The NFL is often cruel, and one of the more brutal days on the league calendar arrives Saturday, when teams must reduce their rosters to a maximum of 53 players.
After spring workouts, three weeks of training camp, and four preseason games, a few dozen Eagles will find out they didn't make the club. It's a forbidding way to have your dreams dashed, but not as harsh as making the cut only to be told a day later that you've been replaced.
A year ago, cornerback C.J. Smith, wide receiver Paul Turner, and defensive tackle Taylor Hart survived Saturday's guillotine. But they were axed Sunday, when the Eagles claimed safety Terrence Brooks, linebacker Kamu Grugier-Hill, and receiver Bryce Treggs off waivers.
Smith, Turner, and Hart eventually found their way back onto the Eagles, and all three are on the team. But their fates spoke to the fluidness of the 53-man roster, and regarding the 2016 Eagles, to that squad's relative lack of depth.
This year's team is deeper. But don't be surprised if Howie Roseman pulls off yet another trade or plucks from the waiver wire, particularly at cornerback, running back, or defensive tackle. The Eagles executive won't deal, it's safe to say, his starting quarterback eight days before the season opener.
Barring a Sam Bradford-like shocker, there could be a few mild surprises this year.
There are still days – and Thursday night's preseason finale against the New York Jets — remaining until the deadline at 4 p.m. Saturday, but here is one beat reporter's roster projection (with the understanding that it could change over the next 48 hours):
Quarterbacks (2): Carson Wentz, Nick Foles. Foles' elbow injury has clouded what once appeared to be a two-man job. Do the Eagles roll the dice and keep Foles as Wentz's lone backup, or do they keep Matt McGloin or acquire some yet-to-be-identified third quarterback? Doug Pederson has said he isn't concerned about Foles' lack of playing time or the arm. We'll take him at his word.
Cut: Matt McGloin, Dane Evans.
Running backs (4): LeGarrette Blount, Darren Sproles, Wendell Smallwood, Donnel Pumphrey. Blount's one-year contact doesn't guarantee him a roster spot. His performance in the preseason doesn't either, but unless Roseman adds another piece, Blount should start the season in midnight green. Undrafted rookie Corey Clement has his supporters, but the Eagles aren't likely to cut Pumphrey, a fourth-round draft pick they traded up to nab.
Cut: Corey Clement, Byron Marshall.
Wide receivers (5): Alshon Jeffery, Torrey Smith, Nelson Agholor, Mack Hollins, Marcus Johnson. Even if Jordan Matthews hadn't been traded, Johnson was likely on the roster. A recent injury shouldn't offset his strong showing early in camp. The same can't be said of Treggs, who may have some worth on the market. Fifth-round rookie Shelton Gibson looks destined for the practice squad.
Cut: Bryce Treggs, Shelton Gibson, Turner, Greg Ward, Rashard Davis.
Tight ends (4): Zach Ertz, Brent Celek, Trey Burton, Billy Brown. Four tight ends are a lot, but offensive skill positions tend to blur. Burton, for instance, is more of an H-back than a tight end. Brown played receiver at Division II Shepherd. He needs work as a blocker, but with Celek possibly in his last year, and Burton on a one-year contract, Brown could be worth hanging onto as a developmental piece.
Cut: Anthony Denham, Adam Zaruba.
Offensive linemen (9): Jason Peters, Jason Kelce, Lane Johnson, Brandon Brooks, Isaac Seumalo, Stefen Wisniewski, Halapoulivaati Vaitai, Chance Warmack, Dillon Gordon. The Eagles kept 10 offensive linemen last season, partly because of Johnson's impending 10-game suspension. But they also felt strongly about Gordon's future. He's still a project, but he squeaks in on this list.
Cut: Darrell Greene, Taylor Hart, Josh Andrews, Dallas Thomas, Tyler Orlosky, Victor Salako, Aaron Neary.
Defensive ends (5): Brandon Graham, Vinny Curry, Derek Barnett, Chris Long, Steven Means. Alex McCalister spent a "redshirt" rookie year on injured reserve and added some weight. But his length and lack of power still make rushing the passer an awkward enterprise. Means, however, had one of the better preseasons for players on the roster bubble and was rewarded Wednesday with a one-year contract extension.
Cut: Alex McCalister, Jake Metz.
Defensive tackles (5): Fletcher Cox, Tim Jernigan, Beau Allen, Destiny Vaeao, Elijah Qualls. Allen's quick return from surgery to correct a torn pectoral tendon saved the Eagles from one more difficult roster decision. Vaeao played in all 16 games last year as a rookie and could be the last defensive tackle if the Eagles keep only four. Drafted in the seventh round, Qualls has made a late push.
Cut: Justin Hamilton, Gabe Wright, Winston Craig.
Linebackers (6): Jordan Hicks, Nigel Bradham, Mychal Kendricks, Joe Walker, Kamu Grugier-Hill, Nathan Gerry. It's possible the Eagles keep as many as seven linebackers. Najee Goode has been ahead of Walker, Grugier-Hill, and Gerry on the depth chart, but he's a vested veteran, and rather than guarantee his salary for the entire season the Eagles may cut him for a third straight year only to bring him back later. Gerry has a hamstring injury and could be an IR candidate.
Cut: Najee Goode, Don Cherry, Carlos Fields, Christian Tago.
Cornerbacks (5): Ronald Darby, Jalen Mills, Patrick Robinson, Rasul Douglas, C.J. Smith. The release of Ron Brooks meant that Robinson will likely open the season in the slot. Dexter McDougle, who was acquired in exchange for Terrence Brooks earlier this week, could supplant Robinson with a strong showing against the Jets. The odds are steep. Aaron Grymes is solid inside, but he doesn't have outside versatility. Look for Roseman to upgrade here off the waiver wire.
Non-football injury list: Sidney Jones.
Cut: Dexter McDougle, Aaron Grymes, Jomal Wiltz.
Safeties (5): Malcolm Jenkins, Rodney McLeod, Corey Graham, Chris Maragos, Jaylen Watkins. The Eagles could keep just four, but Watkins has played both safety and cornerback the last few weeks. Versatility is a bonus at any position.
Cut: Tre Sullivan.
Specialists (3): Caleb Sturgis, Donnie Jones, Rick Lovato. For the first time in 11 years, the Eagles will open the season without long-snapper Jon Dorenbos on the roster. All good things must come to an end.