The Eagles will make their first round of cuts by this Tuesday at 4 p.m. That's when the roster has to get down to 80 players.
By Saturday, Sept. 3, that number has to get down to 53.
The Birds have played three preseason games, but as recently as yesterday, provided shakeups that are sure to affect roster decisions. Most notably, they moved Todd Herremans to right tackle, and Steve Smith and Jeremy Maclin returned to practice.
I'm going to wait until Friday to put out my full 53-man roster projection, but having worked on it quite a bit in the past few days, here are five questions that will affect who makes it:
1. Will Joselio Hanson be traded?
I've discussed this possibility several times in recent weeks. The reasons for dealing Hanson are simple. He carries a reported cap number of over $2.4M and is unlikely to be on the field except for dime packages. Meanwhile, the Eagles have rookie Curtis Marsh, second-year player Trevard Lindley and Brandon Hughes behind him. Reuben Frank of CSNPhilly.com reported on Friday that the Eagles are currently fielding offers for Hanson. And Howard Balzer of 101 ESPN Radio in St. Louis Tweeted that the Rams have discussed dealing for Hanson, although his contract could be an issue. But if the Eagles do find a suitable trade partner, I could see them keeping Marsh, Lindley and Hughes and going with six cornerbacks. If not, they would have to decide whether cutting Hanson makes sense, or whether they'd be better off bidding farewell to Lindley or Hughes. I think Marsh is probably safe.
2. What is Winston Justice's status?
His injury has been puzzling since the first day of training camp. The Eagles were obviously concerned enough to sign Ryan Harris, then Reggie Wells and now move Todd Herremans over. Even when Justice gets healthy, it seems he'll be penciled in for a backup role. This weekend, Andy Reid once again told reporters Justice is "close" but he has not yet returned to practice. It's fair to wonder whether he could start the season on the PUP list and sit out the first six weeks. Justice's status probably affects Reggie Wells the most. If Justice goes on PUP, Wells has a great shot to make the roster, even though his signing was a surprise last week. The only other backup tackle is King Dunlap, unless the Eagles were in a pinch and had to move Evan Mathis or Danny Watkins. Moving Herremans made the Eagles thinner along the interior anyway, so it's possible Justice could come back, and the Eagles would still keep Wells.
3. Who has the edge: Hunt or Te'o-Nesheim?
This is a big one. Unless the Eagles surprise and get rid of a veteran like Juqua Parker, it probably comes down to Phillip Hunt or Daniel Te'o-Nesheim for the final defensive end spot. Hunt has stayed healthy and had some bright spots in the preseason. Te'o-Nesheim missed Thursday night's game against the Browns, but reportedly returned to practice yesterday. He was a third-round pick in 2010, which could give him an edge. But both players were brought in under Howie Roseman's watch.
4. Is Laws a goner?
Entering training camp, I had Trevor Laws pegged as a lock to make the roster. But when the Eagles signed veterans Anthony Hargrove and Derek Landri, Laws' status became a question mark. He's still recovering from a hip flexor injury, but it's worth noting that Laws played in 15 games last year. Only Trent Cole, Juqua Parker and Mike Patterson logged more snaps among defensive linemen. And Laws showed signs in his third season that he could be a productive player, tallying four sacks and seven QB hurries. He's only 26, but entering the final year of his contract. Did the Eagles see enough in 2010 to save a roster spot for him? Or do they prefer veterans Landri and Hargrove? The way I see it, there is probably only room for two of the three (Laws, Landri and Hargrove). Hargrove ran with the first team at defensive tackle when Patterson was injured, and he moved to defensive end last game. Landri has that "motor" Andy Reid loves and has been effective in the preseason.
5. What value do the Eagles put on the following players: Chad Hall, Colt Anderson and Akeem Jordan?
In the projection I've been working on, there are two roster spots for these three players.
Let's start with Hall. As a receiver, he looks more comfortable this summer. If it's looking like Steve Smith won't be ready to play in the first couple of weeks, Hall's value goes up. And he can serve as a return man too.
Anderson's value is pretty much limited to special teams, since the Eagles have four safeties ahead of him on the depth chart. There's no questioning how important he can be to Bobby April's unit though. Anderson had 12 special-teams tackles last year, tied for third-most on the team. What makes that number even more impressive is that he played in only eight games. Can the Eagles really afford to cut someone who has proven to be that effective on special teams? We know there will be fewer kickoff returns, but there will still be some. And don't forget about punts coverage.
And finally, Jordan. He's been serving as the backup middle linebacker, but with the roster constructed the way it currently is, I wouldn't be surprised if Jamar Chaney moved to the middle in the event that Casey Matthews got injured. Like Anderson, Jordan's value is more tied to special teams. He led the team in special teams points last season and was second to Moise Fokou with 16 special teams tackles. The roster numbers are in Jordan's favor also. The Eagles are thin at linebacker, and keeping him would give them six, which has been the norm in recent seasons.