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Eagles 53-man roster projection: Decisions to make at safety and O-line

The Philadelphia Eagles have until 4 p.m. ET on Tuesday to set their 53-man roster, which gives general manager Howie Roseman more than 48 hours to complicate any Sunday morning projections. It’s naive to suggest that Roseman will simply keep the best 53 players, because there are variables at play that must be considered. Those include:

• Potential trades. Roseman is one of the NFL’s most aggressive general managers, and if he can wrestle away a draft pick for a replaceable reserve or fortify his roster before waivers, he will attempt to do so. Remember: Roseman made two trades between the preseason finale and roster cutdown day last year (the deal to acquire Gardner Minshew and the trade to offload Matt Pryor).

• Injuries. The Eagles have a few roster candidates nursing injuries, but a player is only eligible to return from injured reserve if he makes the initial 53-man roster. Anybody placed on IR before Tuesday is out for the season.

• Vested veterans not being subject to waivers. Any player on a rookie contract is subject to waivers and could be claimed by another team before the Eagles are able to sign him to the practice squad. That’s not the case for a vested veteran. So if the Eagles want to carry an injured player with intention of placing him on IR come Wednesday, they could cut a vested veteran with the understanding that the player would be re-signed once the roster spot opens. They did this with Cre’Von LeBlanc in 2020.

• Practice squad elevations. The Eagles don’t necessarily need to worry about whether they have enough players at each position for the active roster in a given week, because they can elevate two players from the practice squad each week to fortify depth.

Here are our final answers, with only two differences.

Quarterback 

Berman (2): Jalen Hurts, Gardner Minshew

It’s reasonable to believe the Eagles should keep Reid Sinnett if one believes he could develop into a reliable backup. Roseman’s history suggests he prefers having a third quarterback and the Eagles rostered Sinnett last year. He has been inconsistent in games this summer, though, and the opinion here is the Eagles could find a more promising option if they’re insistent on keeping a third passer. Otherwise, go deeper elsewhere and develop a quarterback (such as Sinnett, perhaps) on the practice squad.

Wulf (2): Hurts, Minshew

Heavy is the head that wears the crown. I labored over this decision well into the night, inserting Sinnett onto the roster, deleting him, then doing it all over again. I don’t think Sinnett will be on the Week 1 active roster, but I think there’s a chance he’ll make the initial roster while the Eagles look for a developmental quarterback upgrade. As the back-to-back-to-back roster prediction champion, one of the most important lessons to remember is not to overvalue what happens in the final preseason game. Sinnett’s promising performances over the course of training camp matter more than what he did in the loss to the Miami Dolphins. And who’s to say he was even at fault for the interception he threw that was returned for a touchdown? Nick Sirianni intimated that might have been a Grant Calcaterra route ran incorrectly.

Still, it’s hard to look past the full book of Sinnett’s preseason performances. In three games, he went 25-of-48 with a 52.1 percent completion percentage while only averaging 5.3 yards per attempt. Even if the Eagles want to keep Sinnett around, they shouldn’t have to worry about exposing him to waivers.

Running back 

Berman (3): Miles Sanders, Boston Scott, Kenneth Gainwell

The Eagles could look to add a running back after rosters are set. As it stands, they’ll go into the season with these three. Jason Huntley showed his juice on a 67-yard touchdown, but that won’t be enough to make the roster unless the Eagles view him as the top kick returner option. This is a position to watch on the waiver wire.

Wulf (3): Sanders, Scott, Gainwell

Zach pretty much covered it. Sanders’ hamstring injury looms as a complicating factor, but there’s not much else here to see at the moment. Scott could be in danger of being cut as a newly vested veteran, but that would cost the team $1 million. My expectation is you’ll see one or two of the injured players in the secondary placed on injured reserve after roster cutdowns to make room for a running back addition.

