The first round of cuts were the easy ones. Now, comes the hard part.
After reducing their roster to 75 players by Monday, the Eagles have to further reduce the roster to 53 players by Friday. That means 22 players have to be cut by Friday at 9 p.m., leaving head coach Andy Reid with some very difficult decisions.
How many quarterbacks will the Eagles keep? Will they keep a fullback? Who will be the odd men out along the defensive line?
The Eagles have more capable defensive linemen than they can keep on their 53-man roster. Teams in need of defensive line help will certainly have their eyes on the Eagles’ cut list this Friday.
From the players’ perspective, they have one more big chance to convince the coaching staff they should make the team. The starters usually don’t play very much, if at all, during the fourth preseason game, so Thursday’s game (6:30 p.m.) against the Jets at Lincoln Financial Field will primarily be about players fighting to make the roster or move up the depth chart – and, of course, Jets quarterback Tim Tebow.
Keep a close eye on special teams. Becoming a valuable return or coverage player on special teams can be the difference between making the team and getting released.
Keep in mind that injuries play a part in the decisions of which players to keep or release. Friday’s 53-man roster also is not final. For example, the Eagles may have their antennas up for a veteran safety who gets released so they can sign him to bolster a weak position. Or, as was the case last season for Joselio Hanson and Chad Hall, they were cut, only to be brought back later
With all those caveats out of the way, this is an educated guess as to who will still be left standing as part of the Eagles’ 53-man roster this Friday.
(The projected number of players the Eagles will keep at each position is in parentheses.)
Definite: Michael Vick, Nick Foles
Bubble: Mike Kafka, Trent Edwards
Analysis: Foles has clearly elevated himself into the backup role with his excellent preseason. Where does that leave Kafka? Kafka started training camp as the No. 2 quarterback, but broke his left (non-throwing) hand during the preseason opener against the Steelers. Trent Edwards was considered the odd man out, but he’s had a very good preseason. Given Vick’s injury problems, the Eagles may be tempted to start the season with four quarterbacks. If they only keep three, the choice comes down to Kafka or Edwards.
RUNNING BACK (3)
Definite: LeSean McCoy, Dion Lewis
Bubble: Bryce Brown, Chris Polk
Analysis: Brown and Polk are in a battle for the third running back position. Brown could tip the scales in his favor with a good kickoff return or two against the Jets. If either Brown or Polk demonstrates the ability to block and gain tough inside yards, they could fill in at fullback, meaning they both could make the team.
Bubble: Stanley Havili, Emil Igwenagu
Analysis: Owen Schmitt, last year’s starter, signed with the Raiders. As mentioned in the running back analysis (above), it’s possible that the Eagles don’t keep a true fullback. In fact, I think that’s what Reid would prefer. But the Eagles absolutely need a threat to power up the middle or lead the way as a blocker in short-yardage situations. In the end, Havili keeps a tenuous spot on the roster.
Definite: DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin, Jason Avant, Riley Cooper (injured)
Bubble: Chad Hall, Damaris Johnson, Mardy Gilyard, Marvin McNutt
Analysis: A lot depends on whether Cooper, who broke his collarbone early in training camp, is ready when the season begins. Damaris Johnson will likely make the team due to his punt and kick returning abilities, but he’s also demonstrating that his speed can make him a big-play receiver. Johnson’s presence makes Gilyard’s skill-set redundant. The question is whether the Eagles keep Johnson and Hall or just one of them. With Andy Reid saying recently that Cooper will “struggle” to be ready for the opener, I think both Johnson and Hall make the initial 53-man roster.
TIGHT END (3)
Definite: Brent Celek, Clay Harbor
Bubble: Brett Brackett, Chase Ford
Analysis: Brackett and Ford have both distinguished themselves during training camp and preseason. Neither is an exceptional blocker, which is something the Eagles are lacking at tight end. On the other hand, Brackett, who played receiver at Penn State, could make the team due to his versatility. If Cooper isn’t healthy at the start of the season, Brackett could bounce outside to give the Eagles a big target at receiver near the goal line. Ford will be a welcome addition to the practice squad.
