NFL teams have exactly 19 days to determine which of the 53 players on their roster they would like to keep for the 2014 season. For the Philadelphia Eagles, at least 40 roster spots are all but guaranteed, whether to a veteran, a free-agent acquisition or a rookie.
That leaves about 50 players fighting for approximately 12 or 13 spots. The competition, like it is every season, will be fierce.
Below is my attempt at predicting the official 53-man roster projection for the beginning of the season, as well as the eight players on the team's practice squad.
Nick Foles is the unquestioned starter and is fully expected to take that next leap towards establishing himself as a franchise quarterback in the National Football League. He probably won't post a 119.2 passer rating or post a 13.5-to-1 touchdown-to-interception ratio, but if Foles can play 16 games and lead the Eagles to a second consecutive division title, he should earn a lucrative contract extension this offseason.
Signed to a one-year deal in free agency, Mark Sanchez was a major disappointment during five seasons with the New York Jets. Although he led the team to the AFC Championship Game in each of his first two seasons, Sanchez finished his tenure as a Jet with more interceptions than touchdown passes. He's looked impressive throughout camp, however, and should be able to hold off last year's rookie Matt Barkley for the number two quarterback spot.
Expect Barkley to easily fend off undrafted G.J. Kinne for the final spot at quarterback.
Running Backs (4): LeSean McCoy, Darren Sproles, Chris Polk, Matthew Tucker
LeSean McCoy is one of the three best running backs in the National Football League, depending on where you'd rank him with Adrian Peterson and Jamaal Charles. The league's reigning rushing champion, McCoy has gone on the record predicting a 2,000-yard rushing season for 2014.
Sproles, acquired in a trade with the New Orleans Saints, is already 31 years old, but he's more of an offensive weapon than a traditional running back. He caught 71 passes last season but carried the ball just 53 times. The Eagles signed him for his abilities as a receiver and a returner more than his work as a runner.
An undrafted rookie free agent in 2013, Chris Polk managed to score three rushing touchdowns despite carrying the ball just 11 times. He's a virtual lock to make the roster and would handle the duties at running back, over Sproles, in the event of an injury to McCoy.
The big question is whether the Eagles carry a fourth running back. I'm going to vote yes. They have some impressive talent in camp this season, as Matthew Tucker looks to hold off undrafted rookies Henry Josey and David Fluellen. Tucker scored two touchdowns in the preseason opener and spent two games on the roster in 2013 but did not carry the ball.
There are four receivers set in stone for the Eagles, three who will receive significant playing time this season. Jeremy Maclin and Riley Cooper are the starting receivers on the outside, while rookie Jordan Matthews takes over Jason Avant's role in the slot. Josh Huff, drafted in the third round, is almost certain to enter the season as the fourth receiver but he doesn't project to catch more than 25 or 30 passes. He's likely going to be the kick returner, though, especially after his brilliant 102-yard return in the first preseason game.
There's going to be at least one more receiver on the roster, probably two. Here are the options for those spots in alphabetical order: Arrelious Benn, Damaris Johnson, Jeff Maehl, Ifeanyi Momah and Brad Smith. Yes, I included Momah in that group. He was a disaster in training camp last season, but he's made some nice plays so far this summer and he has an outside chance to make the team in less than three weeks.
Chip Kelly loves Brad Smith and lined him up all over the formation last season, whether in Wildcat packages or at receiver. Smith was even listed ahead of Matthews as the starting slot receiver on the first depth chart. Although that obviously won't last, I'm going to go ahead and put Smith on my team.
I am going to go with a sixth wide receiver over a fourth tight end. Maehl gets my nod. He was unspectacular last season and will likely be asked to contribute just on special teams, but he did play for Kelly at Oregon and he knows the offense well.
