Good morning, Eagles fans. The Eagles were on the field Tuesday for the first practice of the offseason, and there was no shortage of news. From Carson Wentz passing at the beginning of the session to a high-profile player released to a key reserve injured, it was a busy day for the Eagles.
This is an offseason edition of the Early Birds newsletter, which will come every Wednesday and Friday for the next four weeks. If your friends haven't subscribed to Early Birds, it's free to sign up here. I want to know what you think, what we should add, and what you want to read, so send me feedback by email or on Twitter @ZBerm. Thank you for reading.
— Zach Berman
Carson Wentz participated in practice on Tuesday, which is a sentence I did not expect to write upon arriving at the NovaCare Complex for the beginning of organized team activities.
Going into the Eagles' OTAs, it appeared there would be little on-field work for Wentz. Doug Pederson had said Wentz was not cleared to practice. Wentz is only five months past his torn ACL. The Eagles had not put out a timetable, but Pederson hinted that Wentz might not play in the preseason and Wentz kept discussing Week 1.
Yet on Tuesday, the first day of OTAs, Wentz took part in individual work. He did not participate in team drills. He wore a big brace on his left knee. He was not the Wentz from last October, but he was out there throwing and moving more than one would expect — and looked better than almost anyone could have imagined for this time of the year. That's an encouraging sign for the Eagles, and frankly, it's the most important development that could have taken place on Tuesday.
It was one day and only 30 minutes of practice, so it shouldn't be treated like Wentz will be a full participant anytime soon. But Tuesday illustrated Wentz's competitiveness and sent a message to teammates and observers alike that Wentz is the Eagles' quarterback and his health is improving.
The Eagles released Mychal Kendricks on Tuesday afternoon, ending the six-year Eagles career of a player who started 74 games in Philadelphia. It's not necessarily a surprise that the Eagles moved on from Kendricks. It had been a source of speculation for two years, especially the past few months. Kendricks wanted to be traded last season, and he wouldn't have been happy with his role this season if the Eagles were at full health.
That "if" is the big question in this move. Kendricks, who was the Eagles' starting weak-side linebacker, was the third linebacker behind Nigel Bradham and Jordan Hicks for a defense that only plays three linebackers about 30 percent of the defensive snaps, depending on the situation. Kendricks would have counted $7.6 million against the salary cap this season. That's not prudent resource allocation for a player in Kendricks' role. Most would agree, likely including Kendricks.
But the question is what happens if the Eagles need that third linebacker to play a bigger role, like they did last season? Hicks is recovering from a torn Achilles tendon and has missed significant playing time in two of his three NFL seasons. It's far from a given that he'll play 16 games this season. The Eagles have Corey Nelson, Nate Gerry, Kamu Grugier-Hill, and LaRoy Reynolds competing to be next in line. Nelson, in particular, is a player to watch. But it's a different consideration if one of those players must play the majority of the snaps. Kendricks has done it before — and done it well.
Releasing Kendricks was an understandable move to make to open cap space. Kendricks will likely be a happier camper elsewhere, too. And it would have been challenging for the Eagles to get anything in a trade considering Kendricks' contract. But this move will be in the spotlight if the Eagles need to go down the depth chart at linebacker. Maybe they won't regret it — the front office pushed the right buttons last season and earned the benefit of the doubt — but don't try rationalizing this move, either. The Eagles released a productive player.
The most important objective for any team in the spring is to avoid injury. The Eagles had their first major injury on Tuesday when linebacker Paul Worrilow tore his ACL. That's a tough break for a Delaware-born player who was so eager to play near his hometown this season. Worrilow projected as a reserve linebacker and special teams contributor. I know the optics aren't good that this happened on the same day that the Eagles cut Kendricks, but these two developments should be viewed independent of each other. Worrilow likely wouldn't have been a candidate to replace Kendricks. However, he would have been insurance for a Hicks injury in the base defense and a factor on special teams. Nelson and Reynolds are now the two notable newcomers among a linebacker corps that was supposed to have more veteran depth this season. And with Kendricks out the door and Worrilow out for the year, the Eagles lost two veterans on Tuesday.
My guess is the Eagles don't spend it in the short term. They'll keep the cap savings as insurance this season and carry over whatever they have left to 2019. The $6 million savings will hit the books after June 1. I can't see the Eagles adding a player of that value. They have a little more flexibility to add veteran depth (maybe at safety) and an injury replacement. Considering they started the day tight against the salary cap ($102,558), the money will be helpful.
I actually spoke to Nate Gerry about this on Tuesday. (Look for more in an Early Birds-to-appear-later.) But quick version: It's a night and day difference for Gerry at linebacker. He says he's bigger and faster and has a far better understanding of how to play the position than this time last year. He's also learned more linebacker spots. The Eagles viewed him as a project last year. Gerry showed promise in the season finale against Dallas. This is a big offseason for him, and after Tuesday's events, there are even more opportunities for him. He could develop into more than a special teams player. He's a defensive prospect, too.