We’ve seen some of the unique methods Chip Kelly will use to attack NFL defenses throughout the season, now we know exactly what he has for an arsenal.
The Eagles cut down to the maximum 53 players before the 4 p.m. deadline on Saturday, and the subsequent 24-hour claiming period has ended. GM Howie Roseman says the back end of the roster will be “fluid,” but as far as Week 1 is concerned, this could be it.
Very often, cutdown day provides our first clear view into how a coaching staff truly felt about a lot of the so-called bubble players who were on the roster. Like any team around the league, the Eagles had difficult decisions to make as to who would survive, and like always, some players receive good news—and some do not.
At its core, it’s a period of highs and lows, or snubs and surprises, as players either hang on for at least one more week, or their futures pull them in another direction. Here’s a rundown of some of the big names that left town, and some of the surprises who are suddenly in the market for real estate.
The 23rd-overall pick in the 2011 NFL draft lost his job at right guard midway through last season, and his free fall down the depth chart continued ever since. In the end, the Eagles chose to carry nine offensive linemen on their 53-man roster, but Danny Watkins wasn’t one of them.
Probably most telling, though, is the fact that Watkins’ 2013 base salary—north of $1 million—was fully guaranteed, and the organization still decided to move on. That right there is the definition of “snubbed.”
Just to give you a snapshot into the company Watkins now keeps, this 28-year-old Canadian firefighter became the first Eagles first-round pick to receive his walking papers after two seasons since Jon Harris (1997-98). When you put it like that, maybe somebody from the front office should have seen this coming.
An afterthought when he arrived in Philly two weeks into training camp, Jeff Maehl was likely able to make up for lost time due to his familiarity with the offense. After all, he played wide receiver for Chip Kelly at Oregon.
The Eagles acquired this little-known 24-year-old from the Texans after Jeremy Maclin and Arrelious Benn were lost for the season to torn ACLs, lending the appearance Maehl was nothing more than a camp body. There was already a decent competition brewing over the fifth and final spot at receiver and everything.
It’s natural to speculate his history with Chip played a role in the decision. However, Maehl may have climbed to the top of the pile by hauling in eight passes for 61 yards in the club’s preseason finale against the Jets.
Then again, it’s also possible he was intended to serve as a placeholder, and the front office was banking on one of the receivers they released clearing waivers.
At one point during camp, this undrafted rookie out of LSU was considered the front-runner for that fifth wide receiver spot. While his production within the offense left something to be desired (3 RECS, 42 YDS), Russell Shepard was making a bit of a name for himself on special teams as a member of the coverage units.
Attitude and work ethic were second to none as well. That kid lived at the JUGS machine when practice was over.
Ultimately, Shepard was let go, but he would have been a prime candidate for the practice squad. Unfortunately for the Eagles, he didn’t make it through waivers, which could have been their plan all along.
Shepard wound up landing on his feet in Tampa Bay. The Birds settled for stashing Greg Salas on their scout team instead. Hope they don’t come to regret how that went down.
Is this another potential example of Oregon bias at work?
Clay’s little brother hasn’t shown he can cut it as an NFL linebacker. Perhaps it’s unfair to base assumptions about the younger Matthews on his 2011 campaign, when he went from being a fourth-round pick thrust into a starting role to a comfortable seat on the bench in three weeks time. For what it’s worth though, his 2013 preseason doesn’t grade out any better.
According to Pro Football Focus (subscription only), Casey Matthews had the worst cumulative score of any player on the Eagles’ defense this summer. That’s only one metric, but he didn’t pass the eye test, either. Fellow backups Emmanuel Acho and Jake Knott were actually making plays at those interior linebacker positions.
Matthews does perform on special teams, so it’s not like the Eagles will get zero value out of his roster spot. We are reaching a point where it’s not logical to expect more though.
Chris McCoy’s release was a surprise—if for no other reason than that the Eagles don’t have many outside linebackers who fit the prototype for a 3-4. They signed Connor Barwin in the offseason but otherwise are stuck relying heavily on converted defensive ends Trent Cole and Brandon Graham.
