A shortened preseason game at the end of August did no favors for many guys on the Eagles’ roster bubble. The NFL deadline for trimming down the roster from 90 players to 53 is August 31, two days after the final preseason games. Tough decisions are looming.
The Eagles already have a pretty good idea of who is staying and who is going. The biggest question marks reside in the secondary and how they decide to designate Jalen Mills and Cre’Von LeBlanc. Mills started training camp on the PUP (physically unable to perform) list, but if they keep him there he can’t return until after the first six weeks. Meanwhile, LeBlanc may miss six weeks with a Lisfranc sprain. Does he move over to the PUP?
Perhaps the most bizarre situation is at quarterback where Josh McCown is suddenly locked in as the backup. The Eagles will likely keep Nate Sudfeld rather than put him on injured reserve (that would end his season), so that means rookie Clayton Thorson will be cut. Ideally, Thorson clears waivers and joins the team’s practice squad. However, he won’t be available if another team sees enough potential to sign the quarterback.
With all that in mind, let try and predict what the final 53-man roster might look like for the Eagles. Some of this may be wishful thinking.
Quarterbacks (3): Carson Wentz, Josh McCown, Nate Sudfeld
These guys have to be locked in at this point. McCown is due $2 million guaranteed, so he’s not getting cut. The team has been high on Sudfeld for two years now, perhaps even overselling him a bit. He’s not leaving — unless someone comes in and makes them an intriguing trade offer. Sudfeld was sharp in his only preseason game before getting hurt. As outlined above, the Eagles will try to push Clayton Thorson through waivers and put him on the practice squad.
Running Backs (4): Jordan Howard, Miles Sanders, Corey Clement, Darren Sproles
There is a good chance the Eagles keep five running backs, either Wendall Smallwood or Josh Adams. Probably Adams in that scenario. That would have been more likely had Clement not looked so good the other night. There are too many injury concerns at other positions to waste an extra roster spot here. Howard will start until Sanders takes the starting job — maybe in Week 4 — and Clement and Sproles give an added dimension with their pass-catching ability out of the backfield. This is a deep, talented group — arguably the best in the NFL.
Wide Receivers (5): Alshon Jeffery, Nelson Agholor, DeSean Jackson, J.J. Arcega-Whiteside, Greg Ward Jr.
No Mack Hollins? It’s going to be hard for the Eagles to give up on the speedy youngster. He made a nice toe-tap catch against Baltimore to remind everyone of his talent. However, he has just dropped too many balls in practice — perfectly-placed bombs from Carson Wentz. Greg Ward Jr. has slowly emerged as a favorite safety valve, including getting a good amount of first-team reps. He has six catches for 87 yards and a touchdown in the preseason. If they cut him, it would send a strong message that excelling in training camp doesn’t really matter.
Tight Ends (3): Zach Ertz, Dallas Goedert, Alex Ellis
Richard Rodgers wasn’t released or placed on IR, so he could still snake the third tight-end spot. The Eagles love his veteran leadership — and softball prowess. The dude can mash on the baseball diamond. At the end of the day, Rodgers isn’t worth the risk. Ellis stated his case Thursday night with stellar play on special teams, great run-blocking and then catching a nine-yard touchdown. He makes it.
Offensive Line (9): Lane Johnson, Jason Peters, Jason Kelce, Brandon Brooks, Isaac Seumalo, Andre Dillard, Halapoulivaati Vaitai, Jordan Mailata, Matt Pryor
Stefen Wisniewski is the odd man out here. He went from first-string left guard to bench in zero-to-sixty seconds, giving way to Isaac Seumalo and the big Hawaiian has seized the opportunity. Dillard, Vaitai, Mailata have all earned their way onto the team this preseason. Pryor could easily be left off the final 53, but we’re keeping him on for now. It’s hard to part with a guy that is 6-foot-7 and 351 pounds.
Defensive End (6): Brandon Graham, Derek Barnett, Vinny Curry, Shareef Miller, Daeshon Hall, Josh Sweat
Sweat hasn’t really done enough to make the team at this point, but the way everyone was talking about his potential makes it pretty clear the Eagles like him. He only saw 28 snaps last week, an indication that the coaches are comfortable with what he’s done. Daeshon Hall has played too well to kick to the curb. Originally, the Eagles probably only wanted five defensive ends. Hall has pushed them to keep six.
Defensive Tackle (4): Fletcher Cox, Malik Jackson, Tim Jernigan, Hassan Ridgeway
The camp battle to watch was Hester vs. Ridgeway. It’s safe to say Ridgeway won that one this summer, but Hester was hoping to find a home on the final 53 due to his invaluable contributions on special teams. Double Doink anyone? Not sure he’s proven worthy.
Linebacker (7): Nigel Bradham, Kamu Grugier-Hill, Zach Brown, Nathan Gerry, L.J. Fort, Chris Singleton, T.J. Edwards
The Eagles have never valued the linebacker position, going back to the Andy Reid days, so it seems odd to predict they keep seven. Problem is, all these guys are deserving of spots. Fort put on a clinic against Baltimore with four tackles and a huge goal-line stop, with Edwards leading the team with seven tackles in that one and Singleton adding three of his own. Remember, Bradham is slowly rehabbing from injury and Grugier-Hill is out to November. They need depth here.
Cornerbacks (5): Ronald Darby, Sidney Jones, Avonte Maddox, Rasul Douglas, Cre’Von LeBlanc, Jalen Mills (PUP)
If Mills stays on the PUP list, then they get to stash a starting-level cornerback without losing a roster spot. But there is so much uncertainty around this position group. Darby just started participating in team drills and LeBlanc might be out six to eight weeks. The good news is that Jones and Douglas have both proven that can play the outside corner spot. Don’t be surprised if they try to sneak Jeremiah McKinnon or Josh Hawkins onto the practice squad.
Safety (4): Malcolm Jenkins, Rodney McLeod, Andrew Sendejo, Rudy Ford
Jenkins, McLeod and Sendejo are on, no need to wonder about that. McLeod looked fully healed from his ACL tear in his first game back and Sendejo is as solid as they come. Here’s where it gets interesting: the Eagles just traded for Ford. Why do that if you weren’t serious about keeping him? Ford ran a 4.34 unofficially at his pro day — and the Eagles will be too tempted by his speed.
Special Teams (3): Jake Elliott, Cameron Johnston, Rick Lovato
Matter of semantics here because you need a kicker, a punter and a long snapper. These three are the Peter Gibbons characters.