Drafting players and crafting a 53-man roster are two different animals, but they are certainly of the same species.
At the very least, both have the same purpose: You're trying to get the best players for your football team.
General manager Howie Roseman has been adamant the Eagles no longer draft for need but take the best available players on their board. Asked two weeks ago about some of the decisions he and coach Chip Kelly will face in trimming the roster to 53, Roseman said the same philosophy would be used.
“We’re trying to get the best 53 guys on this team," Roseman said. "So if that means we have to go heavy at one spot, we’re not in a position here where we can be selective about talented players. We got to keep as many talented guys as we possibly can on our football team. We’re trying to do this the right way and so that carries over from our draft philosophy which is take the best guys.”
But when the Eagles announced their 53-man roster on Saturday there were several players that were released that seemed to perform better in the preseason than others at their respective positions. Wide receivers Greg Salas and Russell Shepard were cut and Jeff Maehl survived. Tight end Clay Harbor was waived and Emil Igwenagu remained. And outside linebacker Chris McCoy was sent packing and inside linebacker Casey Matthews stuck around.
"When Chip talked about the versatility at the back of the roster we didn't want to duplicate a lot of skills," Roseman said on Saturday. "So that's what made some of the choices at the back of the roster. Maybe some guys that played well in the preseason, but maybe they were duplicating the skills of some of the guys that we had. It didn't make sense to keep them or try to find guys that did some different things."
In theory, and possibly in practice, Roseman's explanation makes sense. You want versatile players on your roster that can handle multiple tasks, especially if they're one of 46 players that dress on Sundays. Kelly has stressed this attribute since arriving. It's certainly been a concern for the coach, who had countless players at his disposal at Oregon.
But it seems to run contrary to the philosophy Roseman has touted for two years -- take and keep the best players. It remains to be seen if McCoy, Harbor and Shepard were the best players. All three were claimed off waivers on Sunday. The Eagles brought Salas back to their practice squad. And we're talking about players low on the depth chart.
But there will be injuries this season, especially with the additional plays and opportunities for injury that Kelly will have with his up-tempo offense. There will be a handful of backups pushed into the starting lineup. And that, to me, is more important than whether such-and-such can play five positions. If tight ends Brent Celek or Zach Ertz or outside linebackers Connor Barwin or Trent Cole get injured, who would rather see filling in -- Harbor or Igwenagu or Matthews or McCoy?
Kelly, who said last week that he had final say over the 53-man roster, already made his choice.