With one week to go before teams have to reduce rosters, the Philadelphia Eagles find themselves with a number of roster spots still in flux. While having more talented players than available roster spots is a good problem to have, it is still a problem.
Philadelphia Eagles Have Tough Roster Decisions Coming
Some issues are singular. If the Eagles elect to keep four tight ends, then undrafted free agent Billy Brown will make the team. His inclusion would bump someone from another position group, not another tight end.
If defensive tackle Beau Allen is ready to start the season coming off of a pectoral tear, he’ll unexpectedly take a spot. Allen, though, was always coming back at some point.
In other areas, there is a clear battle between players within a position group. Those players are currently jockeying for position for the final roster spots. Once cut downs begin, these are the five positions that eyes will automatically scan for to see how the position battles shook out.
What was a giant weakness coming into training camp is a little more settled now. Over the weekend, the Eagles sent safety Terrence Brooks to the New York Jets for cornerback Dexter McDougle. The noise heard throughout Philadelphia was the air going out of second-year corner C.J. Smith‘s balloon. Brooks was in a fight with Jaylen Watkins for a roster spot at safety. Watkins, who has also been getting reps at corner, is now unopposed.
The starting corners seem locked in now with recently acquired Ronald Darby on one side and second-year player Jalen Mills on the other. Third-round pick Rasul Douglas is going to be on the team somewhere and second-round pick Sidney Jones is staying on the Physically Unable to Perform list for the time being.
Who’s the nickel corner? If he were healthy, it would most likely be Ron Brooks, who the team specifically signed for that role last year. The problem is that Brooks’ hasn’t been healthy for most of his stay in Philly. This year’s free agent Band-Aid, Patrick Robinson, has been working against the slot recently, but McDougle is also primarily a nickel corner. Not long ago, Smith seemed set as a backup on the outside. If the team elects to keep multiple corners who can play nickel, however, he could be in trouble. If the team keeps five safeties, then Watkins makes the team. Do they really need five safeties, though?
Prediction: Watkins makes the team thanks to his versatility. Brooks sticks around despite his injury history, but they keep Robinson as insurance unless someone better shakes free after other team’s cuts. While it’s risky, the team can try to sneak Smith and McDougle through waivers and onto the practice squad.
The first two spots at linebacker are easy enough. Jordan Hicks and Nigel Bradham started every game last season. Even though the team plays a base 4-3 defense, the fact is that they really only use two linebackers the majority of the time. Mychal Kendricks has had a great preseason, but in order for him to have a big role on the team, defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz would have to adjust his philosophy. That’s probably not happening. The team has been trying to trade him since the end of last season and is now just playing a waiting game to see if another team’s injuries make them desperate enough to part with a better draft pick for Kendricks.
Najee Goode is, in reality, the top backup. The curious thing with him, though, every year, the team cuts him when rosters are pared, only to bring him back a week later after his salary is no longer guaranteed. Joe Walker, the team’s seventh round pick in 2016, has shown some flashes but still seems like he has some lingering issues from the ACL tear that he suffered a year ago. This year’s fifth round pick, converted safety, Nate Gerry, was a lock right until he pulled a hamstring in the third preseason game. Like Goode, Kamu Grugier-Hill is a key special teams contributor. Don Cherry, who spent last year on the Eagles’ practice squad, has also looked good at times.
Prediction: Things hinge on whether or not the team can find a trade partner for Kendricks. If he’s not traded, they’re not cutting him. If Gerry is significantly hurt, then that makes things even more complicated. That said, even though the Eagles like his coverage skills but stashing him on IR for a year wouldn’t be the worst thing. This year, it might be Goode who makes the team, with Grugier-Hill being the one who disappears for a week. Walker’s fate largely rests on what happens with the others. Cherry is probably back on the practice squad.
The starters are set and the two main backups also seem locked in with Stefen Wisniewski handing the interior and Halapoulivaati Vaitai providing tackle insurance. Beyond that, though, it’s anyone’s guess. Chance Warmack, the former first-round pick of the Titans, has struggled but the team might want to see what he can do the more he works with position coach, Jeff Stoutland, who coached him at Alabama. Dallas Thomas has started 26 games in his career, but since he only plays guard, Warmack’s presence makes him redundant. Dillon Gordon, who’s a converted college tight end, seemed a lock to make the team, but converted defensive end Taylor Hart is making a late push to stay on the roster.
Prediction: At the beginning of camp, Warmack seemed like a failed reclamation project. The coaching staff, however, seems to like him. It’s a shock that Hart has worked himself into the conversation, but there’s at least some possibility that the team is just talking him up as a nice parting gift. The guess here is that Gordon keeps his place on the roster.
Last year, the Eagles struggled to come up with enough receivers to even fill out the roster. This year, they’re probably going to expose someone that they don’t really want to lose. Free agent signees Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith are the starters, and now that Jordan Matthews has been traded to Buffalo, Nelson Agholor is locked into the slot. Fourth-round draft pick Mack Hollins has already proven his value and can play special teams. That leaves one or two spots for Marcus Johnson, Shelton Gibson, Bryce Treggs and Greg Ward.
Prediction: There’s a very good chance that the Eagles are keeping four tight ends. If that happens, then they’re only keeping five wide receivers. In that scenario, Johnson, who’s shown that he has deep speed and good hands, gets the nod. Gibson was the team’s fifth-round draft pick, who’s been improving of late, but he would most likely clear waivers for the practice squad. Treggs and Ward are in the same boat. It seems excessive, but there’s a chance that all three of them end up on the practice squad.
After a bunch of speculation, the team squashed the notion that they might release LeGarrette Blount. This is probably Darren Sproles final season, but he’s around for this campaign. Wendell Smallwood entered camp as a question mark, but he’s proven that he is the most complete back on the roster as long as he can stay healthy. That big question is what the team does with fourth round pick Donnel Pumphrey. The all-time rushing leader in FBS history has struggled throughout the preseason. Meanwhile, undrafted free agent Corey Clement has shown that he can handle a role if needed.
Prediction: It’s hard to imagine that the team would cut a fourth round pick after one training camp. It’s not hard to imagine, though, the Eagles finding a reason for Pumphrey to go on IR. His college film shows that he has talent, but with his slight frame (5-feet-9-inches, 170 lbs), he could stand some time to acclimate to the pro game. If he’s willing to go along with that, then the team will keep Clement around — at least until someone that they like more shakes free.