Good morning. This newsletter comes to you after the Eagles' 10-9 win over the New York Jets in the preseason finale. The coaching staff and front office must cut the roster from 90 to 53 by 4 p.m. on Saturday. Doug Pederson also needs to decide a starting quarterback. Get ready for a busy week.
This is a preseason edition of the Early Birds newsletter, which will arrive in your inbox daily beginning Monday. If your friends haven't subscribed to Early Birds, it's free to sign up here. I want to know what you think, what we should add and what you want to read, so send me feedback by email or on Twitter @ZBerm. Thank you for reading.
— Zach Berman
This position is locked. The only question is who starts Week 1. I still think it's Wentz.
Five running backs might be a surprise. I made this change late in the process. The first three will definitely be on the team. I think they keep Adams as a developmental player. He's 21 and under contract for the next three seasons, and considering the long-term uncertainty at the position, they should consider the potential. (Remember: When the Eagles set the roster, they think about what 46 players will be active, and then they often consider the bottom-of-the-roster spots to be for developmental players.)
Smallwood is on the bubble. I had been thinking they would keep six receivers while Alshon Jeffery is injured and cut Smallwood, but my rationale for keeping Smallwood is that he can contribute more on special teams than the last receiver. Maybe he's not on the roster the whole year, but I think they at least know what they can get from him. He didn't play in the preseason finale. That might be a good sign.
This is a tough position because of Jeffery's injury. (Jeffery will be activated from PUP on Friday, but will reportedly miss at least the first two weeks.) It sounds like Hollins is going to be back for Week 1. The Eagles can get by with four receivers, although ideally, there would be a fifth. Markus Wheaton is experienced, but if he's on the Week 1 roster, his contract is guaranteed. I'm not sure the Eagles want to take on that charge. DeAndre Carter has had a nice preseason, but is he providing special teams value while Jeffery is out? I wouldn't rule out the Eagles adding a wide receiver after cut-down day.
The complication here is Rodgers' knee injury. If Joshua Perkins wasn't out with a concussion, I think he'd have a shot of earning a roster spot. I don't think Billy Brown makes it. This is another position that they can try to find on the waiver wire.
The starters and top two reserves are set. Mailata and Pryor, both rookies, will be developmental linemen who will be inactive on gamedays, barring injury. The toughest decision is Chance Warmack, a former first-round pick who was a contributor last season. My guess is the Eagles try to trade him, but if they can't, they can save $1.156 million by cutting him.
The top four are locks. Means could be a trade candidate – his pass-rushing talent warrants NFL playing time, but he's buried on the Eagles' depth chart. If he's not traded, Means could step into the rotation if there's an injury. Sweat, a fourth-round pick, is a developmental player.
The player to know here is Hector, an undrafted rookie who has outplayed 2017 draft pick Elijah Qualls this summer to be the fourth defensive tackle. The Eagles are missing Tim Jernigan, who will start the season on the non-football injury list.
You'll notice Nigel Bradham is not on this list. He does not count against the 53-man roster while suspended. The Eagles would need to make a roster move next week to add Bradham, whether it's releasing a player or putting someone on injured reserve. Reynolds will be a valuable special teams player, which is why he makes the roster. Walker is the backup middle linebacker, although the Eagles can scan the open market to see if there's an upgrade like last season.
The top five here are locks. Bausby had a good spring but hasn't distinguished himself during the preseason. I still think the Eagles keep him considering it's a valuable position and he's demonstrated talent. He's inexpensive and under team control for the next few seasons, so they can continue developing him.
Sullivan makes the cut because the Eagles will likely carry four safeties, but this is another position they can look to upgrade. For now, he can help on special teams and serve as a depth safety. Chris Maragos remains on the PUP list.
Johnston had a good preseason and should open the season as the punter. If the Eagles find a better option out there, you can't rule out a change, but he's done enough to stick and offers potential with a big leg.
This is the question of the summer, and I'll answer it now because the next Early Birds comes out Monday. I think Carson Wentz plays Week 1.
I wish I knew the answer for sure. If I go off my eyes at practice, he looks like he's ready to play. If I go by talking to teammates, he's practicing like he's ready. But I don't know what the threshold is for the medical staff, and I don't know what Jeffrey Lurie or Howie Roseman will say.