Wide receiver 

Berman (5): A.J. Brown, DeVonta Smith, Quez Watkins, Zach Pascal, Jalen Reagor

Unless Reagor is traded before Tuesday, these five will be on the team. Britain Covey hasn’t shown enough as a returner this summer to earn a spot on the initial 53-man roster. Devon Allen is a sleeper to make the roster as a gunner and other teams will assuredly see the tape from Saturday. Deon Cain’s been consistent in practices and games, although he’s not a top special teams player, and he’s been stuck on practice squads before. My guess is that’s his path again.

Wulf (5): Brown, Smith, Watkins, Pascal, Reagor

I considered leaving Reagor off because I think there’s close to a 50 percent chance he’ll be traded before Tuesday. And I really strongly considered giving Allen the final roster spot just because of his gunner performance. More than perhaps any other player on the bottom of the roster, Allen looked better in games than he did in practice. So even though he’s 27, it might not be a shock if he gets claimed. I just couldn’t quite bring myself to include him.

Tight end 

Berman (3): Dallas Goedert, Jack Stoll, Grant Calcaterra

Calcaterra showed his pass-catching chops in a return from injury and earned the edge over Noah Togiai. The Eagles can add a fourth tight end to this group if they want more experience.

Wulf (3): Goedert, Stoll, Calcaterra

The Eagles are in good shape here with two backups behind Goedert with varying skill sets, Tyree Jackson working his way back from the physically unable to perform list, and the Togiai-Richard Rodgers duo available to hang around on the practice squad.

Offensive line 

Berman (10): Jordan Mailata, Landon Dickerson, Jason Kelce, Isaac Seumalo, Lane Johnson, Cam Jurgens, Andre Dillard, Jack Driscoll, Sua Opeta, Jack Anderson

The first nine seem like locks, barring a trade. I added a 10th because the Eagles value developmental offensive linemen and Anderson’s ability to play center and guard is valuable enough to keep him on the 53-man roster. If the Eagles trade Dillard during the next few days, the question becomes whether they keep another tackle on the roster.

Wulf (10): Mailata, Dickerson, Kelce, Seumalo, Johnson, Jurgens, Dillard, Driscoll, Opeta, Kayode Awosika

OK, read me out. Whether Dillard is traded or not this week, he won’t be back in Philadelphia in 2023. Driscoll struggled this summer at tackle. If the Eagles are going to carry 10 offensive linemen (which they should, given how deep the position is), shouldn’t the last spot go to someone who can play tackle? That’s part of the reason why I’m giving the spot to Awosika over Anderson. Awosika has played both tackle spots and both guard spots this summer, while Anderson has played all three interior spots. And while Anderson’s ability to credibly play center works in his favor, I think the Eagles are confident enough in Kelce’s Week 1 return that they don’t need to prioritize that. I also happen to just think Awosika is the better of the two. Brett Toth looming on PUP is also worth remembering because he cross-trained at center last year as well.

With Kelce potentially in his final season and Dillard, Seumalo and Opeta in the final year of their respective contracts, the Eagles need to plan for long-term change in the room.

Interior defensive line 

Berman (5): Fletcher Cox, Javon Hargrave, Jordan Davis, Milton Williams, Marlon Tuipulotu

Good luck finding a team with a better top four than the Eagles. Tuipulotu earned a roster spot this summer. Marvin Wilson was one of my toughest cuts and played well enough to push for a spot, but would they keep six defensive tackles?

Wulf (5): Cox, Hargrave, Davis, Williams, Tuipulotu

No, I don’t think they would.

Edge rusher/sam linebacker 

Berman (7): Josh Sweat, Brandon Graham, Haason Reddick, Derek Barnett, Tarron Jackson, Patrick Johnson, Kyron Johnson

Jackson and Patrick Johnson both made strides in their second summer with the team and earned roster spots. Kyron Johnson’s special teams upside and speed around the edge offer enough to make the cut.

Wulf (7): Sweat, Graham, Reddick, Barnett, Jackson, Patrick Johnson, Kyron Johnson

From the Eagles’ vantage point, maybe the most notable play from Saturday night’s blowout loss to the Dolphins was Patrick Johnson’s sack of Tua Tagovailoa against starting right tackle Austin Jackson. That capped a very productive summer for last year’s seventh-round pick. Kyron Johnson, meanwhile, has shown pass-rush flashes himself, similar to what Tarron Jackson showed last summer.

