Every NFL team has to get their rosters down to 53 players before the regulars season starts next week. In years past, teams had to bring it down to 75 before the final preseason game (tonight at 7 p.m. on NBC10), but this year that interim round of cuts was eliminated. Now, rosters must go from 90 to 53 after this week’s game, which means that in one day — literally tomorrow — nearly 1,200 guys are about to lose their jobs.
Say again how this game doesn’t matter. It’s going to be bad football, for sure, but for diehards who thrive on already knowing everything about which guys are going to clear waivers and make the practice squad, this is the Super Bowl.
For the rest of us, here are 5 reasons to actually watch.
Who will make the team at running back?
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The Eagles have six running backs on their roster and, contrary to rumors spread last week, LeGarrette Blount hasn’t gotten cut. Yet.
He probably won’t, unless Corey Clement has some kind of monster game against the Jets. Clement leads the Eagles with 89 yards and two scores in preseason, but that’s mostly because the starters have barely played. Still, he’s averaging just 3.7 yards per carry — best on the team in preseason but hardly a number worthy of a roster spot — while Byron Marshall and Donnel Pumphrey are, potentially, behind him on the depth chart.
Chances are Wendell Smallwood’s roster spot is safe, and Pumphrey was just drafted this year, so it’s odd to think the Eagles would cut bait with him this soon. Still, if Clement is a potential roster player the Eagles hope to stash on the practice squad, they might be concerned he won’t clear waivers.
What happens with the RB rotation against the Jets could go a long way in figuring out who will join Darren Sproles, Blount and Smallwood in the backfield this season.
Will the Eagles keep five or six wide receivers?
Despite signing Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith, allowing the team to trade Jordan Matthews, wide receiver is still a major issue for the Eagles. Even without Matthews, Philly has 10 receivers on the roster, and there’s already talk that tight ends Zach Ertz and Trey Burton will line up in the slot in three, four and five receiver sets.
Expect them to keep five or six receivers and/or try to stash a few on the practice squad. Who makes the team? Obviously Jeffery and Smith, plus Nelson Agholor. Rookie Mack Hollins has led the receivers in preseason with 10 catches, including a TD reception from Carson Wentz, so put him down in ink.
So who of Marcus Johnson, Bryce Treggs, Paul Turner, Greg Ward, Shelton Gibson and Rashard Davis makes the roster?
Bleeding Green Nation considers Johnson a lock, and says the fight might be on for any of the others to make the team. Treggs has game-changing speed, but he’s been injured, so the Eagles could roll with six receivers and give him a shot again this season. Or, like last year, they might hope a few of these guys fall to the practice squad and don’t get picked up elsewhere.
That makes this final preseason game kind of weird, in that the Eagles want receivers like Gibson, Ward, Turner and Treggs to show enough to deserve a spot on the team, but they kinda don’t want all of them to show too much, lest another team claim someone off waivers the Eagles hope to stash on the practice squad.
The secondary concerns
Like the receivers and tight ends, Doug Pederson prefers optionality in his secondary. There’s just been so much turnover in the last two weeks it’s hard to know who is playing corner, who is playing safety, who is a corner who can play some safety and who is a safety who can also play corner.
What we do know heading into the final preseason game is the Eagles have nine cornerbacks and six safeties on the roster. Five of the safeties — Malcolm Jenkins, Rodney McLeod, Chris Maragos, Corey Graham and Jaylen Watkins — should make the team. Wait…Watkins is a cornerback again, despite being listed as a safety. (This is very confusing.) He joins Ronald Darby, Jalen Mills, Rasul Douglas, Patrick Robinson, newly-signed Dexter McDougle, Aaron Grymes, C.J. Smith, Mitchell White and Jomal Wiltz on the roster, currently.
That comes after the team cut former starter Ron Brooks. Oh, wait, they cut White too. (It’s hard to keep up.) Frankly by the time you read this five other guys may have been cut.
That list does not account for Sidney Jones, the first round draft pick who probably won’t play this year. (Trust the Process.)
Brooks getting cut already helps Robinson, who could earn the nickel corner slot this week. It also helps Smith, who went from what looked like a lock to fighting for a spot on the team.
Someone on this list is going to make a play against the Jets and it will earn him a job. And you’ll get to tell people you saw it.
The new long snapper better be invisible
This isn’t so much something to watch for as something not to watch for: mistakes from new long snapper Rick Lovato, who replaces Jon Dorenbos. This, via the Eagles website:
“I just feel really comfortable in Philly. I just always felt being here, I was here for a reason,” Lovato said. “I just want to go in and keep my head down. Do my job. Not try to be noticeable or anything like that, but I really hold myself to a high standard so I wanted to win this job overall. I felt like I did that and I’m just really happy about how it happened.”
Just don’t snap any balls over the punter and you’ll be fine, card tricks or not.
Back-up QB is a problem
Offensive coordinator Frank Reich was asked about the health of Nick Foles this week and said, “we just have confidence in the process and the people here that know what’s going on with him, his evaluation, and how he communicates to our medical staff and to coach and to us about how he’s feeling.
“Then with his years of experience, I think all those things factor into the degree of confidence we have going into the season.”
Pardon me if that doesn’t instill confidence. Neither, though, does the play of potential third-stringer Matt McGloin, who is likely one game away from being out of a job. And yet there’s this from Paul Domowich, which might be an even bigger concern for Eagles fans:
McGloin is the third quarterback on a team that is expected to keep only two – Carson Wentz and Nick Foles. Foles has yet to make an appearance in the preseason, and probably won’t play Thursday against the Jets either. He’s spent most of the summer sidelined by a sore elbow on his throwing arm and has practiced just twice in the last 3 ½ weeks.
The question isn’t whether or not Foles can play in this offense, it’s if can he play at all. Can the guy even throw? And if not — or if there’s even an inkling of a question about that heading into the first game — don’t the Eagles have to keep a third quarterback? What if Wentz gets hurt?
Pederson says he has confidence in McGloin if he’s the primary back-up to Wentz, but should he be? He’s completed 70 percent of his passes against mostly second-string defenses, but he has just one preseason touchdown pass and three picks in 88 preseason attempts, while his yards per attempt is 5.6.
This is McGloin’s time to prove he deserves a shot to be on the team. Otherwise, the waiver wire is going to be pretty interesting next week.