The NFL is back. Regular season football is just nine days away for the Philadelphia Eagles, but the deadline to trim the roster down to 53 is just over 24 hours into the future. The Eagles have plenty of tough decisions ahead of them, wth the talent on the bubble making judgement day an incredibly tantalizing period. Here’s a quick look at the five toughest decisions facing the team.
Running back rotation:
“Should the Eagles keep five running backs?” It’s a question that’s been pitched for quite some time but really blossomed on social media last night. As fourth round pick Donnel Pumphrey struggled to shine in preseason, undrafted rookie Corey Clement did anything but disappoint. He may have only played a few snaps before being pulled last night, but perhaps that was a sign that the Eagles had seen enough. A contributor on first team/second team special teams units, Clement has made his presence felt.
Without even debating what the future holds for arguably the most reliable back on the roster in Wendell Smallwood, the Birds have to first decide whether or not they take a gamble on Clement. Waiving him will mean likely saying goodbye after his stern preseason of 105 yards rushing is sure to have drawn attention from teams around the league.
Will there be a phantom injury? Will the Eagles roll with five or risk losing Clement to the waiver wire?
Preseason has been important for the Eagles cornerbacks. Whether it’s C.J Smith’s continued development or the moving of Patrick Robinson into the slot, the Eagles now have a clear direction…or do they?
Newcomer Dexter McDougle threw the Cat among the Pigeons with a ferocious performance last night against the team that traded him and Aaron Grymes led the team in tackles after being named a captain. After cutting Ron Brooks, both of these corners were left competing over the backup slot role and both put in impressive performances against the Jets. Who makes the cut?
On the outside, there’s even more discussion beyond Darby and Mills. Rasul Douglas has proven himself as a developmental cornerback, but has C.J Smith done enough to earn a spot? On the surface, absolutely. But if the Eagles want to keep a fifth running back or a fourth tight end, it could mean that Smith is left out in the cold.
Last night was supposed to give the Eagles some clarity at the linebacker decision but all it really did was raise more questions. Joe Walker looked extremely strong in coverage while Kamu Grugier-Hill showed his prowess on the Defensive side of things as well as highlighting his special teams presence.
What may raise more eyebrows however is the absence of Mychal Kendricks. Last year, the once esteemed pass-rusher played in the majority of snaps in a game where starters get rested, but after a strong outing this year, Kendricks was sidelined without pads. Is this a sign he makes the roster, and can the Eagles find a niche for him? If the team aren’t completely comfortable with Kendricks or still want some extra depth, it means the team has to balance special teams production with the amount of defensive snaps they’ll see. Najee Goode, Joe Walker, and “KGH” are all strong special teams contributors who bring something slightly different to the table, but who will the Eagles keep around?
Tight End gets tricky:
Brent Celek won’t be around forever and Trey Burton was only signed to a one-year tender. There is a possibility that both players won’t return to the team next offseason, leaving the Eagles with Zach Ertz alone at the position. The Eagles need developmental talent and as I have said since day one, the team have kept four tight ends on the roster before.
The question is, do the Eagles value Billy Brown’s intangiables enough to deem him worthy of a spot on the roster which at this point could just as easily be used on a fifth running back or an extra corner? Brown has impressed during camp and preseason, with the former Shepherd standout continuing to flash his receiving potential. Again, there is no guarantee Brown falls back to the Eagles after going unclaimed on the waiver wire, meaning that the team need to be 100% comfortable in their decision.
Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports