As cuts near, Markus Wheaton’s hamstring limiting ability to contend for Eagles’ roster
Veteran wideout is now a long shot to make the team, after a promising start to training camp.
Wide receiver Markus Wheaton said Sunday he has never been in this position – trying to get back from an injury late in August, needing to be healthy and productive in the final preseason game to contend for a roster spot.
Wheaton practiced Sunday for the first time in nearly three weeks, since suffering a hamstring injury before the Aug. 9 preseason opener. He said before practice that he wasn't sure how much he would do and that he wasn't certain he would be cleared to play Thursday in the annual preseason wrap-up against the Jets.
Wheaton, 27, was a third-round Steelers draft pick in 2013. He caught 53 passes for 644 yards and a couple of touchdowns in 2014, 44 for 749 (17 yards per catch) and five TDs the next year, but a shoulder injury in 2016 ended his time in Pittsburgh. Last season with Chicago, he caught just three passes in 11 games.
Wheaton, 5-foot-11 and 185 pounds, signed with the Eagles in May and seemed to be the kind of veteran who stood a decent chance of grabbing the fifth or sixth wideout slot, maybe even cracking the top four if someone disappointed or got hurt. And he started training camp looking pretty good, but then he went down.
"I've had injuries, obviously, but not being in the situation I'm in here," Wheaton said. "Here, [there's] a little less security in the situation I'm in, so we'll see how it goes. … Other teams, I was a little higher toward the top" of the depth chart.
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Eagles coach Doug Pederson was blunt about Wheaton and a few other roster hopefuls who haven't been healthy enough to show much in the preseason. Running back Donnel Pumphrey also returned to practice Sunday.
"Well, they need to be out there," Pederson said. "We should — Markus should work back a little bit into practice this week, and we'll see where he is each day and evaluate him each day. I'm hopeful that he'll get a chance to play in this game."
Wheaton has a one-year, $880,000 contract, with only $90,000 guaranteed.
The top four wideouts are Alshon Jeffery, Nelson Agholor, Mack Hollins, and Mike Wallace, though Jeffery has yet to practice with the team since offseason rotator-cuff surgery, Agholor has been held out of the preseason with a hamstring injury, though he practiced Sunday, and Hollins hasn't played since the preseason opener. He underwent offseason sports hernia surgery.
After that group, 2017 fifth-round draftee Shelton Gibson has surely earned a roster spot with a strong preseason, and journeyman DeAndre Carter, a late signee, has been a bright spot in the last two games.
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The Eagles released disappointing free agent Corey Nelson. and signed linebacker Jaboree Williams, an undrafted rookie from Wake Forest.
Nelson, 25, signed to a one-year contract in March, was expected to compete for the open weakside linebacker spot, but he never rose higher than the second-team defense. Nate Gerry and Kamu Grugier-Hill have been splitting time with the first team all offseason.
Nelson spent his first four NFL seasons with the Broncos. He started in only five games, in 2016, though he seemingly had the skills to be more than a special-teams contributor. But he failed to stand out during Eagles training camp and in the preseason.
The Eagles save $1 million in salary-cap space and could earn a late-round compensatory draft pick in 2019 with his release. They do eat $600,000 from his signing bonus.
Williams participated in the team's rookie minicamp this spring but wasn't signed. He said he was training in Florida when he got the call to join the team just six days before the Saturday roster cut from 90 to 53.
"Having the opportunity to go to practice and play in this last preseason game [Thursday against the Jets] means a lot," Williams said.
He knows he stands pretty much no chance of learning the defense and making the team this week, but there's always the practice squad and the possibility that if he makes a special-teams play or two against the Jets, somebody somewhere will see the film.
"I was never going to give up on my dreams," he said. "I was going to work until I got here."
Columnist Jeff McLane contributed to this story.