Tight Ends (3): Brent Celek, Zach Ertz, James Casey
There should be an interesting battle for the starting tight end spot, although technically it doesn't really matter. Veteran Brent Celek and second-year player Zach Ertz will both see more than 50 percent of the snaps this season. Celek is a tremendous run-blocker and a solid pass-catcher, averaging a ridiculous 15.2 yards per catch in 2013. Ertz is poised for a breakout season in 2013 and could even threaten to lead the team in receptions.
Veteran James Casey, a free-agent signing last offseason, barely played last year. He caught just three passes and mostly contributed via special teams. Don't expect that to change this season. He's going to make the team, based on his nearly $4 million salary, which includes $2 million in dead money if he's cut.
Offensive Line (9): Jason Peters, Evan Mathis, Jason Kelce, Todd Herremans, Allen Barbre, Matt Tobin, Andrew Gardner, Dennis Kelly, David Molk
There's no competition on the offensive line this summer. The five starters are the same as last season: Jason Peters, Evan Mathis, Jason Kelce, Todd Herremans and Lane Johnson.
Oh wait. That's right. Thanks to his PED use, Johnson has been suspended for the first four games of the season. Veteran Allen Barbre will step in at right tackle during Johnson's absence.
No other backup offensive lineman is a lock to make the team. Not even close. Matt Tobin, Andrew Gardner, Dennis Kelly and David Molk are my picks as the four backups.
Tobin spent a couple of games on the team last season. Gardner can play both guard and tackle. Kelly has been on the team since he was drafted in the fifth round in 2012. And Molk has the edge over Julian Vandervelde as the backup center following Vandervelde's recent back surgery.
Defensive Line (6): Fletcher Cox, Bennie Logan, Cedric Thornton, Vinny Curry, Beau Allen, Taylor Hart
You can pencil in Fletcher Cox, Bennie Logan and Cedric Thornton as the three starters on the defensive line. Cox is an emerging pass-rusher who had to deal with playing a new position under a new defensive coordinator in a new scheme in 2013. Logan bulked up and is expected to become the nose tackle of the future. Thornton is a dominant run-stopper but a subpar pass-rusher.
Expect Vinny Curry to be the first player off the bench, likely in passing downs in place of Thornton. Pro Football Focus rated Curry's 2013 season as the second-best ever by a 3-4 defensive end in terms of pass rushing productivity (subscription required). Even though he's best suited for a 4-3 defense, he's a sleeper who could push Thornton for starting time this season.
Beau Allen should be able to hold off Damion Square for the backup nose tackle position. Drafted in the seventh round this season, Allen has earned some first-team reps in camp and impressed in his first preseason game.
Oregon's Taylor Hart, a fifth-round pick by Kelly, is a lock to make the team. I have just six defensive linemen making the squad, with Joe Kruger as the last lineman cut.
Linebackers (9): Trent Cole, DeMeco Ryans, Mychal Kendricks, Connor Barwin, Marcus Smith, Brandon Graham, Najee Goode, Bryan Braman, Jason Phillips
I'm intrigued by the Eagles' group of linebackers this season. Your four starters are the same players as 2013: Trent Cole, DeMeco Ryans, Mychal Kendricks and Connor Barwin.
It's difficult to know what to expect from Cole this season. He collected eight sacks last year, an impressive total for a player switching positions at age 31. He also played well down the stretch, when in previous years he's usually done the opposite.
Ryans played more snaps than any linebacker in the NFL in 2013, and defensive coordinator Billy Davis has openly talked about cutting down the veterans reps this season. He's almost 30 years old and likely in his last year with the team.
Kendricks was up and down during most of last season but really dominated in the season's final three games, collecting three sacks and two interceptions. The third-year player is in line for a major breakout season in 2014.
Barwin was the jack-of-all trades at linebacker last year, dropping back into coverage more times than any other 3-4 linebacker (per PFF). A vastly underrated free-agent signing last spring, he's probably the heart and soul of the linebacker corps.
