The Eagles’ trade of Matt Tobin to Seattle was surprising when you consider that their top backups at offensive tackle now consist of a former fifth-round pick who struggled mightily last season (Halapoulivaati Vaitai), a converted tight end who went undrafted in 2016 (Dillon Gordon), and a converted defensive end who is in his first year on the offensive line (Taylor Hart).
The negligible nature of the return suggests they viewed him as taking up a roster spot that they needed for somebody else. You don’t part with a player two weeks before the season to move up from the seventh to fifth round of the draft if you envision him serving a vital role.
One guy to keep in mind here is Dallas Thomas.
While Thomas has spent most of his time on the interior, he has the ability to play on the edge, having started five games there for the Dolphins in 2014. The Eagles seem to like the veteran, who started all 16 games at left guard for the Dolphins in 2015.
Question is, did the Eagles make the Tobin move to accommodate another offensive lineman, or someone at another position?
Let’s try to reverse-engineer it …
I think it’s a pretty safe assumption to say the depth chart is set at four positions, with a total of 12 roster spots locked up at quarterback (Carson Wentz, Nick Foles), tight end (Zach Ertz, Brent Celek, Trey Burton), running back (LeGarrette Blount, Wendell Smallwood, Donnel Pumphrey, Darren Sproles), and specialist (Caleb Sturgis, Donnie Jones, Jon Dorenbos).
As for the rest, here’s how it sets up:
1) Defensive end
Locks: 1, Derek Barnett. 2, Brandon Graham. 3, Vinny Curry. 4, Chris Long.
Question: Alex McCalister, Steven Means, or both? The Eagles used four in their rotation last season and kept a fifth as depth. Last year, the fifth was Means, who had a strong training camp and preseason but looked overmatched at times by tackles in the regular season, finishing the year with just 36 snaps. McCalister spent all last year as an injured-reserve stash. He has huge athletic talent and appears to be putting on some weight, but he probably isn’t in a position to contribute significantly this season on defense, but he could fill a role on special teams, particularly the punt- and field-goal-block units. I think the Eagles continue to be intrigued by him, and will err on his upside, keeping five DEs.
Projected: 5,. Alex McCalister.
Purgatory: Steven Means.
2) Defensive tackle
Locks: 1, Fletcher Cox. 2, Tim Jernigan. 3, Destiny Vaeao. 4, Beau Allen.
Question: Four or five? Justin Hamilton or Elijah Qualls? Hamilton has spent the last couple of seasons bouncing around practice squads, but he’s a load at 6-foot-2, 315 pounds and has flashed some people-moving ability. The Eagles used only four defensive tackles last season, but with Allen’s uncertain health, I wouldn’t be surprised to see them go heavy here. Hamilton has been getting reps ahead of Qualls, a sixth-round pick who is a practice-squad candidate.
Projected: 5, Justin Hamilton.
Purgatory: Elijah Qualls.
3) Wide receiver
Locks: 1, Alshon Jeffery. 2, Nelson Agholor. 3, Torrey Smith. 4, Mack Hollins. 5, Marcus Johnson.
Question: Bryce Treggs, Shelton Gibson, or neither? This is where things start to get interesting. The Eagles carried only five WRs for most of last season before adding a sixth in Paul Turner at the end. Treggs has acquitted himself well this camp, while Gibson struggled early on. Both are deep threats who could fill in for Smith if he gets banged up. Gibson was a fifth-round pick and has more upside. There’s an argument to be made that a sixth wide receiver would be superfluous unless he can play special teams, which Treggs did not do last season. I suspect the question of whether to keep a sixth wide receiver will be one of the final roster questions, with Treggs and Gibson competing not just against each other, but also players at one of the other positions we’re about to discuss.
Purgatory: Bryce Treggs/Shelton Gibson.
4) Defensive back
CB locks: 1, Ronald Darby. 2, Jalen Mills. 3, Rasul Douglas.
