The Eagles unveiled their initial 53-man roster Tuesday, going heavy on the offensive and defensive lines at the expense of skill positions.
There weren’t any shocking decisions, but a few minor surprises. Eagles general manager Howie Roseman kept five wide receivers through Tuesday’s 4 p.m. deadline, choosing J.J. Arcega-Whiteside over Travis Fulgham and John Hightower for the final spot.
The decision to keep Arcega-Whiteside, a second-round pick in 2019, over Fulgham seemed like a close call going into Tuesday. The former Stanford standout has struggled through the first two seasons of his career, while Fulgham put together a hot stretch that eventually fizzled during the 2020 campaign.
Fulgham had 38 catches for 539 yards and four touchdowns last year after starting the season as a practice squad journeyman. He eventually lost his starting spot and wasn’t as effective in the final few games, but showed enough to garner some first-team reps at the start of training camp. During camp, Arcega-Whiteside had a slight leg up in practice performance and scored a touchdown against the New York Jets on Friday. Fulgham, by comparison, had a costly fumble in the preseason finale.
When asked about the decision to keep Arcega-Whiteside, who has just 14 career catches, Roseman pointed out the importance of evaluating the full body of work for the two wideouts, and the value of special-teams contributions from the fifth receiver spot.
“With Travis, here’s a guy who obviously had a heck of a stretch for us last year,” Roseman said. “We looked at it like this is a new year and this is a new beginning, and we wanted to go based on what we saw and take the whole process into play. When you talk about J.J. and what he did during camp, and his contributions on offense, his willingness and his desire to be an excellent special-teams player, which you saw during the preseason and the whole picture of that, [we looked at] how that fits into the group at receiver.”
Arcega-Whiteside was billed as a contested-catch and red-zone specialist coming out of college but the concern was his inability to separate. He dealt with injuries each of the last two years and didn’t get much playing time. The 24-year-old said he spent the offseason focusing on “things that require no talent,” such as blocking and effort every play. Apparently Eagles coach Nick Sirianni took notice.
“J.J. really did a good job this year on special teams,” Sirianni said. “Sometimes that’s the thing, at the end of the day, that is the separator, what’s happening on special teams and what he can do over there in [special teams coordinator] Michael Clay’s room.”
The Eagles could bring Fulgham back on the practice squad and Roseman intimated as much, saying the team is focused on the “70-man roster.”
The team could also be active on the waiver wire in addressing both wide receiver and running back. Roseman kept just three running backs on the initial roster, releasing Jordan Howard and waiving Jason Huntley.
The team jettisoned a handful of veterans to trim the roster, including tight end Richard Rodgers, safety Andrew Adams, and tackle Le’Raven Clark on Tuesday. It’s possible some of these veterans, who aren’t subject to waivers like more inexperienced players, could be back before the start of the regular season depending on how the front office shuffles the roster in the coming days. The Eagles are sixth in the waiver-wire order, and there’s a good chance they’ll reinforce the roster with players waived from other teams.
“Our front office is doing a great job, our scouting staff is putting together a list as guys get cut,” Roseman said. “We’re going to watch a lot of those guys, we’re going to have a lot of discussions here in the next 24 hours. It’s not just the 53, it’s the 70, we’ll add players for sure here in the next 24 hours.”
Earlier Tuesday, the team traded Matt Pryor and a seventh-round pick to the Indianapolis Colts for a sixth-rounder in next year’s draft. Even with the guard-tackle hybrid on his way to reunite with Carson Wentz, the Eagles rostered 10 offensive linemen. Landon Dickerson, freshly activated off the non-football injury list, and Brett Toth are among the depth linemen who some may not have expected going into the week.
Dickerson is coming off a torn ACL suffered last December and returned to practice for the first time on Monday. The interior lineman didn’t put a timetable on his return when asked about it following his first practice back, but Roseman said he didn’t expect Dickerson to be out more than the six weeks he would have missed had the team kept him on NFI.
Dickerson, the team’s second-round pick in this year’s draft, figures to serve as the backup to multiple spots both at center and guard once he’s healthy and back up to speed.
“We’re hoping that our five starting offensive linemen play every snap, in that case he wouldn’t play at all,” Roseman said. “But certainly injuries happen in this game. When he’s cleared and ready to play, obviously we have a lot of confidence in Landon Dickerson.”