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Eagles-Browns joint practices: What to expect from each team

The Philadelphia Eagles and Cleveland Browns will hold joint sessions on Thursday and Friday on the Browns’ usual practice fields.

This arrangement and the general itinerary were set months ago by the head coaches, the Eagles’ Nick Sirianni and the Browns’ Kevin Stefanski. Both plan to get their starters some full-speed work over the two practice days and then mostly shut things down for the weekend. Both coaches have said Sunday’s preseason game will be mostly for young players and guys down the depth chart.

Before returning to the Browns and becoming the youngest general manager in NFL history in 2020, Andrew Berry served as a right-hand man to Eagles general manager Howie Roseman. In honor of that and some of the other organizational ties that helped set up these practices, we linked our Browns writer, Zac Jackson, with Eagles writer Zach Berman for a conversation on where the teams stand, what fans can expect and why these practices should ultimately be beneficial for both teams in the weeks and months that follow.

We even brought in an invisible but all-knowing narrator and moderator to facilitate the conversations. That’s how important these two days in Berea, Ohio, are!

If you had to pick just one, what’s the top thing your team wants to get out of these two days? 

Jackson: The Browns just want the work, and Stefanski sees these days as two of the most important in camp for competitive and evaluation purposes. But the easy answer in picking just one thing is that Jacoby Brissett just moved from second in line to first four days ago, and regardless of what happens with the NFL’s Deshaun Watson suspension appeal, the Browns are getting ready for Brissett to be their starting quarterback in September and October. The pass offense has not been impressive to this point, and live reps against what appears to be an impressive Eagles defense will be important for Brissett and all involved. Amari Cooper is the Browns’ clear-cut No. 1 receiver, and behind Cooper to this point are a bunch of question marks. Thursday and Friday are potentially big days for players such as David Bell and Anthony Schwartz.

Berman: Other than keeping starters healthy, of course? In a normal situation, I’d say seeing a high-level quarterback such as Watson against the Eagles’ pass defense. But Zac’s coverage leads me to believe there’s nothing normal about the Browns’ situation right now.

The Eagles improved their pass defense this offseason, including upgrading the pass rush (Haason Reddick, in particular) and adding James Bradberry to the secondary. But they still have questions in the secondary, and their soft coverage last season was inviting to top quarterbacks. Watson could be a good gauge for how they’ve improved. But this all depends on how much Watson does against the Eagles, and if he’s even going against the first-team defense. The Eagles had joint practices against the New England Patriots and New York Jets last season, and both teams were eventually quarterbacked by rookies. The challenge is different when a passer like Watson is on the other side.

Jackson: Buddy, don’t show up thinking you’re ever going to use “Browns” and “normal” in the same sentence. Just show up anxious to see multiple Pro Bowl-level players ready to compete.

Berman: Deal. I’m definitely looking forward to seeing Lane Johnson block Myles Garrett. I’d call Johnson the Eagles’ best player. Garrett might be the best pass rusher in the NFL. If the two squads keep first-teamers on the field together, that would be appointment viewing.

Are we going to see the full rosters on the field? Obviously, it’s a controlled environment, but do you expect to see something close to full-speed work? 

Jackson: The Browns’ plans are a bit in flux and a bit mysterious with the Watson situation still unsettled. Garrett has been away from the team for personal reasons in recent days, and there’s no firm indication that he’ll be back. The Browns aren’t worried and are letting Garrett handle his business, but it’s clearly a better test for Jalen Hurts and the Eagles offense if the Browns have Garrett and Jadeveon Clowney on the field.

Also, I wouldn’t expect the Browns to play their top cornerbacks much. Denzel Ward is coming back from a foot injury, and Greg Newsome II has a minor hamstring injury. Both will be fine soon, but both being limited this week could end up being a good thing for the Browns. Young cornerbacks A.J. Green and Martin Emerson Jr. have shown promise, and they’d probably benefit in the long term from getting torched a time or two by A.J. Brown and DeVonta Smith.

Berman: The Eagles will use the practices to prepare their top players more than Sunday’s game. You’ll see the Eagles’ first-teamers take on a heavy workload in the practices, and they’ll make it as close to game-like as they can. Sirianni liked the way the joint practices went in his first year as coach and actively sought out doing two weeks of these this summer.

The only players you won’t see in the practices are those nursing injuries. Center Jason Kelce, a Cleveland-area native, is out after undergoing elbow surgery. Cam Jurgens, the Eagles’ second-round pick, will take the first-team snaps. (The Browns know about absent centers, from what I hear.)

The Browns’ interior offensive line won’t have it easy; the Eagles still have Fletcher Cox, Jordan Davis and Milton Williams in that group. Running back Miles Sanders missed the Eagles’ last two practices with a hamstring injury, and there’s no word yet on his availability. Otherwise, you’ll see all the Eagles headliners. And Philadelphia should leave with a better idea of how Hurts, Brown, Smith, et al. will do this season because the Eagles won’t take it lightly. They’re using the four practices with Cleveland and Miami to prepare for the season.


