What went wrong to make Danny Watkins one of the biggest first-round busts in Eagles history?
General manager Howie Roseman said Saturday evening that "nothing got off on the right foot" with Watkins from the NFL lockout keeping him from working with coaches right away when he was drafted in 2011, to then missing crucial training camp time while his contract was being settled, to his relationship with prickly then-offensive line coach Howard Mudd.
Watkins, a guard the Eagles drafted 23rd overall, was widely considered an unexciting but "safe" pick at the time.
"When you talk about Danny, a change of scenery was necessary for him," Roseman said after the team cut frrom 62 players down to the regular-season limit of 53. Watkins was the headline, among those released. The Eagles hadn't released a first-round pick after just two seasons since Jon Harris, drafted in 1997. "The pressure of being a first-round pick in Philadelphia, how he internalized that, the way for him to get his career back on track is to go to a new place and both I and Chip (Kelly) told him that today."
Roseman said Watkins understood. He was a firefighter from British Columbia who came to California to take a firefighting course, was persuaded to play junior college football, and ended up at Baylor, blocking for Robert Griffin III. Watkins was 22 when he started playing football, 26 when the Eagles drafted him. He seemed to lack both confidence and instincts at the NFL level.
"Part of his personality -- you talk about him being a firefighter -- is that he feels he has to save people. He put a lot of pressure on himself. He couldn't just go out and play," Roseman said. "Getting away from 'Danny Watkins, the first round pick' and just being 'Danny Watkins' will really help him.
"You're disappointed," Roseman said. "If there's a positive to it, I think in the last couple of years we were able to evaluate ourselves and make some substantial changes in how we do things. Going forward, I think that's really going to benefit us, and I think it's benefited us already."
Andy Reid, the coach who drafted Watkins, is gone, as is then-team president Joe Banner. Tom Gamble, imported from the 49ers, runs the personnel side under Roseman now. Anthony Patch is now college scouting director, and former GMs Tom Donahoe and Rick Mueller have joined the personnel department.
Watkins was part of a disastrous 2011 draft (2010 wasn't much better). The 2011 second-rounder, safety Jaquiawn Jarrett, was cut a year ago, and the third-rounder, corner Curtis Marsh, is hanging onto a roster spot by his fingernails. Ditto one of the fourth-rounders, linebacker Casey Matthews. The best players the Eagles drafted in 2011 seem to be starting center Jason Kelce, in the sixth round, and kicker Alex Henery, who arrived in the fourth.
"As you've seen here, a lot of the leadership positions and the responsibilities have changed in our organization," Roseman said. "We've obviously changed a lot of people in our personnel department. We've changed the way we look at things because we have new people in place."
Roseman said Watkins played with a nasty streak at Baylor, that "you felt like you were getting an enforcer," but Watkins never relaxed enough to play that way for the Eagles. "I don't know why that was. I told him that was part of the thing that I was the most confused by, because that was something everybody at Baylor told you about and you saw in his play on the field. I think it all goes back to the pressure he put on himself here."
The other most notable cut Saturday was veteran tight end Clay Harbor, who faced an uphill fight after the team added James Casey and Zach Ertz in the offseason. Roseman noted that among deep reserves, "role" talents are desirable, and Roseman said Emil Igwenagu, who made the roster at least temporarily, is the best "point of attack" blocker on the team. Harbor is more of a receiver. The Eagles tried hard to trade Harbor in the hours before the draft, and Roseman agreed he will be picked up somewhere, because "he has a trait -- he can run."
Aso released: rookie offensive tackle Michael Bamiro, linebacker Travis Long, linebacker Chris McCoy, wideout Greg Salas, wideout Russell Shepard, safety Dave Simms, and running back Matthew Tucker. The Eagles can start signing their own cuts to the practice squad at noon Sunday; it will be after that when they find out how many other teams' cuts made it through waivers.
Three undrafted rookies made the team -- offensive tackle Matt Tobin, nose tackle Damion Square and linebacker Jake Knott. The Eagles also kept wideout Jeff Maehl (at least for now), the ex-Oregon star they acquired in a trade for offensive lineman Nate Menkin. There are nine rookies, at least for now, and 20 new players overall, in Kelly's first season.
Roseman said the bottom of the roster will continue to churn. The Eagles have the fourth selection in the waiver process. 'If we have the opportunity to add some young players that we think will help our team, we're going to look at it," he said.
Other notes from Roseman's session with reporters:
*Roseman called Marsh "a big guy who can run," though one might be hard-pressed to point out a lot of highlights from his two seasons at corner, or from this training camp. Marsh is recovering from a broken hand, as is fellow reserve corner Brandon Hughes. Roseman said they should be able to play soon.
*Roseman talked of Matthews' versatility and his familiarity with the 3-4 from college (where'd be play again? Oh, right, Oregon.)
*Roseman said Vinny Curry or Casey Matthews can swing to OLB, where right now the Eagles have just three players.