Aside from last year, when the Eagles traded Sam Bradford, cut-down day — when teams must trim their rosters to a maximum of 53 players — is often anticlimactic.
Surprises are few, and even if there was an unexpected name, too much can be made of the 52nd, 53rd, or 54th player on or off the roster. What is of more importance, and certainly from the Eagles’ perspective, is whether the final cuts were painful ones.
“This was a more difficult process, which is good,” Howie Roseman said Saturday. “It means we’re getting better.”
The Eagles are a long way from knowing if they will improve upon last season’s 7-9 record. But on paper they are a deeper squad. Last September, Roseman claimed three players off waivers on Sunday. The general manager said that he doesn’t expect to add as many this year.
Perhaps the Eagles are overrating some of their draft picks. Running back Donnel Pumphrey and wide receiver Shelton Gibson had inconsistent training camps and preseasons. But Roseman said the Eagles can play for now with an eye toward the future.
“We’re trying to balance where the ceilings are for guys, and especially some of the guys that may not be active,” Roseman said. “We don’t want to lose a guy that a year from now or two years from now we think has starter traits.”
Forty-six players are active on game days. With a nod toward whom the Eagles will dress for the opener next Sunday against the Redskins, here is a position-by-position look at the 2017 roster as it stands now:
Quarterbacks (2): Carson Wentz, Nick Foles. The Eagles clearly had their minds set on keeping just two quarterbacks, and even Foles’ elbow injury, which made him miss the preseason didn’t deter them. “We feel good about where Nick is at,” Roseman said, “and where he is going into the Washington game.” For many reasons, they should hope he never takes FedEx Field.
Running backs (5): LeGarrette Blount, Darren Sproles, Wendell Smallwood, Donnel Pumphrey, Corey Clement. Although it is one of their weakest positions, the Eagles kept five tailbacks for now. A new face could be added to this group – at the expense of the undrafted Clement – off waivers. Blount, Sproles, and Smallwood will be active on Sundays and share playing time. Pumphrey, who has practiced occasionally at slot receiver, will be given time to develop. “It comes for people quick sometimes,” Roseman said, “and sometimes it takes a while for rookies.”
Wide receivers (6): Alshon Jeffery, Torrey Smith, Nelson Agholor, Mack Hollins, Marcus Johnson, Shelton Gibson. The most significant upgrades came at receiver, although the “starting” three of Jeffery, Smith, and Agholor is weaker in the slot after Jordan Matthews was dealt. Hollins and Johnson can contribute on special teams. Gibson was chosen ahead of Bryce Treggs, but the fifth-round rookie will likely be in street clothes to start.
Tight ends (3): Zach Ertz, Brent Celek, Trey Burton. Ertz is likely to benefit most from the departure of Matthews. He quietly had a strong summer. With Celek nearing retirement and Burton a year from free agency, the Eagles could have planned for next year by retaining undrafted rookie Billy Brown. He could return on the practice squad, but another team may be intrigued by his natural pass-catching abilities.
Offensive linemen (8): Jason Peters, Jason Kelce, Lane Johnson, Brandon Brooks, Isaac Seumalo, Stefen Wisniewski, Halapoulivaati Vaitai, Chance Warmack. The Eagles have kept only eight offensive linemen before. Trading away Allen Barbre and Matt Tobin over the last month suggested great depth. Roseman said that he may bring back some of the younger prospects – Dillon Gordon, Darrell Greene, Aaron Neary – to the practice squad. For now, there are only three reserves – center/guard Wisnewiski, tackle Vaitai, and guard Warmack – although Roseman considered them more than backups. “We think we have eight starters on the offensive line,” he said.
Defensive ends (5): Brandon Graham, Vinny Curry, Derek Barnett, Chris Long, Steven Means. The investment in the defensive front has been steep. Top draft pick Barnett clearly has potential. Long still has tread on his tires. It’s time for Curry to live up to his contract. Means earned the one-year extension he signed Friday. He may be active on Sundays. Alex McCalister was too much of a project.
Defensive tackles (5): Fletcher Cox, Tim Jernigan, Beau Allen, Destiny Vaeao, Elijah Qualls. Jernigan has been slow to adapt to a new scheme. Allen’s speedy return saved the Eagles from having to possibly trade for another body. Qualls’ persuasive finish showed that he has enough burst to play one-gap football. The seventh-round rookie will likely sit on game days.
Linebackers (6): Jordan Hicks, Nigel Bradham, Mychal Kendricks, Najee Goode, Kamu Grugier-Hill, Joe Walker. Kendricks made it to September. For months, it seemed as if he would eventually be in another uniform. But he had a strong preseason, and he plays almost enough to warrant his paycheck. Nathan Gerry was the lone draft pick not to make the roster. The fifth-round rookie was attempting to convert from safety, but Goode is more versatile, Grugier-Hill is better on special teams, and Walker has a specific skill set in the middle.
Cornerbacks (5): Ronald Darby, Jalen Mills, Patrick Robinson, Rasul Douglas, Dexter McDougle. Acquired just days before the preseason finale, McDougle edged out C.J. Smith. Robinson is ahead of him in the slot, but he could supplant the veteran. The outside starters are young. Darby is in his third season, and Mills is in his second. They have potential but will take their lumps. Sidney Jones, who is still recovering from an Achilles tendon rupture, was placed on the non-football injury list. The Eagles have six weeks to figure out if they want to activate him or place him on season-ending injured reserve. “We have a long way to go,” Roseman said.
Safeties (5): Malcolm Jenkins, Rodney McLeod, Corey Graham, Chris Maragos, Jaylen Watkins. Jenkins and McLeod form a solid duo in the secondary. Graham is a competent third safety and could be the fifth defensive back in nickel personnel if Jenkins is to play in the slot. Watkins played more cornerback than safety toward the end of the preseason. His versatility helped land him on the roster.
Specialists (3): Caleb Sturgis, Donnie Jones, Rick Lovato. Sturgis had some early struggles in camp and the preseason, but he was more accurate over the final few weeks. Jones beat out Cameron Johnston, who may have been here merely to rest the 36-year-old punter. Lovato has big shoes to fill after Jon Dorenbos was traded.