Linebacker 

Berman (5): T.J. Edwards, Kyzir White, Nakobe Dean, Davion Taylor, Shaun Bradley

Taylor has played his way onto the bubble and might not earn a third year; the Eagles cannot keep viewing him as a developmental player. There’s nonetheless enough promise for the Eagles to keep him around when considering how he played before his season-ending injury last year. Bradley makes the roster because of special teams.

Wulf (5): Edwards, White, Dean, Taylor, Bradley

Deciding whether to keep Taylor was another headache. On merit, he does not belong on the roster given his play this summer. But he was always a developmental player, so it’s natural for the Eagles to give the 24-year-old a third season. They might even point to Mailata’s progression, even if the cases are not that analogous. But I don’t think Taylor’s spot is secure and the Eagles can probably afford to carry only four off-ball linebackers given how rarely they’ll need more than two on the field at the same time.

Cornerback 

Berman (5): Darius Slay, James Bradberry, Avonte Maddox, Zech McPhearson, Josh Jobe

Jobe’s elbow injury complicates this projection, but I’m trying to operate without recency bias and look at the overall body of work this summer. Jobe has been the best of the down-the-roster cornerbacks. If the Eagles still wanted to develop Tay Gowan or Kary Vincent Jr. on the 53-man roster, it would be a defensible decision.

Wulf (5): Slay, Bradberry, Maddox, McPhearson, Jobe

Without knowing anything about the severity of his elbow injury, I fully expect Jobe to be placed on injured reserve shortly after squeaking onto the roster (if he does). There’s no incentive to get him on the field early.

One of the most disappointing developments of the Eagles’ summer was how poorly the rest of the down-roster cornerbacks fared. Gowan is the one who could be a surprise inclusion, given his length and special teams play during the preseason.

Safety 

Berman (5): Marcus Epps, Anthony Harris, Andre Chachere, Josiah Scott, K’Von Wallace

This is the weakest position on the roster and the spot most likely to turn over in the coming days. Josiah Scott’s hamstring injury added a wrinkle, but his versatility as a backup slot and backup safety should have him on the roster Tuesday afternoon. The biggest debate here was Wallace versus Reed Blankenship. Blankenship did everything the Eagles could have wanted from him this summer while Wallace has been inconsistent. But Wallace was a key special teams player by the end of last season, and Blankenship could land on the practice squad. A merit-based decision would yield Blankenship a spot. I’m still going with Wallace. However, I’d expect one or two new names to this group by the time the Eagles play their next game, so a more impressive projection would be nailing their Week 1 depth chart.

Wulf (5): Epps, Harris, Chachere, Scott, Reed Blankenship

Our second of two differences. If we expect the Eagles to add to this group, Wallace is likely on the way out anyway. And while he flashed a bit over the tail end of camp, it’s hard to argue he outplayed Blankenship in any way. Blankenship’s downhill presence over the course of three preseason games was a revelation and provides this underwhelming group with a physical presence it otherwise lacks. That is, unless Jaquiski Tartt is a surprise inclusion after his disappointing summer.

Do I feel good about defending the crown? Of course not, but at least I’m going down with my guys.

Special teams 

Berman (3): Jake Elliott, Arryn Siposs, Rick Lovato

No internal competition here, so nothing different. Perhaps the Eagles seek an upgrade on Siposs, but he had a strong final showing (49.8-yard net average in the preseason finale). Lovato is a sleeper candidate to be a vested veteran cut and re-signed if the Eagles need an extra spot on the initial 53-man roster.

Wulf (3): Elliott, Siposs, Lovato

Elliott is the Eagles’ kicker.

Wulf’s practice squad guesses, for transparency (17): Sinnett, Huntley, Rodgers, Togiai, Allen, Cain, Covey, Anderson, Josh Sills, Matt Leo, Wilson, Kobe Smith, Christian Elliss, JaCoby Stevens, Gowan, Vincent, Wallace.

(Photo of Kayode Awosika: Eric Hartline / USA Today)

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