Safety locks: 4, Malcolm Jenkins. 5, Rodney McLeod. 6, Corey Graham. 7, Chris Maragos.
Question: Nine or 10 total? Does Patrick Robinson have a spot locked up? How about Ron Brooks? The Eagles carried nine DBs last season, but that was light. The first domino is Brooks, who will be their starting slot if he’s healthy, but he has been sidelined with a hamstring and is coming off a serious quad injury. If they keep Brooks, I would project them to keep at least one more corner, given his health concerns. The question is whether they need that extra corner to be capable of playing the slot, in which case the choice would be Robinson. Or, they could decide that the combination of Graham and Jenkins gives them enough depth at the slot to go with Jaylen Watkins or Terrence Brooks as an extra safety.
Projected: 8, Ron Brooks. 9, C.J. Smith/Patrick Robinson/Jaylen Watkins/Terrence Brooks.
Purgatory: C.J. Smith/Patrick Robinson/Jaylen Watkins/Terrence Brooks
Locks: 1, Jordan Hicks. 2, Nigel Bradham. 3, Mychal Kendricks*. 4, Kamu Grugier-Hill.
Question: Six or seven? Are they comfortable with Joe Walker playing middle linebacker in case of an injury to Hicks? Will Kendricks be here? They kept six last year, with Najee Goode playing an important role on special teams. Right now, Goode is the backup middle linebacker, though he left practice Monday with a reported strained tricep injury that wasn’t considered serious.
Projected: 5, Najee Goode. 6, Nate Gerry.
Purgatory: Joe Walker/Don Cherry
So, where does that leave us?
Below is your official Philly.com Roster Battle Matrix.
First column (locks): The 43 players who are locks for the team, with an asterisk indicating that Mychal Kendricks could end up moving via trade at some point.
Second column (position locks): The number of open spots that will be filled by somebody at the position in question. For example, the Eagles will definitely keep at least nine offensive linemen, and at least nine defensive backs.
Third column (potential open slot): The final decisions to be made.
Read the first column top to bottom, then the second column bottom to top, then the third column top to bottom.
|Player locks||Position locks (projected)||Potential open slot|
|51. DL10 (McCalister/Means)|
|50. DL9 (Hamilton/Qualls)|
|5. WR6 (Treggs/Gibson)|
|49. DB9 (Smith/Robinson/Watkins/T. Brooks)
48. DB8 (R. Brooks)
|1. DB10 (Smith/Robinson/Watkins/T. Brooks)|
|47. LB5 (Goode)
46. LB6 (Gerry)
|2. LB7 (Cherry/Walker)|
|45. OL9 (Thomas)
44. OL8 (Gordon)
|3. OL10 (Warmack)
4. OL11 (Hart)
Barring a tragic oversight on my part, the last two spots on the Eagles roster will go to two of the following (in order of probability):
- A 10th offensive lineman (Thomas)
- A 10th defensive back (Smith, Robinson, Watkins or Brooks)
- A 6th wide receiver (Treggs or Gibson)
- An 11th offensive lineman (Hart)
- A 7th linebacker (Walker or Cherry)
In no particular order, here are some of the more pivotal questions:
- Would Nate Gerry get through waivers? The Eagles spent a fifth-round pick on the converted safety knowing he’d probably need some time to add weight and acclimate himself to a new position. In a perfect world, he’d be able to do this on the practice squad, but they showed a willingness last season to eat a roster spot on a project in Dillon Gordon. I’d put Gerry in the lead for the sixth linebacker spot.
- Is Patrick Robinson a viable option in the slot? I suspect whether he is on the roster depends on how the Eagles grade his performance in the slot this week. If they think he’s the best option behind Ron Brooks, he makes the team.
- Who is more likely to contribute this season: Bryce Treggs, C.J. Smith, Jaylen Watkins, or Terrence Brooks?
- Who has more upside: Treggs, Smith, Shelton Gibson, Joe Walker, Don Cherry, or Taylor Hart?