OFFENSIVE LINE (9)
Definite: Jason Kelce, Todd Herremans, Evan Mathis, Danny Watkins, King Dunlap
Bubble: Demetress Bell, Dennis Kelly, Dallas Reynolds, Julian Vandervelde, Steve Vallos, Brandon Washington, D.J. Jones
Analysis: Dunlap will start the season at left tackle. There is some uncertainty, however, about whether Bell, who was signed to replace the injured Jason Peters, will be kept around as a backup. The big money on his five-year contract kicks in next season, but the $3.25 he makes this year, including a $2 million roster bonus, is a lot of money for a backup who might not be with the team next season. Rookie Kelly should make the team. Steve Vallos and Dallas Reynolds are battling for the backup center position. Unless Bell is cut, only one of them will make the roster. Mike Gibson being put on injured reserve with a hip injury probably means that Vandervelde will make the team as a backup at guard. If the Eagles can find another veteran lineman who fits offensive line coach Howard Mudd’s scheme among this week’s cuts, it may be a bad sign for Bell or one of the young linemen.
DEFENSIVE LINE (10)
Definite: Trent Cole, Jason Babin, Cullen Jenkins, Derek Landri, Fletcher Cox (Mike Patterson, unable to perform)
Bubble: Phillip Hunt, Brandon Graham, Darryl Tapp, Vinny Curry, Antonio Dixon, Cedric Thornton, Frank Trotter, Monte Taylor, Ollie Ogbu
Analysis: This is where the Eagles have a glut of talent – and some extremely difficult decisions. If the Eagles had their druthers, they would keep 11 defensive linemen (not including Patterson, who was placed on the reserve/non-football related illness. In addition to the starters, first-round pick Fletcher Cox will definitely make the team. Phillip Hunt has had an outstanding preseason, so he should make the team. Darryl Tapp has the versatility to play defensive tackle and end, which gives him an advantage. Brandon Graham has demonstrated that it’s too early to give up on him after two unproductive and injury-plagued seasons. On the other hand, rookie defensive end Vinny Curry has played well. Antonio Dixon is the Eagles’ best run defender at defensive tackle. Cedric Thornton has also played well during the preseason. My best guess is the Eagles start the season with 10 linemen, especially if Babin isn’t fully recovered from his calf injury, with Thornton being the odd man out.
Definite: DeMeco Ryans, Mychal Kendricks, Akeem Jordan, Jamar Chaney
Bubble: Casey Matthews, Brian Rolle, Keenan Clayton, Ryan Rau, Monte Simmons, Adrian Moten
Analysis: This group received a shakeup this week when Akeem Jordan was promoted to a starter at weakside linebacker, with Rolle being demoted. Rolle, who probably would have been replaced earlier if Chaney hadn’t injured his hamstring, hasn’t been impressive during preseason. There’s a possibility he won’t even make the team. Rolle is back in the mix with Matthews (above), Jordan and Clayton in a battle for what likely will be the final two spots. And maybe we shouldn’t count out Rau, who has played well. Clayton, like Jordan, excels at special teams. Would the Eagles dare cut Matthews? The Eagles could postpone a final decision if Matthews (high ankle sprain) or Chaney needs to start the season on injured reserve. They could solve this dilemma by keeping seven linebackers. Otherwise, the final cut at linebacker will be an extremely difficult decision.
Definites: Nnamdi Asomugha, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie
Bubble: Joselio Hanson, Curtis Marsh, Brandon Boykin, Brandon Hughes, Trevard Lindley
Analysis: Boykin is helped by his skills as a kick returner. I think Hanson, Marsh and Boykin make the team.
Definite: Nate Allen, Kurt Coleman
Bubble: Jaiquawn Jarrett, O.J. Atogwe, Phillip Thomas
Analysis: If special teams demon Colt Anderson is sufficiently recovered from his ACL tear in time to start the season, only one of the “bubble” safeties will make the team. Jarrett, a former second-round pick out of Temple, was horrific in the first preseason game. He has shown improvement, but that’s not the same as being good. Atogwe was brought in as a veteran presence, but he’s missed the past two preseason games with injuries. Rookie Thomas has been fine for a rookie, which isn’t the same thing as being good enough to contribute to the team. Safety is the Eagles’ weakest position. Don’t be surprised if only one – or possibly none – of the “bubble” safeties are on the roster on Sept. 9 when the Eagles open the season against Cleveland.
SPECIAL TEAMS (3)
Kicker: Alex Henery
Punter: Chase Henry or Mat McBriar
Long snapper: Jon Dorenbos
Kickoff returner: Damaris Johnson, Brandon Boykin, Chad Hall, Bryce Brown
Punt returner: Damaris Johnson, Chad Hall, Brandon Boykin
Analysis: McBriar seems to have the inside track in the punting competition. But if changing holders affects Henery, the Eagles may regret switching punters, which could convince them to keep Henry.
(the punt and kick returners are listed at their offensive and defensive positions, so they don’t count toward the special teams total.)