It wasn’t exactly Black Wednesday when the Eagles reduced by two the number of returning veterans with the trade of guard Allen Barbre and the release of defensive end Marcus Smith, but it was an interesting peek into the organizational mind-set for the coming season.
If player personnel boss Howie Roseman were going to swing through the roster with a hot scythe, creating cap room by eliminating every underachiever or every player whose best days might have been reached, a lot more faces would be missing when the vets began to trickle in before the full squad begins practicing Thursday.
That wasn’t what happened, however, because that is what teams do when they have little expectations for the season ahead. The Eagles are not one of those teams, and with every move Roseman makes, it becomes clearer that the organization believes it can achieve something tangible in 2017, something more than just making sure that Carson Wentz’s release point is higher.
All of Roseman’s deletions have been surgical during this offseason, with either a significant economic benefit or with the benefit of making room for someone better. Aside from Barbre and Smith, the Eagles moved past defensive end Connor Barwin, backup quarterback Chase Daniel,and wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham. Obviously, some other veterans will be lost when the roster is reduced at the end of training camp, but Roseman has given coach Doug Pederson a full deck to start, not one stripped of face cards, even if some of the faces are well-lined or holding heavy bags of money.
Barbre was a good soldier here during his four seasons, and he started all 16 games at left guard in 2015 after Chip Kelly showed Evan Mathis who was boss. He probably would have stayed, but couldn’t shake a hamstring injury that hampered him last season, and the Eagles brought in Chance Warmack, a former first-round pick, as insurance behind Isaac Seumalo, who has exactly four career starts. The Eagles saved $2.1 million by trading Barbre, and that made sense.
Smith was something less of a soldier, although a pleasant enough guy whom everyone really wanted to like. He was a first-round selection, and Roseman took responsibility for making the pick, even though Kelly was in the room. (Chipper made it clear he had little to do with it.) Over three seasons in which the Eagles defense played 3,394 snaps, Smith was on the field for 412 of them, which is not really first-round reps. It is ironic that his last meaningful moment with the Eagles – or at least noticeable, if not meaningful – was a sack of Mark Sanchez in the season finale, with both sacker and sackee representing a considerable disappointment of the Kelly era.
In some ways, the Eagles were just turning a couple of pages that needed to be turned Wednesday. At defensive end, they still have Brandon Graham, an apparently healthy Vinny Curry, Chris Long, first-round draft pick Derek Barnett, and a few others for camp depth. Smith would have taken snaps from someone else and, unfortunately for him, never made great use of the ones he got. Plus, it was another $1.5 million off the cap and a savings of nearly $600,000 for a roster bonus that Smith won’t collect.
Roseman tidied up the roster a bit, and put a little more air in the salary-cap balloon with Wednesday’s moves, but he didn’t do anything to indicate that the front office considers this a rebuilding project. With the exception of the cornerback position – which isn’t a small oversight, one admits – there isn’t an area of the roster that hasn’t either been improved or at least not torn apart. The offensive line and linebackers have remained relatively static, and the offensive skill positions are hinged on incoming established veterans, which can be a risk, but it is a team capable of winning right now.
That will require some good fortune, particularly in the face of a difficult schedule, and it will really require staying healthy. But Pederson wasn’t wrong when he said the Eagles are talented (although he might have overreached with the comparison to the Packers of the 2000s), and he also wasn’t wrong when he said the team still has to live up to that billing.
In other organizations, if the coming season was merely a matter of placing the franchise quarterback in a 16-game incubator, the front office would have swung that financial axe with more gusto throughout the roster. That isn’t the case here. The Eagles are proceeding as if they think they’re going to win, which, by the way, is the only way to win.