Rookie first-round pick Marcus Smith likely won't get significant playing time in 2014, but he's expected to be the replacement for Trent Cole in a year or so. Still an unknown, Brandon Graham enters his fifth season after the Eagles traded up to grab him in the first round of the 2010 draft.
I'm going with three more linebackers, giving the Eagles a total of nine. Bryan Braman and Jason Phillips will both contribute on special teams, while veteran Najee Goode is the top backup at inside linebacker. After three seasons on the team, Casey Matthews' disappointing tenure with the Eagles comes to an end.
Cornerbacks (5): Cary Williams, Bradley Fletcher, Brandon Boykin, Nolan Carroll, Jaylen Watkins
The Eagles are going to have some interesting decisions to make at cornerback over the next few weeks. There's almost a virtual guarantee that they keep the above-mentioned five players (and nobody else). You can pencil Cary Williams in as the number one corner and rookie Jaylen Watkins as the fifth corner.
Bradley Fletcher and Nolan Carroll will compete for the number two corner role, with the loser falling behind nickel corner Brandon Boykin on the depth chart. Personally, I'd hand Boykin a starting role, based on his six interceptions last season, but the Eagles want the 5'9" corner playing in the slot.
Safeties (5): Malcolm Jenkins, Nate Allen, Earl Wolff, Ed Reynolds, Chris Maragos
Just like at cornerback, there really shouldn't be any roster surprises at safety. Former first-round pick Malcolm Jenkins, who he signed a three-year deal in free agency, is the only guaranteed starter. Nate Allen will compete with last year's rookie Earl Wolff for the other starting job, although I predict that Allen wins the job. He's looked vastly improved this training camp.
Reynolds, a fifth-round pick, has been quiet throughout camp. He'll make the team but likely won't play much as a rookie, barring an injury. Chris Maragos, formerly of the Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks, is a promising special teams player and replacement for Colt Anderson.
Special Teams (3): Alex Henery, Donnie Jones, Jon Dorenbos
There will be absolutely no surprises on special teams. The much-anticipated kicking competition between Alex Henery and rookie Carey Spear was basically over before it began, with CSNPhilly's Reuben Frank going as far as to call Spear the worst kicker he's ever seen. For what it's worth, I expect Henery to turn in the best season of his career this year.
Veteran Donnie Jones is coming off perhaps the best season an Eagles punter has ever had. He's as reliable as they come. Long snapper Jon Dorenbos enters his ninth season with the team.
For what it's worth, I expect Darren Sproles to handle punt return duties, with Josh Huff returning kicks.
Suspended (2): Lane Johnson, Jake Knott
Lane Johnson will obviously make the team once his four-game suspension ends and even though Chip Kelly said that Johnson's starting spot won't be guaranteed, I have no doubt that the second-year tackle will be starting against the Rams' fearsome pass rush in Week 5. Let's hope he plays like he did in the second half of this rookie season (four sacks, 12 hurries) instead of the first half (seven sacks, 29 hurries).
I think Jake Knott's suspension will cost him a roster spot. Because he played in 12 games last season, he's ineligible for the practice squad. I like the Eagles' depth at linebacker, and I really don't see Knott taking a roster spot away from Goode or Phillips upon his reinstatement.
Practice Squad (8): David Fluellen (RB), Ifeanyi Momah (WR), Quron Pratt (WR), Trey Burton (TE), Frank Mays (DE), Joe Kruger (DE), Travis Long (OLB), Davon Morgan (S)
Just a stab in the dark, but here are my eight players for the practice squad: four on offense, all skill position players, and four on defense.
The big name on the list is Momah, who has become a fan favorite but probably won't ever see time in a real NFL game. I could see Kruger or Long getting signed to another team's active roster during the regular season.
If I had to rank the players in order of who is most likely to become a contributor in the NFL to who is least likely, it would go: Kruger, Long, Burton, Pratt, Fluellen, Morgan, Mays, Momah.