JJAW’s future, why cutting Travis Fulgham actually makes sense, when will Rodney McLeod will be ready, what the Eagles might be looking for on the waiver wire and lots more in Roob’s 10 Observations on the Eagles’ Roster Moves!
1. My first reaction to the initial Eagles’ roster was that there’s a real emphasis on young, developmental players over veterans who may be more ready to contribute on opening day but maybe don’t have the upside of some of the younger guys. Edge rusher Tarron Jackson and defensive tackle Marlon Tuipulotu are rookie 6th-round picks and linebacker Patrick Johnson is a rookie 7th-rounnd pick. All three are long-term prospects more than ready-for-the-NFL defenders, but all three are on the 53, at least for now. I’d put undrafted rookie TE Jack Stoll, project OT Brett Toth and even LB Shaun Bradley in that category, too. Considering where the Eagles are as a franchise, deep in a rebuilding season with a young QB and a rookie head coach, it makes sense. You need to learn as much as possible about your promising young talent instead of bringing in mediocre vets to take away their reps.
2. That said, don’t be surprised if this roster takes a very different shape on Wednesday. Waiver claim order is the same as the initial draft order, which means the Eagles are sitting in the No. 6 spot in claim priority. So they’ll have a pretty fair shot at being awarded most if not all the players they claim. That means they get that player (and his existing contract) but for every player they add, that’s one guy who made the initial 53 who they have to cut. And guys like Tuipulotu, Jackson, Johnson, Toth, Stoll and Bradley are all candidates to lose their spots on Wednesday. In most cases, the players they release after the initial 53 will clear waivers and the Eagles can then try to sign them to their practice squad. With the 16-man practice squad, game-day elevations and protected players, the practice squad really becomes more of an extension of a team’s roster than it ever did before last year. It's a risk, but the Eagles' chances of losing any of these guys is small.
3. What positions are the Eagles most likely to file waiver claims? I’d start with defensive tackle, where they don’t have a lot of depth behind Fletcher Cox and Javon Hargrave. Tuipulotu isn’t ready, and Milton Williams is more of a defensive end right now than interior lineman. Running back and wide receiver are also thin. The Eagles have only three RBs and five WRs and something has to give there. Honestly, considering the current makeup of the roster and the Eagles’ waiver position, I wouldn’t be surprised if they’re awarded three or four players Wednesday. I would expect all the players they claim to be in the promising youngster category as opposed to established veterans.
4. And don’t forget, all the vested veterans the Eagles released on Tuesday – guys like Jordan Howard, Hassan Ridgeway, Andrew Adams and Richard Rodgers – and if they’re not on the roster Week 1 their contracts are no longer guaranteed. I’d expect at least a couple of those guys back for Week 2. And the way the rules are set up now, they're all eligible for the practice squad despite their years of NFL experience.
5. The only safeties on the roster as of now are Marcus Epps, Anthony Harris, K’Von Wallace and Rodney McLeod, and that tells me that the Eagles believe McLeod, activated off PUP on Monday 8 ½ months after tearing his left ACL, will be ready to play against the Falcons. Because Wallace has been dealing with a groin injury and if he’s not healthy and McLeod can’t play that leaves you with only Epps and Harris. Even if you claim a safety, it’s a lot to expect him to be up to speed in a little over a week. And the Eagles can bring Adams back – he wasn’t bad in training camp – but not until Week 2. McLeod and Harris is a solid tandem. Anybody else and Harris isn’t close.
6. I do hope the Eagles bring Howard back. He’s just a different kind of running back than they have on the roster, both in terms of style and experience. He’s not a big-time receiving back, and from that standpoint I guess he’s not a great fit in Nick Sirianni’s offense. But he’s a tough inside runner and a willing and effective blocker, and he had a fine training camp. And he’s only 26 but a two-time 1,000-yard rusher who really hasn’t played in a year and a half.
7. OK, let’s talk about JJAW. Yeah, he made the initial 53, and good for him. You have to give him credit after two miserable seasons he never stopped working hard and although he didn’t have a great camp he did legitimately out-perform Travis Fulgham and John Hightower. But JJAW doesn't have anything locked up long-term. I would expect WR to be one position where the Eagles would put in a waiver claim or two, and if they do add WR depth Arcega-Whiteside is the odd man out. I do think Sirianni appreciates JJAW and I’d expect the Eagles to keep him around on the practice squad if he’s not on the 53. Not ideal for a former 2nd-round pick, but it’s better than nothing. Remember, Sirianni is evaluating JJAW only on what he's seen since the spring. He doesn't see him as a bust but as a guy who could contribute.
8. As for Fulgham, he was given every chance to win a roster spot and just couldn’t perform. He did not catch the ball well throughout camp, and he really gave the Eagles no reason to keep him. Yes, he was really good for five weeks last year, but this is a new coaching staff, Sirianni's evaluation is going to be based on what he’s seen since he got here. Fulgham has now had a disappointing second half of a season followed by a disappointing training camp, and it’s tough to keep him around in 2022 based solely on five weeks under a different coach in 2021 when opponents didn’t have any film on him and the QB really had nobody else to throw to. Remember, this is a guy who the Lions and Packers cut last year, so it’s appearing more and more like those five weeks were an anomaly. Still, I expect someone to claim Fulgham. I would. We’ve seen it before. I just don’t know if we’ll ever see it again.
9. Looking at the group of offensive linemen the Eagles kept is a living, breathing testament to the brilliance of o-line coach Jeff Stoutland. Jordan Mailata was a 6th-round Australian rugby player who never played football and is now a starting left tackle. Brett Toth played at Army, where in his two years as a starter the Black Knights ran the ball 1,609 times and threw 163 times, and he’s now an NFL-caliber pass blocker. Nate Herbig was undrafted out of Stanford and is a solid backup. Jack Driscoll was a 4th-round pick who started a bunch of games and played well as a rookie. Heck, Jason Kelce and Brandon Brooks never made a Pro Bowl before they were coached by Stout and now they’re two of the best in the league. Lane Johnson came in with Stout and like Kelce and Brooks has been to a bunch of Pro Bowls. Stout is a genius.
10. Tyree Jackson will go on Injured Reserve as soon as all the Eagles’ waiver claims are in, but just the fact that the Eagles kept him on the 53 instead of IR’ing him before the cut to 53 - which would have ended his season - is huge. This kid was playing quarterback last summer and the Eagles are now so high on him that instead of shutting him down for the year even with a serious back injury they made sure he’ll be available at some point this year. And even if he doesn't play much, at least he'll be able to practice when he's healthy, which wouldn't be the case if he was IR'd before the cut to 53. This tells you he’s not just some long-term developmental project. The Eagles believe he can help them this year. Incredible story.