Cleveland Browns running back Kareem Hunt requested to be traded if he’s not given a new contract by the team. (Ken Blaze / USA Today)

We know both GMs like a good trade — and that they have a long-standing relationship. Any chance these practices lead to a trade on Aug. 29 or 30?

Jackson: Yes, there’s absolutely a chance these practices could lead to a trade given the Berry-Roseman connection. The Browns need to be in the wide receiver market and, depending on how things go the next two weeks, could also be looking for a third tight end, an emergency offensive tackle and a utility defensive back in the roster movement window of Aug. 28 to 30. There are a lot of moving and uncertain parts right now, as everyone knows, but this roster is deep enough that Berry is certain to be fielding calls even if he’s not aggressively making them.

Berman: If the Browns are willing to move Kareem Hunt, the Eagles could use running back depth. I’m not sure he’d get the new contract he seeks in Philadelphia, though. But Hunt could have a role in the Eagles offense with Sanders, who is also in the last year of his contract.

If the Browns are looking for a wide receiver, 2020 first-round pick Jalen Reagor is a change-of-scenery player who could use a new environment. Reagor has untapped talent, but it hasn’t clicked in Philadelphia and he’s been pushed down the depth chart with the acquisitions of Brown and Zach Pascal this offseason. It would be better for the Eagles’ cap if they traded him instead of cutting him, and it would be harder to see them even consider cutting him based on the way he’s played this summer. Reagor is still only 23 and could benefit from going somewhere where he’s not followed by the baggage that could haunt him in Philadelphia — namely, underachieving as a first-rounder and being selected one pick ahead of Justin Jefferson.

Jackson: One pick ahead of Jefferson? Yikes. That’s like the Browns taking David Njoku one pick ahead of T.J. Watt.

I think Reagor absolutely would be a potential target for the Browns, who were always betting on some of their young receivers to take an August leap that just hasn’t happened to this point. There’s not much chance the Browns would trade Hunt straight up for Reagor, so it would come down to compensation, money and the Browns actually wanting to trade Hunt. Hunt is still due a little over $4.5 million for the season — and a healthy Hunt is worth that. Going back to March, he was always going to be more valuable to the Browns than anything he’d bring back in a trade.

Just going off positional numbers and the apparent readiness of rookie running back Jerome Ford, there’s no doubt Cleveland will eventually field calls on Hunt and D’Ernest Johnson. But the team will have to find the right trade to move either of them, and the Browns will keep four running backs before they take less than the proper value. D’Ernest Johnson, to me, has always been the more likely trade candidate because he’s only making around $2 million this year — and because he doesn’t have the injury history or the off-field history that Hunt does. Johnson isn’t the playmaker that Hunt is, but he proved last year that he’s more than just a utility guy.

The Browns aren’t trading anyone before they find out the status of their starting quarterback and potentially make a decision on whether to pursue Jimmy Garoppolo by trade, so let’s see how that goes before we start constructing any running back deals. If the Browns can’t get Garoppolo, is there any chance Gardner Minshew becomes available? Or do the Eagles not have another viable backup option?

Berman: I never say never with Roseman, who once traded the Eagles’ starting quarterback on the weekend before the season. But it would surprise me if the Eagles moved Minshew at this point. They value having a reliable option as the No. 2 quarterback, and neither Reid Sinnett nor Carson Strong have proven they should take that job. Minshew won a game for the Eagles and has experience in the NFL — he’s one of the better backups in the league. It would take a convincing offer from Berry to pry Minshew, so I’m skeptical — unless the Eagles had another idea for a No. 2 up their sleeve.

I’m curious if you think this is maybe the start of something that extends beyond this weekend. These teams have plenty of connections that go beyond Roseman and Berry. Stefanski is from the Philadelphia area and was once an intern for the Eagles. Eagles defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon is a proud Cleveland native. There are plenty of Northeast Ohio connections throughout the building. Sirianni sometimes can’t go 10 minutes without mentioning Mount Union. Do you think the teams could become regular preseason partners? They last played each other in 2018 in an epic 5-0 game that kept us all on the edge of our seats. Before that, you’d have to go back to 2012. Any chance you’re eating a cheesesteak after a joint practice next summer?

Jackson: I’m always up for a cheesesteak, but you already knew that. And you also know that Stefanski is big on comfort level and relationships when it comes to building these. The Browns had the New York Giants in on these same two days last year in large part because Joe Judge, who was then the Giants’ coach, was also a Philly guy. Stefanski has been adamant that one set of joint practices is best for his team — and that this window for them ahead of the second preseason game is best.

I have no idea what’s ahead for this organization — an evergreen statement, I know — but assuming some sort of carryover and continuity, yes, I think the Browns and Eagles can become long-standing preseason partners. So let’s plan on doing this again next year, too.

(Photo of Dallas Goedert and Denzel Ward: Scott Galvin / USA Today)

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