EAGLES COACH Andy Reid spoke this week about how "you want to keep the best players" when you cut down, as the Birds must do, to get from 75 players to the regular-season roster limit of 53 by 9 p.m. Friday.
Well, duh. But what Reid meant was, you might find yourself going into the season heavy at one position and light at another, because the fourth safety might not be as valuable a player as the fifth defensive end. Keeping subpar players to plug holes while letting better players walk at other positions is less than optimal.
But Reid must've thought better of taking such a bold stance, because he qualified his statement with "There's a whole lot of balancing that goes on there, but in theory, yeah, that's what you want to do."
Balancing, meaning, "Gee we really do need at least three safeties, even if we only have two who can play, and even if that means we're cutting a wideout who's going to make somebody else's team."
This is an especially interesting consideration in 2012, because the Eagles have an odd talent pool. If you could figure out alignments that would put five wideouts or eight defensive linemen on the field, the Eagles would surely be Super Bowl-bound. They are among the league's richest at those positions. Linebacker, offensive tackle, safety, and tight end, not so much.
Here is one beat writer's stab at figuring out what Reid and general manager Howie Roseman will do, bravely posited without the input from that all-important fourth preseason game, Thursday night at home against the Jets. In some instances, I'm pretty sure what they're going to do and what I would do are different, so I note that.
* Quarterback (3): Michael Vick, Nick Foles, Mike Kafka. Yes, I know you'd rather see Trent Edwards than Kafka. I think I would, too. But I'll be surprised if it happens. Edwards has been a fifth wheel from the get-go. Not sure exactly why. As I've said previously, I think the Eagles might think they can get Edwards back if they decide they need him. He didn't play in the league in 2011. The coaches were very enthusiastic about Kafka coming into training camp. One awful preseason interception didn't change everything.
* Fullback (1): Stanley Havili. Me, I'd go without a fullback, line a tight end up in the backfield, give Chris Polk a crash course, whatever. I would much rather keep four running backs than try to sneak one onto the practice squad to keep Havili on the active roster. You could probably get Havili to the practice squad and massage the roster week-to-week, depending on whether you thought you were going to be running a lot of two-back. But Reid seems to think he needs a fullback on the roster, period.
* Running back (3): LeSean McCoy, Dion Lewis, Bryce Brown. I would keep Chris Polk as well, but I anticipate the Eagles will either cut Polk and hope he doesn't get picked up so they can practice-squad him, or decide that his "loose" right shoulder really should get season-ending surgery, after all. Depending on the learning curve for Brown, I wouldn't be shocked to see a veteran cut from somewhere join the group at some point.
* Offensive line (9): The five starters are King Dunlap, Evan Mathis, Jason Kelce, Danny Watkins and Todd Herremans. After that, I have Demetress Bell, who will start at left tackle at some point, plus fifth-round rookie Dennis Kelly, veteran backup center/guard Steve Vallos and singing sensation Julian Vandervelde. Sixth-round rookie Brandon Washington suffered a concussion in training camp and didn't get to show much. I don't see why he can't continue to develop on the practice squad, unless the Eagles are scared somebody will grab him. In that case, either Vandervelde or Vallos would be in trouble.
* Wide receiver (6): Yes, six is a lot. But I seem to recall Reid liking to throw the ball. And, see above for my thoughts on cutting good players. Jeremy Maclin, DeSean Jackson, Jason Avant, Riley Cooper, Damaris Johnson and Mardy Gilyard. They all played well enough to make my team. Dunno if the Eagles agree about Gilyard. Sixth-rounder Marvin McNutt does not make it, from what I've seen. Chad Hall somehow retains practice-squad eligibility.
* Tight end (2): Brent Celek and Clay Harbor are very solid. Yes, in this age of double tight-end sets, it would be good to have a third, and I wouldn't be shocked to see the Eagles find one somewhere. They don't have that guy right now. If they get him through other teams' cuts in the next few days, then my plan to keep six wideouts is probably scrapped.
* Specialists (3): Chas Henry, Alex Henery and Jon Dorenbos. Even not quite fully back from that nerve problem, Mat McBriar outperformed Henry, but McBriar's shakiness as a holder might have been too much of an obstacle for him to overcome. Agent Jack Bechta tweeted Wednesday that McBriar will be released.
* Defensive line (11): This is where the Eagles are deepest. It was a tough break for Mike Patterson to have to start the season on PUP, but it sure made this calculation easier. You start with Jason Babin, Trent Cole, Cullen Jenkins and Fletcher Cox. Then there's Derek Landri, Phillip Hunt, Cedric Thornton, Brandon Graham, Vinny Curry, Darryl Tapp and Antonio Dixon. I keep 'em all. Why? Because you never know when you'll need a good player. If you cut, say, Thornton now, he won't be available next offseason, if you decide, say, Jenkins' best days are behind him.
* Linebackers (6): DeMeco Ryans, Akeem Jordan and Mychal Kendricks are the starters. Brian Rolle, Jamar Chaney and Casey Matthews back up. Adios, Keenan Clayton.
* Safeties (4): The starters are Kurt Coleman and Nate Allen, and the only other guy on the roster I'd keep is O.J. Atogwe, and I have a suspicion he might need to play well against the Jets to make the team. Would not waste any more time with Jaiquawn Jarrett. The Eagles might, if nothing pops loose as other teams cut down. Phillip Thomas? Maybe, but I have a feeling the fourth guy is somebody who isn't here yet. Colt Anderson probably goes to PUP and resurfaces Week 6. Let's pencil in undrafted rookie Thomas for now, very lightly.
* Cornerbacks (5): Nnamdi Asomugha, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Joselio Hanson, Brandon Boykin and Curtis Marsh, for sure. Wouldn't shock me if the Eagles went with three safeties for the first week and kept sixth corner Brandon Hughes. Not the most likely path, obviously.