Early Birds: State of the Roster: Quarterback/Specialists
The Eagles roster is at the maximum of 90 players after the draft. We'll spend the next two weeks resetting the table and taking a position-by-position look at the Birds as Chip Kelly begins the process of assessing his 2015 squad.
The schedule: May 18: Quarterbacks/specialists; May 19: Running backs; May 20: Wide receivers/Tight ends; May 21: Offensive line; May 22: Defensive line; May 25: Inside linebackers; May 26: Outside linebackers; May 27: Safeties; May 28: Cornerbacks.
What's new: Sam Bradford, Tim Tebow.
The most significant move of the offseason – and that is saying something considering Chip Kelly traded away LeSean McCoy – was the bold move to deal Nick Foles and a second-round draft pick to the Rams for Bradford. It would be a stretch to say the entire season hinges on the former No. 1 draft pick, but if Bradford isn't ready by the start of the season or if he suffers some sort of setback in the recovery from his second torn ACL, Kelly's gamble will likely be deemed a failure.
But what if Bradford plays all 16 games – or close to it – and regains some of the moxie that had virtually every team rate him as clearly the best quarterback in the draft class of 2010? What if he takes his game to another level under Kelly's tutelage and gets the bump that other quarterbacks have gotten playing in the coach's system? The first if is bigger than the second, but if both were to happen, the Eagles would have upgraded at quarterback. And it could be a significant upgrade.
A quick update on Bradford: There isn't one. The Eagles have kept him under wraps as if he were some bonus Christmas present. Hopefully, for the team's sake, it doesn't take until December for Bradford to peak. We've been told that he has been throwing some during the first two phases of spring workouts, but the Eagles have declined multiple interview requests. Will he be 100 percent by the start of OTAs next Tuesday? It's doubtful. But the media will get its first glimpse of Bradford and a chance to hear what he has to say when practice is open on May 28.
As for contract extension talks, Kelly said last month that there were conversations, but I'm not sure that either side benefits from getting a deal done now. Bradford may want some security, but how much guaranteed money could he expect to receive based on recent injuries? And why would the Eagles commit long term with so many questions marks? There are plenty of ways to satisfy both concerns with an incentive-laden contract, but I wouldn't be surprised to see both sides wait out the season.
Bradford's slow recovery could be one reason why Kelly signed Tebow in April – or at least that's the way Mark Sanchez interpreted it. If Bradford isn't ready to throw during live sessions, and if G.J. Kinne is really going to try and make the team as a wide receiver/specialist, then perhaps Tebow is just a camp arm. But I suspect there's more to adding someone that hasn't played in an NFL game in nearly three years. We've heard the theories about Tebow being a possible two-point conversion weapon or a multi-positional player that can dress on game days, but I could also see him giving Matt Barkley a run for that third quarterback spot. If Tebow has honestly improved his throwing motion and accuracy, as various accounts suggest, then I see no reason why he can't supplant the repeatedly passed over Barkley.
What's old: Mark Sanchez, Matt Barkley, G.J. Kinne.
Sanchez will probably handle the first team snaps when team drills start next week. It's a good opportunity for him to at least hold onto some hope of starting. But let's be clear here: If Bradford is healthy he'll open the season as the starter. You don't trade for a quarterback with a franchise salary ($13 million) just to have him sit and watch. Kelly initially mentioned Sanchez along with Bradford when he was asked about his No. 1 quarterback in March, but I don't believe that means there will be an open competition as there was two years ago between Michael Vick and Foles.
Does that mean Bradford's hold on the job is secure? I doubt it. Sanchez faltered at key moments after he replaced the injured Foles last season, but he did show glimpses of effectiveness. The problem with Sanchez is he's likely hit his ceiling. After six NFL seasons, it's difficult to imagine a scenario where he becomes a quarterback that isn't turnover-prone. It's in his DNA, and while Kelly's system allowed for an accuracy bump, Sanchez still lacks the necessary arm strength to make all the outside throws. He's probably as good a backup as there is in the NFL, though.
Barkley is entering his third season. If it hasn't happened by now, it probably never will. Kelly has said as much with the various quarterback moves he has made over the last two years. In Barkley's defense, his trial by fire as a rookie wasn't exactly an ideal tryout. But he hasn't shined in practices or during the preseason and has been dangled on the market for two offseasons now with nary an offer of any worth. Many questioned Kelly when he expended a fourth round pick on Barkley, mostly because he didn't appear to be a schematic fit. Kelly has shown that he cares little about having a dual-purpose quarterback, but trading up for the Southern Cal product was an error in evaluation. Howie Roseman oversaw the 2013 draft, but I've been told from multiple places that Barkley was Kelly's pick.
Projected lineup: Sam Bradford, Mark Sanchez, Tim Tebow.
Bradford and Sanchez are assured roster spots. The third spot is there for the taking, assuming Kelly decides to keep three quarterbacks again. Most coaches do and it would behoove the Eagles to add insurance considering Bradford's knee, etc. But Kelly could save a roster spot if he kept just two quarterbacks. He has only kept two active on game days. Tebow, though, could have value on game days. He still has to beat out Barkley, or at the least prove he's as capable running the offense, but Tebow has wild card potential.
What's new: Kip Smith.
If the Eagles wanted to give Donnie Jones a little push, they better hope Smith is a more competent undrafted rookie signing than last year's attempt to motivate kicker Alex Henery – Carey "Muderleg" Spear. Smith's numbers at Oklahoma State weren't exactly spellbinding – he averaged 40.7 yards a punt. The Eagles should be able to find out fairly early on if he can make the transition to the NFL.
What's old: Cody Parkey, Donnie Jones, Jon Dorenbos
Parkey had never kicked as much as he did last year and faded down stretch as he dealt with a leg injury. But he still had a remarkable rookie season and should benefit greatly from a full offseason of NFL preparation. Jones' averages slipped some, but he was still one of the league's best at pooch punting. It should be difficult for Smith or any other possible competition to supplant Jones, who turns 35 in July.
The Eagles had Navy long snapper Joe Cardona in for a pre-draft visit, but the Patriots selected him in the fifth round. Who knows if the Eagles were close to drafting Cardona, but Dorenbos enters the last year of his contract. I'd imagine Kelly's preference is to have a positional player handle snapping duties down the road, but Dorenbos was reliable as ever last season.
Projected lineup: Cody Parkey, Donnie Jones, Jon Dorenbos