While he was admittedly getting washed away in the running game quite often, McCoy flashed potential as a pass rusher. The Canadian Football League veteran led the club with 3.5 sacks during the preseason and registered a forced fumble as well. He also dropped a would-be interception while falling back into coverage.
Lack of assistance on special teams may have hurt the 26-year-old’s chances, although the Jaguars didn’t seem to mind—Jacksonville scooped McCoy right off the trash heap.
It is a concern that this defense is relying on Trent Cole and Brandon Graham to catch on as outside linebackers in the first place. It’s flat out scary once you realize Connor Barwin is the only traditional or even experienced OLB on the roster at all.
The Eagles currently are carrying just three outside linebackers, which would be light for any team running any defense. For one that’s making a difficult transition to a 3-4 that involves moving defensive linemen to linebacker, it has the potential to be disastrous if things don’t work out with Cole and/or Graham.
The Birds will undoubtedly pick somebody up along the way, probably right as I get finished typing this sentence. Regardless, the whole unresolved nature of this situation makes the decision to let go of Chris McCoy even more curious.
Fun fact about the Eagles’ third-round pick from 2011: By Pro Football Focus’ count (subscription only), Curtis Marsh played on just 75 defensive snaps in two seasons with the Birds.
It's not hard to figure out why, given some of the names that lined up at cornerback for Philadelphia over this time period—Asante Samuel, Nnamdi Asomugha, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie—or considering Marsh began his college career as a running back at Utah State. But it is a little tough to evaluate a player who’s hardly seen any live action.
A dislocated bone in his hand may have sealed Marsh’s fate, and getting picked on by Tom Brady when the New England Patriots were in town for joint practices didn’t help, either. Had he been healthy, perhaps the Eagles wouldn’t have felt the need to pluck Shaun Prater off of the waiver wire.
It’s fair to say Marsh never got much of an opportunity from the day he was drafted. That was a pick wasted.
At one point during the preseason, the Eagles were toying around with a four-tight end set on offense, which should demonstrate the position’s importance in Chip Kelly’s offense. As far as pass catching is concerned, Clay Harbor was clearly the superior option.
A fourth-round pick in 2010, Harbor was athletic enough that the coaching staff experimented with using him at wide receiver this summer. He had a decent camp (4 RECS, 64 YDS), but a couple of drops may have been costly.
Coming to camp after spending a season on the practice squad, Emil Igwenagu was the less heralded option but earned his spot through other means. The converted fullback was chosen for the 53-man roster because he is a better blocker and pitches in on special teams—enough so that his ability as a receiver (3 RECS, 28 YDS) will get the job done.
Harbor quickly caught on with the Jacksonville Jaguars, where he might actually be able to step out of the shadows of Brent Celek, James Casey, and Zach Ertz. That was never going to happen in Philly.
An instant fan favorite when he signed in March, Ifeanyi Momah quickly gained notoriety purely based on his measurable qualities. A 6’7” wide receiver prospect that was clocked running a reported 4.4 in the 40-yard dash will invariably create some buzz.
Simply put, this incredible physical specimen failed to live up to the hype.
The truth is, he was always a long shot to make the team. Momah only caught 39 passes for 629 yards and six touchdowns during his collegiate career. A torn ACL ended his senior season after one game in 2011, and the Boston College product wound up going undrafted due to health concerns, then sat out of football for a year.
The Eagles knew he was a raw talent, but it really showed in practice and during games. Last we checked, Momah had yet to be so much as added to the practice squad.
That Nick Foles is still in Philadelphia will only come as a surprise if you thought he and Michael Vick were pitted in a loser-leaves-town match for the Eagles’ starting quarterback job. Believe it or not though, there was some talk that the Birds could or should trade the second-year signal caller upon the competition's conclusion.
There are just two problems with that. First, Vick is erratic and injury prone, so it makes sense to have a capable backup—rookie Matt Barkley doesn’t look ready.
Second, the Birds would be hard-pressed to get back the third-rounder they invested on Foles back in 2012. He doesn’t have much of a resume, and it might be difficult for another team to get him up to speed in time to be a factor this season.
The Eagles were better off holding on to Foles, as it seems inevitable he’ll have an opportunity to start at some point this season. Considering the strong training camp and preseason he just had, Foles may be hard to remove from the lineup once he gets in there.