Final cuts are done (see story). The Eagles have their 53-man roster set (see story). If history is a fair indication, the Eagles are likely to make another move or two during the waiver-wire period that could upgrade their roster.
But for the most part, they’ve decided on the best set of players to take into the season. Here’s my analysis of their roster:
1. The Eagles are deeper across the board, no question. Last year, the first corner off the bench was Roc Carmichael. He’s not even on the team. Nolan Carroll is now the fourth corner, first off the bench on the outside, and will see some action in the dime. Last year, the Eagles went into the year with an injured Dennis Kelly and rookie free agent Matt Tobin as backup tackles along with Allen Barbre. Kelly is healthy and Tobin really improved in the offseason. He’s a future starter. They also kept Andrew Gardner, who looked good in camp. Last year’s backup defensive line featured Clifton Geathers and Damion Square. Brandon Bair is much more athletic than Geathers and rookie Beau Allen showed he can provide some pass rush at the backup nose spot over Square. Even at wide receiver, the Eagles’ fourth wideout now is Brad Smith. Last year, Jeff Maehl. Only area of concern is inside linebacker, where Casey Matthews is the fourth right now. But that’s the same as last year, so no worse.
2. I’m surprised the Eagles kept just three running backs (see story), but not shocked they went with Polk over Henry Josey, Matthew Tucker and Kenjon Barner. I realize fans have soured on Polk’s durability — even though he played 16 of 17 games last year — but he’s their best runner after LeSean McCoy. When healthy, he’s best equipped to handle the rushing load if McCoy were to get hurt. By the way, he’s also a good special teams player and has good hands out of the backfield. Tucker is a good running back, too. Thought he’d make it, but I don’t think the Eagles made a bad decision here.
3. The 53-man roster now stands to be different in a few days. The Eagles could afford an upgrade at backup inside linebacker and they’ll have that chance through waivers if someone they like makes it through. And don’t be stunned if they make a trade. When asked about trades, Howie Roseman said, “We’ve been trying,” but he noted that only two league-wide trades were executed prior to the deadline. Roseman didn’t mention names, but Matt Barkley is a prime candidate. He’d be a really good fit for the Rams and it sure seems as if he’s got no starting future with the Eagles.
4. Does Chip Kelly have an Oregon bias? I’d say yes and no. He’s got five guys from Oregon, which is 10.6 percent of the roster, which is high for one school, but also not absurd. Kelly went into camp with nine, so he cut four of his beloved Ducks. For perspective, Kelly has four guys from Cincinnati, which isn’t anywhere near the powerhouse Oregon is. Josh Huff and Bair deserve to be on the team. You could argue Emmanuel Acho over Casey Matthews, but Matthews is a better special teams player, which is more important for the backup linebacker. Here’s where it gets dicey: Fifth-round pick Taylor Hart didn’t exactly wow anyone this preseason and wideout Jeff Maehl is just a guy. I can’t be convinced the Eagles didn’t cut better players than those two. But we’re mainly talking about bottom-roster guys here, so it’s not the crime of the century.
5. It seems like the Eagles took a leap of faith going with Cody Parkey over Alex Henery. I know the world can’t stand Henery right now for missing two preseason kicks, including a 31-yarder, but is there enough evidence Parkey will be better? The sample size is extraordinarily small. Roseman said they worked Parkey out in college and noted his leg strength and big-game experience. He also looked closely at Carey Spear. How’d that pan out? Say what you want about Henery, but his make percentage wasn’t terrible in his three-year career. He also kicked in bad-weather games in college. Parkey isn’t accustomed to kicking in the snow or driving wind. You might be happy Henery’s gone, but are you convinced Parkey’s the answer? I’m not. For a team that lost its last playoff game by two when its kicker missed a 47-yarder, the Eagles should have done more to upgrade the position. Maybe they’re not done, though.
6. The defensive line was the lone bright spot of last year’s defense and it should be even better this year. All three starters are back, so that helps. Vinny Curry is bound to see more snaps at the beginning of the year. Last year, he was inactive for the first two games. Allen will also get into the rotation instantly. Bair has good length and showed this preseason he can be disruptive up front. It’s still not loaded with excellent pass rushers but I anticipate much more substitutions and rotations this year compared to last.
7. The most common gripes I hear from fans are, “But this guy’ll never clear waivers” and, “This guy’ll get signed from our practice squad.” All NFL teams make tough roster decisions and end up cutting guys they’d like to keep, so just because the Eagles waived Josey, Tucker and safety Ed Reynolds doesn’t automatically mean they won’t have the chance to sign them back on the practice squad. And if they get signed to the Eagles’ practice squad, it doesn’t mean they’ll leave for another team. And if another team shows interest in an Eagles practice squad player, the Eagles can still retain that player with a pay raise. If I had a nickel for every time I’ve heard — both last year and this year — that the Eagles can’t cut Ifeanyi Momah or stash him on the practice squad because he’d get signed by another team, I’d own roughly half of Turks and Caicos. So I guess I’d just own Turks, or Caicos.
8. Pass rush is still the big concern. Unless they pull off major moves between now and Monday, the Eagles still have the fundamental problem of their best two pass rushers being bench players (Curry, Brandon Graham). Teams usually aren’t lining up to trade pass rushers away, so it’ll be hard for the Eagles to do anything drastic over the next few days to improve that weakness. The Eagles ranked second-to-last in 2013 in sacks per pass attempt. Even a slight improvement isn’t enough.
9. Roseman said the story on first-round pick Marcus Smith “is yet to be written.” He suggested it probably wouldn’t be authored just this year. Smith needs a full offseason in Kelly’s program without everything swimming around his head before he can become someone resembling a first-round pick. But Roseman believes Smith will have an impact this year. Smith didn’t show much pass rush in the preseason but he’s athletic and can run, so he’s actually a decent option at the backup “Jack” when Connor Barwin needs a break or if Barwin gets hurt. Which leads me to another point …
10. Barwin has replaced DeMeco Ryans as the defense’s most indispensable player. It’s not even close. If Barwin gets hurt, his replacement is … Marcus Smith? Graham can’t really play the Jack and Bryan Braman isn’t suited for it, either. Really shows you how impactful the season-ending injury for Travis Long was (see story). He would have been the backup Jack if he didn’t tear his ACL against the Jets. If Barwin gets hurt, the Eagles may have to consider going to a heavier nickel. Barwin had some knee soreness last week and missed practice, which isn’t an encouraging sign.