius Slay, CB Steven Nelson, NCB Avonte Maddox, S Anthony Harris, S K’Von Wallace.
Backups: Rodney McLeod, Zech McPhearson, Andrew Adams, Craig James, Marcus Epps.
Practice squad: Michael Jacquet (CB), Josiah Scott (CB), Grayland Arnold (S).
The skinny: McLeod, who is recovering from his second ACL tear in three years, is on PUP and hasn’t played a snap yet this summer. He hopes to be ready by Week 1 or close to it. Whether that’s still realistic remains to be seen. But the Eagles likely will activate him before Tuesday’s final cutdown.
Special teams (3)
Starters: PK Jake Elliott, P Arryn Siposs, LS Rick Lovato.
The skinny: The Eagles’ tight salary cap situation cost them P Cam Johnston, who signed with Houston. But Siposs has had an excellent camp and preseason. The Eagles have used multiple punt and kickoff returners in the preseason. Reagor likely will be their primary PR. Reagor, Watkins and Gainwell all are KR possibilities.